One thing that is great about the Riviera Maya and the Mexican culture is “comida corrida”, fast food that is quick, delicious and homemade. I have spent the last years searching out fast Mexican food options and will continue to return to some of my favorite places and try new ones that pop up. Some people love “Cochinita Pibil”, a Mayan recipe where a pig is slow baked in banana leaves with sour oranges and achiote paste. Others seem to seek out tacos, looking for great chicken and beef options with spicy salsas. I have a love-in for empanadas, deep fried half moon tacos that could clog your arteries if you abuse this food, but are great as a treat once a month. I will say this is a dangerous endeavor but in moderation, a great food and cultural experience.
I have traveled the Riviera Maya looking for great empanadas. My personal favorite is cheese but they can come with many different fillings, beef, chicken, chicken and cheese, potato and spicy sausage, and some women make dessert empanadas with apples and cinnamon.
It is important to differentiate first between a Mexican empanada and an Argentinian empanada. The Mexican recipe uses corn tortilla dough, what we call masa, and deep fry their final product having it look like a half moon that lies flat on your plate. The Argentinian empanada is made from wheat flour dough, is a thicker dough, is baked and is primped on top like a little present. Both can be found in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but only Mexican empanadas can be found in the comida corrida stalls and small taquerias. if you want to experience Argentinian empanadas you will have to have them at night in a restaurant.
Empanadas in Mexico are a breakfast item, they are not dinner. The small stalls and tables that serve them, with the exception of Dona Mary’s, are open from 6 30 am to 12 pm. After that you will have to wait until Dona Mary’s opens at 7 pm to get an empanada. Empanadas are served with the following condiments, cabbage finely grated, cream, two or three types of salsa, a red salsa that is not hot, or a red that is medium hot or the famous green habanero. In some paces they also sprinkle a bit of cheese on the exterior just to make sure the fat content goes Wayyyyyyy over the limit and makes you crave them again the next day.
Admittedly, it has been hard to convince the small vendors to participate in Taste of Playa. But the Executive Committee will not give up! We feel it is part of our mission to bring to event attendees some of the most treasured, creative, and fun places to eat in the Riviera Maya and we will continue to search out and convince the small vendors to participate.
In the meantime, if you are in Playa or Tulum, here are some of my personal favorite empanada dealers. (I am going to call them dealers as we all know that this mix of food is very bad for your waistline but very very good….so good it should be illegal)
1. Av. Juarez between 4oth and 35th streets on the south side. Great little hole in the wall with seating and no name. they have white plastic bar chairs out front and the women who work there are great! The empanada maker is the sweetest ever and puts a lot of love into her cooking. they serve cheese on the top of the empanadas with lettuce not cabbage and lots of cream….heaven i tell you, and the freshest I have found as she makes them in the minute.
2. 20th ave on the corner of 4th Street. This is a cart with an empanada making machine with it s kitchen hidden from the public in a blue palapa right behind it. It is always jammed and has a great host of taxi’s surrounding it, always a good sign. They make a million so you might have them fresh or they may be served up 5 minutes after they were made. I prefer the ones from the cooler as they are not hot, hot, to touch, and can be eaten right away…great when you are ont he run.
3. Av. Juarez between 15th and 20th street on the south side. Another fast moving empanada machine with salbutes, panchos and other deep fried favorites. This is right by the drop off for the colectivos coming in from Tulum so a busy place. The women are serving up more food than McDonalds and though a bit grumpy at times they do a great little snack.
4. In Tulum. Down the street from the Hotel Maya on the main drag, near the bus station, turn east and you will see in one block a car wash place and a little hole in the wall that serves up some great empanadas. The masa is a bit thicker than the others but they are great!!! Made in the moment you are guaranteed hot and puffy empanadas made with love. This place is sporadic in their hours but if open, you are guaranteed a great deep fried snack.
Be careful not to get addicted to these. I have had to ween myself off of them in fear that my heart may stop, but it is a great Mexican experience if you can search them out.
Written by Nicola Inwood. Nicola is the Executive Chairperson of Taste of Playa 2010. She writes for numerous blogs, one being www.lifejustbecamesimpler.wordpress.com and is the owner of various businesses in the Riviera Maya.