Cancun: Taco Tour

Things have been busy around here.  School ends really early in UT and E finishes next Friday (!)  Our schedule has been crammed with end-of-year stuff along with soccer games and gymnastics.

Before I moved on to other things I wanted to do one more post about our trip in April to Mexico in April.  We went on a taco tour in Cancun which was one of my favorite things from the trip.

I found the Taco Tour on TripAdvisor.  It seemed fun, it was only $15 a person for the tour plus a little extra for the tacos and tips, and the reviews were good.  So I submitted our info on the website and waited to hear back from them.

Merak, the tour guide, emailed me back within 48 hours to confirm and gave me his cell number if we needed to reach him and we (N, me, and 3 friends from N’s company) were set to meet him the following evening in front of a grocery store in Cancun.

Merak demonstrating how not to eat a taco (with your pinky in the air–you want to use it to hold stuff in)

Merak was a great tour guide–friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and passionate about Mexican food and tacos.  We set off on foot from the supermarket and arrived at our first stop for tacos al pastor.

Merak told us that al pastor was invented when Arabic immigrants came to Mexico and brought shawarma with them.  Locals adopted the method of cooking meat on a spit but incorporated local flavors and used pork instead of lamb and al pastor was born.

Merak recommended only ordering tacos al pastor if we were at a restaurant and saw their al pastor on a spit.  N0 spit–don’t chance it! He also said that tacos al pastor normally come with chopped onion, cilantro, and pineapple.  Our tacos were SO good (pictured at the top of this post)  I liked the pineapple.

After that we set off walking to our next stop.  We walked through town and saw locals out enjoying the evening. At one point before we walked down an alley Merak pulled us aside and said that they were remodeling the building on the side so the alley was especially dark right now but not to worry, he wasn’t leading us into an ambush and we we weren’t going to get mugged.  And we didn’t, the end.

Men playing chess in a park. The chairs and tables were made out of painted tires.
Hipster food trucks. Merak said they are just starting to appear in Cancun and haven’t really caught on yet.

The next place was a taco cart in another (better-lit) alley.

Merak giving us his recommendations.

This taco cart was across the street from a modern, upscale restaurant which is where Merak said a lot of taxi drivers would take you if you said you wanted good tacos.  He also said that the driver would usually give you a card for a free margarita and then when you redeemed it he would get a kickback because the card had his referral number on the back.

As we walked past the restaurant he told us to look inside and see how many Mexicans were eating there.  There were only a few (mostly eating with tourists) but we went across the street and the tables by this taco cart were PACKED.

20160411_0090Merak listed his favorite tacos from this stand: chorizo, steak, and tripa (tripe).  As soon as he said the tripe taco was good I knew what I was having!  It was crispy and a little smokey like bacon and really good.


Various tacos.
Various tacos.  I think those are the tripe tacos in front.

The next place we went was a seafood restaurant.  Merak said because the Cancun is only about 40 years old and developed as a tourist area there isn’t a fishing industry.  People realized they could make more money using boats to take tourist snorkeling and whatnot rather than fishing for a living–you can take tourists out to look at the same fish day after day but if you catch them to eat then that’s it.

Merak said that people also know that the tourists expect to be able to eat seafood in Cancun–so most restaurants bring it in frozen.  Just a few places get it fresh like the one he took us to.

When Merak described this as a "big jalepeno popper with shrimp" I knew what I was ordering. It was DELICIOUS.
When Merak described this as a “big jalepeno popper with shrimp” I knew what I was ordering. It was DELICIOUS.

We finished our tour by walking through town to a big town square.  There was a big thatched roof called a palapa over a stage where a singer was entertaining a crowd.  Merak said that people gather every night to hang out as families and enjoy the cooler temps.

Balloons for sale
Balloon seller
The couple is letting their little girl ride in a car they are driving by remote control.
The couple is letting their little girl ride in a car they are driving by remote control.  People rent them for 20-minute sessions.
I love street food vendors.

