Apr 18, 2009

Speaking of Botana...

While the Critic is on the subject of botana, it might be interesting to readers to know that this tradition extends to the farther reaches of Yucatan's beaches. Just this afternoon the Critic had to pick up his mini-Critic aka daughter in the semi-charming hamlet of Chuburn√°, located 2 kilometers beyond Chelem. This name might be familiar to some as it is the home of expat internet guru and empresario Robert Harker, of YMB Realty, that wild-eyed, Rod Stewart look-a-like. But the Critic digresses.

While waiting for the teenage offspring to get ready, the Critic popped into one of those beach fish restaurants comprised of plastic tables and chairs provided by the beer company (it's either Corona or Superior, never both) and several youths probably related to the owner of the converted house who play the part of waiters. The ambience is true Yucatecan beach, which means its minimal and economic ie cheap and haphazardly thrown together to take advantage of the hordes visiting from Merida to escape the heat.

A beer was ordered, Modelo Especial, and it was so frosty that chunks of slushy ice were floating in the bottle. It went down very easily on another 42 degree day! While the Critic contemplated ordering some food, one of the aforementioned youths stopped by the table with a large tray full of little plates of food! Botana! There were two kinds of excellent fish ceviche, some dippy concoction with a fishy flavor, chivitas (a kind of weird little shellfish that is chewy) in the same lime, onion, tomato and cilantro dressing as the ceviche, warm (!) and crispy tostadas and the ubiquitous refried beans. As the Critic finished the last ceviche, another plate made its way to the table with 3 mini-kibis, topped with chopped cabbage. These were piping hot, crispy and tasty. All the food groups were represented in one fell swoop! So, no menu food was necessary at all and the bill came to a ridiculous 26 pesos for one beer with all the trimmings.

The Critic thought it was a great deal and left a $50 and the waiter/relative was a happy guy.

The name of the restaurant is probably irrelevant; all the places in Chelem and Chuburn√° serve botana, especially during weekends and holidays, so head out as soon as you can!

La Ruina - Downtown South

Merida has many bars that are legend for their botanas, which are small servings of prepared nibbles to accompany your beer, much like the concept of tapas in Spain, where lids were placed on wine glasses to keep out the dust and then someone said "let's put something tasty on those lids" and a culinary tradition was born. Maybe they didn't say that - it was probably in Castilian Spanish for one thing.

The most famous in Merida of these bars or cantinas was for the longest time, La Prosperidad, which the Critic visited almost 20 years ago. Never been back. Now, the most well-known is probably Eladio's, who have branches all over the city and in Progreso too.

Yesterday, as part of the Blogger Summit held in Merida, a numerous contingent of palefaces descended on another Merida classic cantina, La Ruina. There was some initial confusion regarding the placement and joining together of several tables; it seems that the proposed arrangement by the Critic - under the fans - would have implied taking tables from TWO waiters areas and this was very confusing until it was suggested that perhaps two waiters could look after the table, since there were going to be 12 or more people. Once this critical detail was sorted out, the lunch began.

Beers were ordered and the botanas started arriving. Plate after plate after plate. There were cooked but now cold organ meat (love that term) dishes, fresh guacamole, zesty sikil-pak dip, pickled beets, coditos (macaroni with traces of tomato sauce), pickled carrots, chicharrones (pork rinds), ceviche, dzic de venado made with beef and a few others that currently escape the Critic's memory. Honestly, there was nothing particularly OMFG excellent in the selection of the botanas, but the beer was frosty.

Food is also available from a menu handwritten on a piece of paper that the waiter leaves with you. There are about 6 dishes to choose from, all extremely local and things you will not find on the menu at Taco Bell any time soon.

The bar was empty when the PaleFaces arrived, but full to the point of bursting an hour later. This is a very popular spot!

The beer is cold, the botana is abundant and the service is fine. You should probably visit one of these places at some point in your Merida visit to get a real sense of where the locals hang out when the sun bakes the city to a crisp.