Last night I realized mine needs to be specially recalibrated for Mexico. I went to eat at this Italian restaurant on the beach in Cancun that a woman working at Le Meridien (not the concierge, just some woman) had recommended. It was in the middle of nowhere, and down a long alleyway, so when I saw the guy in a half-assed centurion costume, his epaulet-thingies all flopping around, there was nowhere to run. So I sat down, and was immediately attended to by a sweet Italian woman wearing a bedsheet tricked out with some ribbons and some little plastic ‘coins’. The first thing they put in front of me were some tortilla chips and salsa.
So I’m sitting there, in a mostly deserted restaurant, being waited on by people in undignified dress, and moaning to myself about theme restaurants. And within the next half-hour two things happen: the place fills up with two giant Mexican families, and my food comes (spaghetti with clams, delivered by a guy _not_ in costume, but who seems mildly retarded) and it’s delicious.
Probably my first rule of restaurants is that if the waiters are in costume, it’s got to be bad. I mean, look at TGIFriday’s. This whole trip I’ve been avoiding this chain place called La Parrilla because the waitresses are swank senoritas wearing flowers behind their ears and acres of floofy skirts. Sure, it’s usually packed with locals and tourists, but c’mon… they must all be suckers, right?
But now that I got tricked into the Italian place (Dolce…mente Pompei–punctuation theirs), I realize that Mexicans love theme restaurants–they’re not just for tourists. It means you’re really _going out to eat_, not just feeding yourself from a tamal cart. Which kind of explains why the equivalent of the neighborhood bistro is nowhere to be found, at least not yet.
So now I’m wondering if I have to readjust my thinking about restaurants with great views–also usually a sign of a mediocre meal. Here, there are so many fabulous vistas… I hate to think how many good place I’ve missed due to misplaced food snobbery.
Other food items: really good sushi in Cancun, at a tiny place where the Mexican waiters spoke Japanese with the businessman clientele. Which leads to the cream cheese craze: it’s in _everything_, including sushi. Menus say proudly ‘con queso Philadelphia!’ Last summer when I was in Merida, I met a local girl who actually pinpointed the date of the arrival of cream cheese, in the form of cream cheese cakes at this one bakery, about two years ago. Since then, it’s been a frenzy. So the sushi was really good, even if some of it did have cream cheese in the middle. I also got to watch one of the chefs turn a whole cucumber into a thin sheet of cucumber in about three seconds, just by peeling it, basically. If I did that, I’d slice my thumb right off.
For a little while (a day–I had to get my Bug replaced after it rained really hard, and so then obviously it wouldn’t start…which come to think of it, may have happened with our VW Rabbit and bus when I was little too) I had a car that sounded like a chicken every time I hit the brakes (cluck-cluck-cluck..cluck…cluck…….cluck……..cluck). Which made me think that chicken I’d seen squashed on a speed bump (‘tope’ in Spanish–there are about 10 in every town) had been a harbinger…But more, the squashed chicken had just been a sign that it’s OK to eat chickens, because they’re clearly meant only for food. You have to come to a complete stop before you go over a tope, or else you rip out the bottom of your car, so how can a chicken not be able to run away in time? Anyway, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that looks like a nice meaty chicken’ when I saw it–it didn’t look like roadkill at all…just dinner.
In non-food adventures, hilarious proof that just because a hotel knows I’m a reviewer and I’m staying the night for free, it doesn’t mean they’re on their best behavior and are giving me special treatment. Against my better judgment, I accepted two nights at two hotels owned by the same company. Night one: I arrive to find that the power is out (because it rained a lot, I guess). Which isn’t their fault, but also no candles, and no sympathy. Sure, people had been throwing tantrums for close to 24 hours before I got there, so I guess the staff was sick of it, but still, it was pretty weird. Luckily I’d packed a flashlight, which I’d been expecting to need in Tulum, where there really is no steady electricity. Didn’t think I’d need it on Isla Mujeres.
Night two: I arrive at a place I’d actually looked at before, so I thought it was nice. They first can’t find the key to my room. Then they show me upstairs–five flights, with the poor guy carrying my 80-pound bag–to the penthouse, which looks like no one has stayed in it in months. The Jacuzzi is half full, there’s a sort of musty smell in the room, and there are strange smudges on the couches. I go out for the afternoon and come back to find my balcony awash in water–someone had turned on the Jacuzzi to fill it, and failed to turn it off. I alert the front desk woman, who looks at me like _I_ let it overflow, and now it’s my fault the restaurant ceiling is leaking too. I sit there while four housekeeping staff flail around with completely inappropriate tools (a dustpan? I guess it did work in the end). Later, I check the temp of the Jacuzzi–cold–and look in, and there’s a huge _hairball_ in it! Skee-vy.
Now I’m staying at a hostel, and feel like a normal person again. I leave in a couple more days, and I’m really liking Cancun. The place is growing on me–obviously, not the swarms of 20-year-olds desperately looking for fun–but it’s really interesting to be in a city that didn’t exist 35 years ago. It’s on this accelerated life cycle, with buildings already in decay, and public spaces carved out of completely arbitrary intersections and all sorts of other impromptu development. Yesterday I found a restaurant–more like a campsite, really–down on the lagoon in the hotel zone where these women and some toothless guy were cooking over wood fires. Right across the street from a giant condo complex. Amen.
*Title reworked to avoid trademark infringement, per comment. I guess it’s for the best–I rely way too heavily on alliteration.