Perfect Yucatecan Day: Part I (Tacos)

Last night as I sat in the back of a mini van I found myself saying out loud “I think this was the perfect Yucatecan day.”  I was talking Theo Bennet, a young American boy whose family I had the pleasure of spending the day with.  His Mom, Chris has been a classmate mine at the institute for the past 4 weeks.  Her family of five (husband and three kids) are living in Merida for several months and often rent a car to go on excursions.  Knowing my wish to visit Mayapan, a Mayan ruin that is seldom visited and not on a regular tourist circuit, she kindly offered rent a bigger car, make it a family outing, and take me along.

Wayan'e

We met at Wayan’e, a neighborhood taco stand near my house.  Chris and I both found out about Wayan’e from a Yucatecan blog and we’d been scheming for the right time to visit the place.  Doña Gloria and Don Jose Luis confirmed Wayan’e as a legit taco joint, and I scoped out its location on my way home last week so I could tell Chris how to get there.  What better way to start our day than stuffing ourselves silly with tacos?

Piña con chaya

I arrived before the Bennet clan so I situated by self at a large table and ordered a agua fresca.  The waitress rattled off so many options I had to really listen and think about what I wanted.  I was tempted by agua pitaya (dragonfruit) but in the end, I chose piña con chaya.  Chaya leaves are used regularly for food and beverages in Merida/Yucatan.  I’ve yet to try anything with chaya in it so I thought I’d give it a go.  Within minutes my smiling waitress came back with a green drink in a tall glass that may very well have been a vessel for one of those Mexican candles you see in cathedrals.  I suppose if I didn’t like this agua fresca I would have described that my drink had a dark green swamp-like color but I loved the mossy hue the chaya leave gave this refreshing drink.  It made me feel like I was being adventurous for drinking something so green and dare I say, healthy?  It had just the right amount of pineapple sweetness and chilly enough to wake me up from the hot morning stupor.

Just like any good Mexican taco stand should, this place had just a handful of red Coca-Cola tables and matching Coca-Cola chairs.  In one corner of this roadside “restaurant” sat an open kitchen and the other corner was a sink where you can wash your hands after what would inevitably be a deliciously greasy affair.  There were three different salsas on the table and napkins too thin to properly serve their function (hence the hand washing station).  The menu was on the wall behind me and it listed at least 20 options to be served either as tacos (9 pesos ~ $0.75) or tortas (16 pesos ~ $1.30).  Doña Gloria told me they were famous for their tortas but everyone seemed to be having tacos this morning.  Before I had a single bite to eat at Wayan’e, I knew I would love it here.

All smiles in the kitchen

I made up my mind to try three tacos, one pollo poblano, one huevos con chaya, and one castacan.  I got a few passing side way glances when I sat down but when the Bennet family stormed in a bit later, the whole place more or less stopped to stare.  I guess it’s not too often the local population gets to see a group of gringos in this neighborhood, especially ones like the two younger Bennet girls who are adorably blonde and blue-eyed.  It took us a while to order since there were 6 of us and we all wanted to try as many variety of tacos and drinks as possible.  We averaged about 4 tacos each, almost all of them with different toppings.  Our ever patient waitress took our enormous order and didn’t make one single error in delivering what we asked for.

Tacos at Wayan'e

If I hadn’t had my Doña Gloria breakfast (there is no stopping that wonderful woman from feeding me whenever she gets a chance), I would have really done some damage but I settled for my three perfect tacos.  Coming from New York where I can’t get a good taco to safe my life, I felt as if I hit the taco jackpot here.  Can I get a good pollo poblano (chicken poblano) taco in the States?  Maybe.  Castacan (pork belly) tacos?  I don’t think so, no.  Huevos con chaya (eggs with chaya)?  Definitely not.  Jackpot!

The red salsa was for kids.  The green one, a little spicier.  The third one looking dark and ominous?  Could it be habanero?  Having assessed the salsa situation, I moved quickly to SPOON on the habanero salsa all over my tacos and asked for refills of the fiery liquid gift from the Mexican gods.  As I write this I’m really just thinking about when I can go back there to eat some more tacos.  How can I tell Doña Gloria I’ll be eating tacos for breakfast for the next 4 weeks?  She’ll think I’ve lost my mind but Wayan’e is only open for breakfast and lunch.  How am I going to make this work?  You see, I’m willing to give up all the yummy breakfast Doña Gloria makes for me.  The tacos really were that good.

Castacan: pork belly goodness

Back to the tacos.  My absolute favorite was castacan, the pork belly taco.  How can one not love all that delicious porky fat goodness?  While I was trying to eat as slowly as I can, the Bennet family was equally enamored by the tacos as I was.  All I heard were ooooh’s and ahhhh’s, and before I could blink twice, they were waving at the waitress to order more tacos and agua frescas.  How did I get so lucky to find such a great family to spend the day with?!  I do have a soft spot for anyone who loves to eat as much as I do…  Then out came more tacos and they all disappeared within minutes.  Pollo Fajita, Chili Bull (it’s a Wayan’e original), huevos con nopales, poc chuc, carne asada, oh my!

What I liked about Wayan’e is the fact that I could get tacos that are distinctly Yucatecan.  Not only would I have a difficult time finding good tacos in the U.S., I would surely not find good Yucatecan tacos in the U.S.    I jokingly (but seriously) said to Chris that we could just call it a day and be done.  After those tacos my Saturday was complete and I was more than happy to pack it up and go home.

But our day of fun was just beginning… next stop, Acanceh.

Per Yucatan Living, where I first read about Wayan’e, Wayan’e means “here we are” in Mayan and is pronounced “wa-ya-nay.”  There are two locations in Merida, one is in Itzimna near the park and the other one (the one I went to) is on Circuito Colonial between Avenida Aleman (Calle 4) and Felipe Carrillo Puerto (Calle 6).

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3 Responses to Perfect Yucatecan Day: Part I (Tacos)

  1. Paula says:

    What makes a taco Yucatecan? Is it the spice? If you mentioned it and I missed it… sorry!

    Also, I noticed the tacos only come wrapped with a one tortilla. Is the double tortilla taco not common?

  2. dreamgolive says:

    The Yucatecan tacos have ingredients and/or cooking techniques uniquely to the Yucatan. For example, I had a taco with eggs and chaya at Wayan’e- chaya is a local/Mayan/Yucatecan plant. You can get a pollo pibil taco, which is also a Yucatecan dish, made with marinated chicken (using bitter orange juice and achiote) cooked in banana leaves. Or poc chuc taco, which you know is Yucatecan. Here in Merida, there are Mexican taquerias, Yucatecan ones, and tacos arabe/al pastor, influenced by the Lebanese immigrants (ironically they call the Lebanese people Turks, then again they call all Asian people Chinese). I had a lot of tacos arabe in Puebla where it’s said to have been created but they’re here as well. They’re like shwarma/gyros on tortillas, they serve them here with garlic cream and for tacos al pastor, they usually put some pineapples on top and give you chile salsa/hot sauce. There is a place in town where they put the spit roasted pork (a la tacos arabe) on pizzas- younger people keep telling me it’s really good but I haven’t had it yet.

    And you’re right! Haven’t seen any double tortillas for tacos here. The tacos are bigger but somehow one tortilla is strong enough to hold everything together. BTW, the hand made corn tortillas are to DIE FOR. Straight off the griddle, they’re totally ridiculous.

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