Merak told us which vendors to avoid (he had eaten at one of them and gotten sick the week before) and which to consider for dessert.  Everyone ended up getting ice cream at this stall he recommended.  It was all made fresh and there were several local flavors that Merak tried to explain…”it’s a green fruit about this big…the inside is salmon-colored and it tastes kind of a melon but not as sweet.”  The vendor was happy to give everyone lots of samples and everyone ended up with something they liked.

Papaya ice cream with this spicy salty stuff on it. Really good!
Papaya ice cream with this spicy salty stuff on it. Really good!

It was such a fun experience.  Merak was a fantastic guide and such good company.  I felt privileged to be able to eat such delicious food and to learn more about locals lives and eat in Cancun.  Everyone in our group was so happy afterward and agreed that we would have paid more than $15 USD for the experience.  Merak said he knew he could charge more but that he didn’t want to, that he felt blessed to get to eat good food and share his love of Mexican food with tourists.

If you go to Cancun, please try to go on Merak’s taco tour!  You won’t regret it.


Thanks for the memories, Merak!

And no, I didn’t get food poisoning.  Even from that tripe taco 😉

Cancun: Cooking with Felipe

After we finished shopping for produce and chicharrón (fried pig skin) at Mercado 23 with Felipe, we went to his restaurant to cook our 3-course lunch with him.  I was impressed with his restaurant.  While small (it’s in a converted apartment) it was bright and modern and the kitchen was well-organized and impeccably clean.

The first thing Felipe did was make a drink by blending the chaya leaves he had bought at the market and mixing it with sugar water.  The resulting punch was a bright vivid green, herbaceous, and very refreshing.

Then we got started on our guacamole appetizer.

guacamole with chicharrón
Our first course, guacamole with chicharrónes (I took the picture before Felipe added fried crickets which were as crunchy as you might expect).

Felipe told us about a traditional snack he would have with his family when they went to the market when he was a kid: they would buy ripe avocados, roll them around to mash the insides, slice them in half, and then use chicharrónes (fried pig skin) to scoop out the avocado.  Delicious!

Next we worked on the pork dish.  We cut a pork loin into thirds and then marinated it in oil, garlic, salt, and Mexican oregano. We put the scraps from the loin into a pan with oil and I browned them on the stove to make a base for the sauce.

Me browning pork scraps for the sauce
Working on the creme brûlée so it can simmer while we work cook the pork

Then Felipe put a plancha (a traditional griddle) on the stove to toast ingredients for the pippin mole sauce.

Toasting torillas, onions, and dried peppers on the plancha.
Toasting torillas, onions, and dried ancho peppers on the plancha.
Felipe toasting pepitas on the plancha--once they warmed up a few popped right off the stove!
Felipe toasting pepitas (pumpkin seeds)–once they started popping a few jumped right off the stove

Then Felipe put all the sauce ingredients into his fancy Thermomix and it blended everything up.

We browned the pieces of pork loin on the stove and then Felipe put them in the oven to finish.  And then he plated it up and N and I ate what was probably the best pork dish I’ve ever had.  The pork was so tender and juicy and the pipian sauce was bursting with flavor.  The powder on top was ground toasted tortillas which added a nutty flavor.


In between working on the other dishes we had also been working on a rosemary creme brûlée for dessert.  It seemed like a normal creme brûlée receive but we added rosemary and scraped half of a vanilla bean into the egg yolk/cream mixture.  After simmering it on the stove Felipe strained it twice before pouring it into small mason jars (which are apparently beloved in restaurants worldwide).

N and I working on the rosemary creme brûlée
N and I working on the rosemary creme brûlée

After the little pots of cream mixture were finished simmering in their water bath on the stove we used a torch to carmelize sugar on top.  And then Felipe picked up pieces of rosemary with tweezers, lit them on fire and then blew them out, and then held the smoking rosemary inside the mason jar, shutting the lid to trap the smoke inside.   So when we opened the mason jars you got this whiff of smokey rosemary before you started eating.  It was SO GOOD!

