Oooooh Mexico. You certainly know how to welcome visitors to your country. After making our way through Immigration and Customs, dodging all of the helpful folks at the airport exit, finding our driver and waiting for our car…those vendors with the very large coolers full of ice cold cerveza were a sight for sore eyes. It was the most delicious and refreshing Corona Light I think I’ve ever had.
The first stop on our Mexican adventure is Isla Holbox. Pronounced “hall bosch,” this tiny island on the Northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula is still fairly undiscovered. Accessible only by boat, there are no large hotels or cars and very limited access to technology, including televisions. Locals and visitors make their way along the sandy streets on foot, bikes or golf carts. It’s one the few places on Earth where you can swim with the whale sharks during their annual migration through this area in July and August.
Isla Holbox is also famous for it’s fresh seafood, specifically the lobster and ceviche. I’ve been taking copious notes and photographs and plan to recreate many of the island’s fresh fare when I return home.
Here is a roundup of my favorite culinary experiences on Isla Holbox:
Langosta a la Mantequilla de Cítricos – The lobster on Isla Holbox is beyond words. Our first night on the island, we walked into town and dined at Restaurante Viva Zapata, an open air establishment with sandy floors, live entertainment and delicious margaritas. The lobster we enjoyed literally came straight off the boat and landed on the grill at Viva Zapata. We ate every morsel. The island specialty is lobster tail lightly brushed with fresh lemon juice and melted butter and grilled to perfection. On average, a large, grilled lobster tail costs $15 USD.
Ceviche – We had ceviche every single day at lunch and dinner while we were on Isla Holbox. The most delicious and fresh ceviche I’ve ever had was prepared by Captain Toro during our fishing adventure at Cabo Catoche. We caught Snapper, Yellowtail, Pufferfish and Popper fish. At lunchtime, we made our way to a deserted beach where Captain Toro proceeded to prepare fresh ceviche (on the boat) with the Snapper and Yellowtail we had caught less than an hour earlier. The local recipe for ceviche is a mix of fresh fish and lobster, lime juice, thinly sliced tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, cilantro, salt and pepper. Avocado is always served on the side.
Isla Holbox Salsa Picante – Captain Toro made his special salsa for us as a drizzle for our fresh ceviche. It’s so simple, so delicious and muy picante! All you need is fresh lime juice, a finely diced habanero pepper, salt and pepper.
Ciruela de Tabasco – I happened upon a vendor in the town square who had a cart full of what looked like tomatillos without the husk. After closer inspection (and a sample), I discovered the Ciruela de Tabasco – a tropical, plum-like fruit grown in the Tabasco region of Mexico. It is a fleshy, yellow fruit that is ripe when it turns from bright green to a yellowish orange. The locals eat it dusted with chili powder. My $20 pesos ($1 USD) got me about a pound of these juicy fruits and a small bag of freshly ground chili powder.
Pastel de Guayaba – CasaSandra’s special dessert is famous for a reason. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Pastel de Guayaba is a light and creamy cake, with a thick, mousse-like consistency, topped with a layer of homemade guava paste. When I told the chef it reminded me of an Autumn/Winter dessert because of the fragrant and comforting cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice flavor, he confided in me that the locals love cinnamon and use it bountifully in their baking. He would not disclose the other “secret spices” in his cake. All I can say is I experienced a delicious and unique burst of fruity, tart, spicy cinnamon flavor in each and every bite.
Margarita de Maracuyá – I have never been one who loves really sweet beverages. However, the passion fruit margarita I enjoyed beachside at the thatched roof tiki bar each afternoon was extremely delicious. It’s sweet, tart, citrusy and oh so refreshing. I tried it two ways: on the rocks and frozen. To make it, substitute the fresh lime juice in a traditional margarita with fresh passion fruit puree and rim the glass with a mix of sugar, salt and ground chili pepper.
Adiós Isla Holbox! We will definitely be back. Next stop…Riviera Maya.