True Confession: this blog is challenging to write. This special dinner, which was part of our tour package, had the potential to be spectacular and, unfortunately, ended with many of us returning to the hotel and ordering Pizza.
Bajlum Pre-Hispanic Cuisine
Let me start by saying that the family who operates it is incredibly warm and friendly.
Known widely as “A Research Project on Palencan Mayan Gastronomy,’ the restaurant focuses on the food of the Palenque area from the pre-Hispanic era. As a child, our host played in what is now the Palenque archaeological site. His family has lived in the area for generations.
The menu consists of foods hunted, caught, and foraged in the area by the Mayans.
Where Dinner Went Wrong
Mark has an extensive culinary and restaurant background. So, he is very familiar with tasting menus and small group dining experiences.
Unfortunately, we as a group were never presented with a menu or descriptions of the food, and even as we write this, there is nothing on the restaurant’s website or social media that helps one to understand the foods presented. After digging on the internet, we found a little information on the foods.
While friendly and knowledgeable, our host didn’t do a great job explaining our courses or how they related to the experience. Even members of our group whose first language is Spanish had a difficult time.
Lastly, there were two food options – Take it or leave it. So, for several members of our group who had dietary restrictions, might be fussy eaters, or, in Chuck’s case, don’t eat Venison, you were stuck. It was also a struggle to get a non-alcoholic drink since some in our group do not drink alcohol.
What We Do Know About Dinner
Dinner consisted of various locally sourced pre-Hispanic foods, including roots, vegetables, and proteins.
We were served a fresh Fruit Drink called Sangre de Jaguar or Blood of the Jaguar, made of a medicinal herb called Matali mixed with Mezcal. Next, we were served Chips from a Root Vegetable alongside Habanero and Wild Mushroom Dips, a Shallot Soup, and several entree courses.
The three entrees consisted of:
A seared Fish with an Heirloom Tomato Salsa and local Corn.
Local Wild Turkey with a Root Vegetable Mash garnished with Ants. These ants, called Chicatanas, are relatively rare and harvested once a year. After the first heavy rain in late June or early July, they leave their nests and are collected and dried. They added no real flavor to the dish, just a little crunch. As we’d eaten scorpions and grasshoppers in China and here in Mexico, the ants didn’t faze us but were a turnoff to some in the group.
And lastly, Wild Venison with a Chili Sauce. From what we could gather from our host. The Chef used molecular gastronomy to distill a sauce, removing all of the capsaicin ( or heat ) from Chilis. This was intended to remove all of the heat, leaving the intense Chili flavors. However, the Venison was extremely tough, the plating unattractive, and the sauce lacked flavor.
For dessert, we all enjoyed a flan-type dessert made from local Yams and garnished with a Tropical Fruit compote.
The Silver Lining
The dessert was delicious.
Three people on our tour, Mark included, were celebrating birthdays during the trip. They were presented with crowns and desserts with sparklers.
All of the family came out and sang when the desserts were presented. As we said in the beginning, the family was warm and friendly.
The dinner of pre-Hispanic foods had the potential to be outstanding. In this case, as with other dinners with Gate 1 Travel, this might have been better as an optional dinner experience.
From the host’s standpoint, providing a printed menu with a short list of some ingredients would have gone a long way to making the experience more enjoyable.
And lastly, offering a Vegetarian option for some of the entrees might have helped people who didn’t eat certain foods.
It was a learning experience, but it could have been so much more!
Mark had the opportunity to speak to another traveler who took the same tour recently. The menu was a little different, and it seemed the host shared more photos and descriptions of the food than we experienced.