Thursday, December 08, 2011

24 Hours in Valladolid

No, I'm not trying to write one of those pieces for the New York Times travel section, but I did spend literally 24 hours in Valladolid. Valladolid is Yucatan state's second city, but it's really just a little town (pop. 45,000) compared to Merida's nearly one million population. Like Merida, Valladolid was named for a city in Spain. The town is located about halfway between Merida and the beaches of the "Mayan Riviera" in the neighboring state of Quintana Roo. I took a bus from Merida that got me in around 3:30 in the afternoon, and took the same bus the following day, onward to Tulum.

Valladolid's a pleasant place to spend a day. Life is taken at a slower pace than in the big city, and you get the feeling that not much has changed in the past fifty years. It's a convenient base for the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, but for me it was a nice way to break up the bus ride.

The town's main plaza is usually referred to simply as El Centro. On one side is the cathedral, and on another is the hotel El Meson del Marques, where I stayed.

I'm a sucker for a good cloud formation, and I shot this near El Centro.

I noticed many congregations of crows in both Merida and Valladolid, and they're capable of a cacophonous Hitchcockian racket.

There aren't many real "sights" in Valladolid, and one wouldn't make a special trip to see them. One of them is the Convento de San Bernardino, which was actually a Franciscan monastery.

Valladolid has a cenote right in the heart of town, Cenote Zaci. Cenotes are sinkholes that collect rainwater, and some are popular for swimming. In Mayan times cenotes were the main source of fresh water in areas without lakes or rivers. Zaci is not as visually spectacular as some are considered to be, but one still gets the feel of one, with stalactites and stalagmites overlooking the pool.

Valladolid's biggest surprise is that it's now, in its own small way, a true foodie destination. Up until a couple of years ago the restaurant at El Meson del Marques was considered the town's best eatery. Their menu features a number of Valladolid specialties. For an appetizer I had the Valladolid-style longaniza, a semi-dry smoked sausage, delectably charred.

I followed that with queso relleno, one of the Yucatan's most interesting dishes. Literally "stuffed cheese," it normally consists of an Edam cheese rind (yes, Dutch cheese in the New World) stuffed with chopped meat, steamed until the cheese gets runny. Apparently, the hacienda owners would eat the center of the cheese and leave the rinds for the servants, and I guess one of them figured out this nice way of utilizing the rind. The version at El Meson del Marques, however, is a variation, sort of a deconstructed queso relleno served in a broth, along with turkey meat. This nice piece from Food and Wine features a discussion of queso relleno.

El Meson del Marques was dethroned as the king of Valladolid eateries only two years ago when Taberna de los Frailes (the Friars' tavern) opened right next to the Convento de San Bernardino and upped the culinary ante with their elegant fusion of local ingredients and haute cuisine techniques. This turned out to be the culinary highlight of my most recent trip to Mexico. I started with a fabulous fish soup that was accented with a local liqueur.

Even better was the tsi'ik, a kind of ceviche of pulled smoked pork that had a perfect balance of flavors.

And my dessert, a lemon cake that tasted similar to key lime pie, was fantastic too.

I think 24 hours in Valladolid is just about right unless you're using the town as a base to visit some of the Mayan antiquities. My only regret was that I only had one opportunity to eat at Taberna de los Frailes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me, but the birds look like grackles rather than crows. Did you actually hear them say "caw"?

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Specifically, I'm thinking Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus).

BTW, it's me, a peahen in DC.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

It looks like you're right. I was told they were cuervos. So now I find this:

"Fun Facts: Great-tailed Grackles are called "cuervo" (meaning raven) in parts of Mexico where there are no crows."

7:22 AM  
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