La Chaya Maya can’t be found in our Lonely Planet guidebook, but plenty of travellers have discovered this secret little gem. It serves traditional Yucatan food, and therein lies its charm. A couple of ladies dressed in traditional garb sit near the diners pressing and cooking tortillas. The room is decorated with various artefacts from the Yucatan region, including beautiful lampshades, bags and curtains made from sisal. Sisal, sometimes referred to as ‘green gold’, is a fibre made from the henequen plant.
On to the food. A lot of superlatives spring to mind, and the fact that we have now eaten there three nights in a row speaks for itself. Fourth and fifth journeys are planned.
One night we ordered cochinita – pork marinated in sour orange juice and baked in a banana leaf. It’s no exaggeration to say it was the most tender pork I’ve ever eaten in my life. On previous nights we’d eaten a slow-cooked chicken (pollo pibil) in banana leaf, delicious poc chuc – thinly sliced marinated pork and empanadas de cazon (tender shark) . The accompanying soup, Caldo de Pavo, was simple but incredibly moorish and consisted of strips of turkey, turkey broth, pickled onion, cucumber, tomato and chaya – a delicious spinach-like plant. A quick google search reveals that chaya leaves are toxic, containing a glucoside that can release toxic cyanide, and they must be cooked to inactivate the toxic components. Overall the soup reminded me of Aunty Mary’s hearty home made chicken soup. In fact, every dish reminded me of Aunty Mary’s cooking – simple but made with lots of love, and you come away feeling good … right down to the soul.
The accompaniments to the mains, as well as the little dips brought out before the meal, are also a highlight. The pepita de papadzul is a thick paste of grinded pepita seeds. As you look around the restaurant you can see every table asking the waiter for the recipe to this and drooling for more. The roasted tomato salsa was unlike any other tomato dish I’ve tried and we are still trying to hunt down the recipe.
I could go on, but you get the idea. I haven’t even mentioned the delicious bread and butter pudding – once again very simple but far better than most I’ve tried. The place is packed to the rafters at all hours of the day and everyone who walks by stops to take a picture of the handicrafts inside. For a real Yucatan experience and sensational food, you can’t go past this one. Shame we don’t get Mexican food like this back home!!