Our rosemary creme brûlée–there’s rosemary smoke inside that lid! 😉

I love creme brûlée in general and this was the best I’ve ever had.  It was so creamy and smooth without any air bubbles because Felipe had strained it twice and the rosemary added this slight herby savory note so the sweetness was even more noticeable in contrast.  Yum.

We had a great time cooking with Felipe.  It was fun to see a professional chef at work.  I noted how he was always cleaning and tidying as he worked and am trying to pick up the habit myself at home.

Our Spanish isn’t very good and while his English was a little better it felt a little awkward at first since it was just N and me, Felipe, and a guide. But as time went on it became easier and easier to understand each other. Funny how that happens 🙂

Selfie with Felipe
Selfie with Felipe

Felipe told us about how he met his wife when he was the chef at a prominent vineyard in Mexico and she was a sommelier there.  About how he learned to love food from his grandmother and how the name of his restaurant Lu’um means “earth” in Mayan and about how he hopes to share his love of creative food with people through his restaurant.  After a few hours together we swapping pictures of our families on our phones and listening to one of N’s K-pop mixes through the speakers in the kitchen.

It was warm in the kitchen and while it didn’t seem to bother N or anyone else I got hot and sweaty (as I am prone to be–it’s my curse to bear) and Felipe kept aiming the air conditioner at me and pouring me more and more cold chaya to drink which was super refreshing.

My only regrets about the experience were that we didn’t get the recipes written down and I’m already getting fuzzy on the pipian mole ingredients, and that it was our last day in Mexico so we didn’t have time to come back to Lu’um for dinner.  Felipe does a 6-course tasting dinner that sounded fantastic and we would have loved to tried it.  It is now one of my biggest reasons for wanting to go back to Cancun 😉

You can follow Felipe’s restaurant Lu’um on Instagram and Facebook.  If you’re going to Cancun and love food I wholeheartedly recommend eating at his restaurant or the market tour/cooking class we did.  It was one of the highlights of our whole trip.

It’s what’s for dinner

As my kids have grown older cooking dinner has become a lot more enjoyable.  E and Mimi are old enough to either help with the simple parts or stay out of my hair which are both good options 😉

Another thing that makes dinner easier is that the kids are both fairly adventurous eaters, especially E.  I try (sometimes more successfully than others) to stick to the general principles of the Satter method and the kids get the same food that N and I eat.  If we’re having something I’m really not sure they’ll eat I’ll put some fruit or toast on their plate but we don’t make them something separate.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those cooks who can take a look at my pantry and whip up something on the spur of the moment; I need to plan in advance or else I feel overwhelmed and end up feeding the kids something frozen and then getting takeout for N and I after they’re in bed :/  N is great at cooking up a meal with what we have and we used to take turns with dinner (which I really loved), but he doesn’t get home until after 6pm so making dinner falls to me during the week since we want to eat together with the kids.

Anyway, this is what I have so far for this week:

Monday – Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs* with brown rice and a veggie side–edamame? green salad? Not sure yet.

Tuesday – Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork  This is my favorite pulled pork recipe.  I make it whenever I see pork butt on sale and then freeze leftovers to make enchiladas.  This week we’ve having it on hamburger buns with a cabbage slaw.

Wednesday – Sweet and Tangy Sesame Noodles*  On paper this seems like something everyone will like but we’ll see.

Thursday – probably something in the slow cooker since we spend a couple of hours going to the doctor for E’s weekly milk OIT updose and by the time we get home after 5pm I’m wiped out from driving home in rush hour traffic.

Fridays – leftovers or takeout

* = First time making this recipe.

That’s all I have so far.  How about you?  Are you a planner, or do you like to play dinner by ear?

Mimi’s Rainbow Cake

At the end of last month Mimi turned four.  It was a crazy time with Sundance going on and N being out of town for work but we made sure to celebrate and had a birthday dinner for her with N’s parents.

