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Mexico Guru

Campeche’s Typical Dishes

There’s some crossover among traditional dishes from the three states of the Yucatan peninsula: Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatan. But some plates are the pride specifically of Campeche’s cooks whose recipes employ regionally grown produce or seafood from local waters. Shark meat (cazón) shows up frequently---in empanadas, pan de cazón, and papadzules, among other dishes. Most of the dishes themselves are fairly mild; you can spice them up yourself (or not) with the homemade salsas that accompany most every meal.

Read on to get in the mood for some savory Campeche cuisine. Restaurant prices are reasonable both in Campeche City and in the smaller, usually informal restaurants and truck stops throughout the state.

Aguas frescas: These healthful, non-carbonated drinks are made with fresh fruit juice and water. Most vendors use purified water, but if you’re in an out-of-the-way place or prefer to err on the side of caution, ask if the beverages are made with agua purificada (purified water). Aguas frescas (literally, “fresh water”) include well-known drinks like lemonade (limonada) and orangeade (naranjada). For variety, ask for equally delicious watermelon water, cantaloupe water, or pineapple water, among many other flavors. Agua de jamaica is made with the tart flower of the hibiscus plant; the compact plants with crimson flowers can sometimes be seen being cultivated in the countryside. (This is not the ornamental bush that many of us are familiar with.) An all-time favorite drink in Campeche (as it is throughout Mexico), horchata is made with rice, cinnamon and sugar. Horchata is extremely refreshing on a hot day.

Brazo de la reina: This large tamal (spelled “tamale” in English) is stuffed with chopped hard-cooked eggs, roasted and ground melon seeds, and the leaves of the chaya plant---the latter often compared to spinach leaves. In truth the small green chaya plant has a taste all its own. Served with a mild red sauce, this tamale (whose name means “the arm of the queen”) is served sliced so one can enjoy the marble-like pattern of its ingredients.

Camarones al coco: Jumbo shrimp coated in a coconut batter and deep fried. Served with apple compote.

Cochinita: Suckling pig traditionally baked in a pit in the ground. The pig is dressed with a “marinade” of mild achiote paste (made with the ground seed of the annatto plant, garlic, oregano and cumin), onions and tomatoes. It is then wrapped in large green banana leaves and steamed.

Dulce de Papaya Verde: A sweet made of cooked green papaya in a glaze of sugar and honey.

Empanada de cazón: A savory pastry turnover stuffed with shredded shark meat.

Pampano en verde: A fish dish in a sauce of green chilies and flavorful tomatillos (the small green tomatoes with the papery husk).

Pan de cazón: A casserole of corn tortillas, refried beans, shredded shark, onions, tomatoes and the distinctive flavor of epazote leaves. Topped in a mild red tomato sauce.

Panuchos: Small fried cakes of cornmeal topped with chopped turkey meat and condiments.

Papadzules: Shredded shark, corn tortillas and hard-cooked eggs served in a pumpkin seed sauce.

Sopa de lima: Ubiquitous throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, this lime soup contains chopped tomatoes and onions, finely shredded chicken and fried tortilla bits in a chicken broth.

We recommend that you be adventurous and try something that’s hard to pronounce! And we wish you buen provecho and bon appetit!

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by Jane Onstott