Donna Cooks


Riviera Maya – Days 6, 7 & 8: Cancun
January 17, 2007, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Food Travelogues

Having had such luck seeking out dinner in Piste the night before, we did the same for breakfast the next morning on our way to Cancun.  To our surprise, we saw no open eateries this early in the morning.  There were several street vendors out and about, with one particularly busy stand selling cochinita pibil by weight.  By the looks of it, this little Coca-Cola themed stand does have a permanent location in front of a farmer’s market with scarce seating.

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We ordered two tortas with cochinita pibil and two Cristals (one lemon-lime and the other strawberry) for $3.00.

Torta de cochinita pibil:

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It was definitely worth more than the 50 cent price tag.  The torta was large and easily filled me up.  The pibil was similar to the one we had in Valladolid, fattier than at Yaxche but tender and juicy.  I was convinced that these cochinita pibil stands are the best places to fill up for cheap in the Yucatan, and they’re more common than hot dog stands in New York City.

Zooming down the toll road to Cancun, we arrived at the world famous resort town with almost no trouble.  Note to other travelers who choose to drive, follow the south diversion of the toll road to Cancun Island which takes you right by the airport.  We took the north route through downtown Cancun with the intention for some quick sightseeing from the car, but ended up with one edgy driver and one very nervous passenger.  The crazy driving in Cancun is not worth it.  It’s like National Lampoon’s European Vacation without the comedy.

Cancun feels like Florida.  You literally could not tell you were in Mexico with all the signs in English and all the chain restaurants (Outback, Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, Ruth’s Chris, etc)  The beach is lined with resorts and condominiums, lacking the charm of Playa and the privacy of Tulum.  However, the water in Cancun was more brilliant (perfect turquoise) than any other beach we visited on this trip. 

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Cancun introduced me to my first all-inclusive resort experience at the Golden Parnassus.  I know that it makes little sense for a food fanatic like me to settle for average quality resort food over local gem perfection, but I had read over and over again on web forums that Cancun Island (Zona Hotelera) simply doesn’t have much to offer in the way of authentic or unique local cuisine.  A short 2 night stay at all-inclusive seemed like a good way to go after the first 5 days of exhausting adventures.  I’ll go through the food quickly since it wasn’t anything spectacular (but it wasn’t terrible either). 

We pampered ourselves with breakfast in bed every morning since that was offered as an included option.  Breakfast offered a good selection in terms of variety, but the French toast was always soggy and the bacon too greasy.  I learned to stick to items like yogurt and the fresh fruit plate.

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Lunch options were limited.  You could either eat at the main cafeteria/buffet style restaurant with slightly better than Luby’s quality food that offered Chinese, Mexican,  Italian, and American fare or eat at the pool side grill that offered hamburgers, sandwiches, and nachos.  Nothing special here. 

The all-inclusive dinner experience was better than I had anticipated.  We visited Shangri-La (the only restaurant at the resort with a dress code with fusion cuisine) and Sumo for Japanese.  The dinner at Shangri-La was surprising good for resort food, a nicely varied menu with a not too terrible glass of house red wine.  The food all had good flavor, but you can tell most of that is not due to the quality of the ingredients but rather because everything was covered in some kind of sauce. 

Appetizers: shrimp and lobster vineyard style & mushroom in phyllo pastry

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French onion soup (where’s the cheese???)

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Entrees: lamp chop with potatoes & balsamic glazed duck breast (mashed potatoes had peas in them to give them that green-ish color)

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Dessert: white chocolate mouse in dark chocolate cone & creme brulee (the creme brulee was my favorite dish this whole meal, it can actually match the quality of most good Italian restaurants in the US)

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Considering the options in Cancun (chain restaurants), Shangri-La wasn’t a bad choice.

We didn’t fare quite as well at Sumo the next evening.  The sushi was at supermarket grade (the smoked salmon was not edible) and the dumplings were curiously deep fried instead of pan fried.  Sometimes the most obvious things are just that, obvious truths.  Trying to get sushi at an all-inclusive in Cancun felt like a bad idea, and it was.

Dumplings and spring rolls:

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Spread of uninspired and unexciting sushi (the eel roll was the best one, but that’s not saying much):

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I’m not sure if I would do the all-inclusive again in Cancun.  It is a good value for what you get (best service I’ve ever experienced, variety of food) but for the most part the food is just average.  But what are your other options in Cancun?  Outback Steakhouse?  I’m not a fan of that either.

Food-wise, Cancun takes the cake for being the low point of the trip.  But the town itself is something to see with all the upscale shopping and luxury resorts.  Cancun is also a convenient base for day trips in the Yucatan due to the large number of tour guide services. 

At the end of my 8 days I was satisfied.  I had experienced food in the Yucatan through high end restaurants, local cafes (still not sure if the chicken place in Piste was even a restaurant), and street vendors.  I had eaten quite a bit of local cuisine (lots of cochinita pibil) and even discovered some surprising exotic flavors (outstanding Thai food in Playa).  I had drank my share of fresh tropical fruit licuados, Mexican sodas, and way too many margaritas (with real lime juice!) 

And even though I was starting to crave chicken fried steak on the drive back to the Cancun airport, I couldn’t wait to come back to the natural beauty of the Riviera Maya.

Back to Day 5

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