Mexico was every bit the culinary adventure that I had imagined. In the days leading up to the trip I had semi-pornographic mental images of pulled pork tacos dripping in succulent salty fat, zesty fish ceviches, and mind-blowingly complex and spicy nuanced mole sauces.
So different from the Italian food that I know so intimately well, Mexico offered a peek into the wild. Big, bold flavors with no rules or regulations, barely a knife and fork in sight. Was it possible for me to love such a pedestrian cuisine? What I found as I explored the culinary landscape of the Yucatan was that although this is a food "of the people", it is in no way pedestrian. The flavors are well-balanced and layered with the same precision and attention to detail one might expect to find in a high-end city bistro.
The first meal in Mexico was a sign of what was to come, a delicious meal from a hole-in-the wall, made with love and by a family. This little restaurant was located right outside of the bed and breakfast we were staying in Tulum called La Selva Mariposa. The family that ran the place had relocated from Mexico City and brought with them some of their regional favorites. The menu was entirely in Spanish and we had a tough time placing even the simplest of orders, but whatever misgivings we had initially were completely forgotten once our food came out. I ordered the enchiladas mole, my favorite Mexican dish of all time.
Mole is the generic term for sauce, but the mole that I am talking about is red mole. A beautiful symphony of earthy and other-worldly flavors that harken from a tradition much older than all of us gringos. Mole is the delicate balance of two very fundamental Mexican flavors, chilli and chocolate...and about 20 other ingredients. It is very easy to mess up a mole, if it's too sweet, too bitter, too chocolatey, or not chocolatey enough. In culinary circles, the ability to pull off an authentic and properly balanced mole is a technique that takes years of study and a great deal of trial and error, something not often achieved and rarely perfected. Once I tasted the mole at this restaurant I knew that this was a recipe that that family had passed down over generations, something tried and true, done the same way every time. It was incredible. Topped with a little crema and queso fresco, the enchiladas were really only a vessel manifested for the sole purpose to transfer the mole from plate, to mouth.
The first of many culinary adventures on this, my first trip to Mexico, this was a huge success. I was shown, right off the bat, that the food of Mexico is complex, flavorful, and unique. I am now a true lover of Mexican cuisine and will forever be searching for a mole that can rival that from a tiny little restaurant in Tulum.