I won’t say that moving to Playa Del Carmen was much of a culture shock but I will say that everyday things I am accustomed to in the United States definitely seem different. Most people do not embrace change easily or they have a hard time adjusting in an environment unlike what they are used to; including food. I mean, we eat at least three times a day (or we are supposed to) so food plays a significant roll in our comfort level. Below are differences and favorite foods that caught my attention in and around Playa Del Carmen:
Hard to Finds:
Pickle lovers beware: Playa does not have love for the preserved cucumber. I was unable to find relish in Mega, a superstore much like Wal-Mart except with Mexican brands. If you get desperate you can find pickled jalapenos, which probably explains why they do not eat pickles.
Plain Mayo does not exist in any stores that I have encountered. Hungry for a BLT? If you don’t mind the taste of lime, mayonnaise in Playa has the citrus in it. In all of it.
Peanut butter is virtually impossible to find anywhere, and if you do find it is a miniscule section right next to an enormous section of Nutella. The locals substitute Nutella for peanut butter in a big way and eat it with breakfast, lunch and dessert. Family sized bottles hang from restaurant store fronts to entice consumers to come in.
Tortillas in Mexico are a staple. Most stores won’t actually have it on display for purchase although, there are in fact “under the counter tortillas.” The corn (maize) or flour (harina) discs are homemade and wrapped in paper. Most likely the tortillas are the makings of the shop owner as locals eat tortillas with practically everything. Ask for them even if you don’t see them. Cheap!
Not what you are used to:
Tang and its off-brand, Zuko, can be found in grocery stores and corner stores throughout downtown Playa. Flavors include apple, cherry, tamarind, apple, orange, horchata and lime just to name a few. And while they certainly do not taste anything like freshly squeezed juice, they hydrate and kids love it. The Kool-Aid looking pouches cost next to nothing, and do not expect to find organic juices in stores, you are better off buying Zuko packets as they taste the same as the juices sold on the shelf.
Milk is a cereals lover dream. If you are fond of milk it will more than likely come from a box. Don’t fear the box though because it still tastes like the milk I’m sure you’re used to (after being refrigerated of course). Also available in organic.
The Chistorra: The greatest wiener that ever lived. The bright red, thin meat stick is a type of fast-cure sausage from the Basque Country and Navarre, Spain. You can find it in different varieties and is made of minced pork or a mixture of minced pork and beef that is flavored with garlic, salt and paprika. The first time I ordered a chistorra it was served with melted cheese that I plopped on top and wrapped in a tortilla. Ah, I finally found wiener heaven. Delicious chopped up and mixed in a morning omelet.
Rellerindos are tamarind shaped flavor hard caramel candy with a soft center. They have the Perfect amount of spice, tart and sweetness. If you like spicy candy, be prepared to fall in love.
Yogurt in the Yucatán peninsula is so runny you would have an easier time drinking it rather than using a spoon, which might explain the long list of available yogurt drinks here. If you want a thicker consistency buy the yogurt with granola making it more dense and able to eat with a spoon.
Beer is not only cheaper in Mexico but you can also buy cervezas individually. It is quite common for 6-packs to be picked off one by one leaving maybe 1 or 2 beers hanging from a plastic beer holder. The kicker? They do not charge more for buying beers at the amount you choose whether that is two or nine.
The list I created is merely food items that grabbed my attention the first month of living in Playa Del Carmen. Every day I am introduced to new foods; some I like and some I do not. The exploration of food is an ongoing process that I invite with an open heart and mind.
May you gain more confidence when shopping the food isles in Playa Del Carmen!