Travel insights from Andrea Sedlacek, editor of The Compass

Mezcal, Mole and More

The idea that all-inclusive resorts can’t have authentic food – that’s about as outdated as the relish tray.

With travelers actively seeking out authentic, immersive experiences, big hotel names in the regions are offering exactly that and celebrating the rich culinary traditions of Mexico.

Regional cuisine 101

Mexican cuisine is so much more than tacos. Just like how the Midwest is known for cheese and you can’t find better lobster than in Maine, the states and regions in Mexico have their own specialties, too. You just may have never noticed.

In general, corn dominates cuisine in southern Mexico, from corn tortillas to tamales to empanadas. But the northern region, which starts at Mexico’s north border and ends at the southern border of Durango and Nuevo Leon, favors flour tortillas.

Another culinary differentiator is the fact that Oaxaca (the land of seven moles) and Chiapas use banana leaves instead of corn husks for tamales. Chiapas is the only state where you can find the simojovel chile and Oaxacan cuisine has an emphasis on chocolate (a key ingredient in mole) and black beans. Seafood is a focus throughout Mexico’s coastal regions, like Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast and Yucatan and Veracruz on the Gulf side. Veracruz is known for pescado a la veracruzana, fish (commonly red snapper) with tomato, olives and capers. Yucatan’s Mayan heritage has a heavy influence on menus there, where you’ll find achiote (annatto seed) creating a distinct red color in dishes like cochinita pibil, the region’s most famous dish.

Lastly, did you know that Mexico has a well-established wine region? They do, and it’s in the north: Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. Along with interesting and innovative wines of all varietals, you’ll find fish tacos, ceviche and the Caeser salad – legend has it the salad was invented in Baja California by a restaurateur in the 1920s.

Mysterious mezcal

Dating back more than 400 years, mezcal has a bit of a murky origin story but the historic spirit’s star is rising and all-inclusive resorts in Mexico are embracing the smoky spirit. Mezcal is made by distilling mash made from steamed agave, giving it a unique smokiness that’s meant to sip or enjoy in a cocktail – not consumed as a shot. Tequila is actually a type of mezcal, as it can only be made from a certain species of agave, where mezcal can be made from any species of agave.

You can’t make mezcal just anywhere in Mexico. True mezcal comes from only five states (along with a few municipalities), including Oaxaca. Dreams Hualtulco, in the state of Oaxaca on the Pacific Coast, is just one of AMResorts’ properties with an onsite mezcaleria celebrating locally sourced mezcal. An expert mezcal mixologist creates what your palate craves and teaches you how to recreate it at home in cocktail classes offered every week.

The trend of the onsite mezcaleria is spreading across Mexico. El Dorado Seaside Suites in the Riviera Maya is home to Mezcalito Bar, where you can attend weekly mezcal tastings. And AMResorts loves mezcal so much, they did it twice: Secrets Huatulco also has an onsite mezcaleria. Savor a mezcal nightcap in the resort’s rooftop bar with a panoramic view of those rich Mexican sunsets. Then take a bottle of tequila’s smoky cousin home with you to keep the vacay memories alive – you can buy authentic mezcal from both resorts’ mezcalerias.

Dreamy dinners

Travelers are more eco-conscious than ever, and reducing their carbon footprint is becoming just as important as a life-changing dining experience. With Mexico’s generally warmer climate and high number of sunny days, it only makes sense, especially in the country’s resort areas, to have onsite gardens to grow food for the resorts’ restaurants.

In early 2018, extensive renovations were completed at Dreams Riviera Cancun and with many other updates came the creation of the Chef’s Garden. Fresh herbs and vegetables grown in the garden are incorporated into dishes found in the resort’s nine restaurants, and if you’re lucky, you can attend a

cooking or wine tasting class right in the garden hosted by Executive Chef Jose Santos. Farm-to-table couldn’t be truer.

Sandos Caracol Eco Resort is nestled in the beautiful Riviera Maya, and they take extraordinary efforts to respect and protect the delicate environment around them. One way the resort reduces its carbon footprint is by growing food for the resort’s restaurants in an onsite organic vegetable garden. Scraps from the kitchen and leftovers from the restaurants become organic fuel for the onsite compost system, make a real end-to-end impact.

Originally appeared in the spring 2020 issue of The Compass Magazine

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