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King Corn: Discovering Empanadas in Mexico

Corn is the grain of life. In Mexico, it is used to make tacos, gorditas, arepas, taquitos, tostones, cornbread, tostadas, polenta, corn pudding, and my favorite of all, empanadas. I love the Yucatecan empanadas traditionally made with corn masa flour mixed with chaya leaves ( also known as Mayan spinach), stuffed with cheese, and drizzled with spicy tomato habanero sauce.

I will never forget the first time I tasted a Yucatan empanada. It happened during my first visit to Mexico. An acquaintance invited me to dinner at an unassuming restaurant right on Quinta Avenida. I had walked past the place numerous times, but I never thought to see what it was about. It was us and one other table that night, so immediately, I assumed that I was getting ready to eat some more bland, overpriced food that was far from the mouth-watering dishes I saw influencers gobbling up on their trips to Mexican food capitals like Oaxaca or Mexico City.

By then, I had been living in Mexico for five weeks, and I was beginning to think that the food in Playa Del Carmen was a joke. I was hungry, but my tastebuds couldn’t stand the flavorless food. I would often take a bite of food and soon feel full but never satisfied. That was until I ordered the chaya empanadas at Kascabal. The first bite was an explosion of flavor and texture in my mouth reminiscent of my mother’s famous shrimp po’boys. She would take marinated gulf shrimp and dust them with a mix of cornmeal and wheat flour, then fry them until they were crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Those empanadas were crunchy and salty with a hot, soft interior that made me crave another tasty fried pocket of cheese. The black salsa- charred Habanero peppers ground up and mixed with oil, gave the dish a fiery kick. In contrast, the salsa verde- green sauce- offered a tangy, citrus profile that complimented the chewy, savory Edam cheese within the empanada.

Last year, I celebrated my birthday in Playa Del Carmen, and the only place I wanted to eat at was Kascabal. The waiter blessed me with a free mango margarita that I sipped in between bites of my favorite empanadas. They were so good that I placed another order, polishing off a total of 6 empanadas. I love the empanadas at Kascabal; however, they leave a lot to be desired, like more cheese. And at 180 pesos (USD 9) for three, they can be a bit pricey, especially if you are like me and need more than one order because you eat them as a meal.

You can easily walk over to Kascabal on 5th avenue and try them yourself. There is also the option to take a class to learn how to make these empanadas along with other Yucatan delights through Eating with Carmen, a local food tour company based in Playa del Carmen

Earlier this week, I purchased a tortilla press and chaya at the farmer’s market in my neighborhood and made my chaya empanadas. Yes, I made them bigger and stuffed them with cheese. Stay tuned for the blog and vlog about that. :)

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