I’m not sure where she saw one but when I asked her what cake she wanted Mimi immediately replied, “a rainbow cake!”  Since all our birthday cakes need to be vegan because of E’s food allergies I ended up using a white cakemix with Vegg egg-replacer and then tinting the batter with food coloring.

Mimi was ecstatic to help shake on the sprinkles and had such a good time that I didn’t even mind the almost constant pinging of sprinkles as they hit the kitchen floor and bounced away 😉

She was really, really excited about the cake (And lately the kids have gotten into mugging for the camera, sigh.)

Trendwatch: painting your dining room to match your children’s eyes is all the rage for spring!

I’m so grateful to have this little one in our family.  She is full of joy and sweetness and sass and her laugh is the best sound in the world.

Omakase at Naked Fish

N and I have been wanting to try the omakase (chef’s choice tasting menu) at Naked Fish Bistro for a while and my birthday seemed like a great excuse to do so.

To order the omakase you make a reservation in advance and let them know if there’s anything you don’t eat (we said there wasn’t).  And then when you arrive you’re presented with several courses of with delicious, beautiful surprises.

I don’t know if I remember the details correctly, but starting at the top and left to right:

  • hamachi / angel hair seaweed in vinegar / Kumamoto oyster
  • sashimi: scallop, hamachi, otorro, salmon
  • tempura sweet fish, mushrooms, and okra
  • egg custard with unni and crab
  • miso cod with pickled ginger root
  • lamb with mushrooms and potatoes
  • nigiri: torro, mackerel, gizzard shad
  • azuki bean mochi
The food was wonderful and it was felt luxurious to be able to enjoy it in such a leisurely manner (the meal lasted over over 2 hours) with N and our friends Satomi and Jens.  It was a memorable evening.  

TV: Korean Food Made Simple

Our family has started watching a new cooking show which N’s mom recommended to us, Korean Food Made Simple with by Judy Joo.  N and I both grew up with Korean food and our kids love it too so we all enjoy the show.

Photo via

Each episode features a segment of Joo touring Korea exploring a native ingredient or dish and then cuts back to Joo cooking a few dishes in her kitchen.

Judy Joo has an interesting and impressive résumé (Bachelor’s in engineering! Gordan Ramsay protégé! Legit restaurant experience! The only female Iron Chef UK!) and she’s an engaging host and talented chef.

I have a few minor quibbles with Joo’s tv chef persona.  Sometimes she speaks in a British accent which seems a bit affected (she moved to the UK in 2007 after being born and raised in the states)  If you grow up calling popsicles “popsicles” do you really start calling them “ice lollies” after living in the UK for 7 years?  Meh.

The other thing is that sometimes she acts really flirty, lots of little sidelong glances and suggestive smiles.  But she is the executive chef at the Playboy Club so maybe it’s just part of her professional persona?  I dunno. I don’t want it to seem like I don’t enjoy the flirting BECAUSE I DO, it just seems a little odd.  

Korean Food Made Simple with Judy Joo airs on Cooking Channel and you can find some of the recipes here.

Waffle Love

On Friday Mimi and I dropped E off at preschool and then swung by N’s office to pick him up for lunch. As we headed towards the freeway we spotted the Waffle Love truck parked at the Alpine park-and-ride. Since E wasn’t with us (his food allergies make normal waffles off-limits) we decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up so I flipped an illegal u-turn and ten minutes later we had gourmet waffles in our hot little hands.

We took our bounty back to N’s office and ate in the break room there.  I got a liege waffle with Biscoff spread, cream, and strawberries.  It was delicious and very filling (and probably my entire calorie allowance for the day).

As we were walking to the elevator we ran into the CEO, a trim 40-somthing guy with premature grey hair.  N introduced us and when he we got to Mimi she looked at the CEO, pointed at him, and clearly said “Pa-pa!” which is what she called her grandpas. There was an awkward moment (he did not look thrilled) and the CEO asked Mimi if Pa-pa has grey hair like him and N interjected that Mimi calls all good-looking men Pa-pa.  And then we fled to the elevator as soon as politeness would allow. Yeesh.

Dinner at Mahider

Ethiopean food

On Saturday night N and I went out for Ethiopian food. We’ve it a few times before but have been wanting to try Mahider which we’ve heard good things about.

Mahider is located in a strip mall adjoining an African market.  It has that cozy, family-run atmosphere that I like in ethnic restaurants.  The staff was friendly and helpful.

We ordered the meat and veggie combo for two.  It was so much food!  The different dishes are served on a big pancake called injera.  Injera is pretty unique from other style of pancakes/crepes that I’ve had; it’s made from a grain called teff and is spongy and tastes very tangy like a strong soughdough.

With Ethiopian food you use your hands to eat, tearing off small pieces of injera and using them to scoop up the different dishes.  It’s fun to try each dish on its own or different combos.  The side dishes ran the gamut from greens and seasoned vegetables to stewed lentils and some deliciously seasoned chicken.  I liked some things better than others but everything was good.

It was a fun dinner.  N and I both like trying new foods and it was definitely different from the restaurants we tend to go to around here.

Mahider is located at 1465 S State St in Salt Lake City.

Plum Alley

I’m just now recovering from a nasty 72-hour bug.  The most annoying symptom was having the chills while simultaneously being drenched in sweat.  It came on so suddenly that when I woke up feeling horrible on Sunday morning I didn’t have time to get a substitute teacher for the ladies’ Relief Society class I teach at church so I blundered through my lesson with sweat running down my face and some pretty impressive pit stains on my sweater.  I am (obviously) all class.

But that’s not what this post is supposed to be about; it’s supposed to be about the delicious food pictured above.  On Saturday night N and I went on a date to see Moonrise Kingdom (loved it!) and to try out a new restaurant, Plum Alley. 

Plum Alley is a pan-Asian sister restaurant to The Copper Onion which is one of our favorite places to eat in Salt Lake.  It has the same owners and one of the same chefs. Since N and I both love all sorts of Asian food we were excited to try it out.

The restaurant itself is more casual than The Copper Onion, with several communal tables and seats available along a bar at the window and a bar facing the kitchen.  Strings of colorful lanterns cover the wood-paneled ceiling.

We parked ourselves at the window to people watch and studied the menu.  Everything sounded so good that we went a little overboard.  Happily, the prices are lower than at The Copper Onion so the damage wasn’t that bad.  Most small plates were $5-8 and the large plates were $12-13.

We ordered (clockwise from left): beef rendang, two types of steamed buns: pork shoulder with pickled mustard greens and glazed pork belly), the “Angry Birds” noodle special with duck, and to lighten things up, the papaya salad and the red curry beans with crispy shallots.

Everything was very flavorful.  The server had warned us that the noodle special was spicy but I was still a bit taken a back.  I LOVE spicy food (I’m half-Korean, after all!) but I was still gulping down my water.  The pickle-y papaya salad was the perfect thing to take off some of the heat. 

Everything was good but my favorites were the long beans, which were surprisingly rich with red curry goodness and also perfectly slightly crisp, and the pork belly steamed buns (two for $7).  The bun itself was lovely and pillowy and the pork was succulent and perfect.  If I have any complaints, it might be that the rendang was a little too salty on its own, but eaten with rice ($1 for a small bowl) it was fine.

It can be next to impossible to get into The Copper Onion without a reservation on the weekend so we were kind of perplexed to see people standing outside waiting when you can walk fifty feet down the street and find yourself at the happy place that is Plum Alley.  My guess is that it’s only because word hasn’t gotten around yet.

MeeMaw’s Birthday

My mom is in town to attend BYU’s Women’s Conference with some of her friends. Earlier this week was her birthday so my sister Jan, who is an AMAZING cook, whipped up some tasty Korean food and I picked up a Costco cake (I have ambitions but am sadly basically useless in the Korean kitchen).

Singing “happy birthday” and blowing out candles proved to be so much fun that the grandkids wanted to have turns at it too.

Multiple times 🙂