Tucked away in the mighty Chiapas Mountains, the mystic Mayan ruins of Palenque stand tall, surrounded by dense jungle and covered ever so slightly by the hazy mountain mist. Known for its rich culture, history, and cuisine, the ruins of Palenque, and the nearby town of the same name, are two of the most traveled destinations in Southern Mexico. While the area’s main attractions are archeological tours of the zones ancient findings, such as the Palenque Ruins Tour and those of the nearby Bonampak Ruins, the city’s culture and cuisine are equally impressive.
It’s no secret – after a stimulating day of exploration and witnessing some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Mexico, the next major goal of visitors is to seek out delicious local cuisine to nourish their well-deserved appetites. With dishes as unique and diverse as the human pallet, Palenque is sure to impress all of those open to experiencing the region’s savory zest, or as the locals call it, “sazón”.
With corn (maíz) as the region’s staple crop, one can expect it to be a principal ingredient in local dishes. Whether walking the cobblestone streets lined with food vendors or sitting down in a local, family owned restaurant, the aromas of homemade corn tortillas (blandas), tamales, and atole (a traditional hot drink of the region made with corn flour, water, unrefined cane sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and optional chocolate or fruit) are sure to fill the air.
In Palenque, the tamales are not ordinary Mexican tamales, but tamales with a special regional touch. With a major role in Chiapas history, the tamal was present in the diet and ancient ceremonies of the pre-Hispanic, Mayan culture. As is common in many of the local dishes, these tamales often include beef, chicken, or pork accompanied by regional specialties such as chipilín (a legume used as an herb, added to tamale dough, or served as a side) and homemade, ground bean paste infused with hints of onion, chili, and salt. One of the regional favorites is the tamal de bola – a type of tamale prepared with two types of masa (white maize flour treated with lime or wood-ash lye) and chile simojovel – a spicy, culinary symbol of the region.
If that doesn’t get the mouth watering, perhaps the region’s other known specialties will do the trick, among which include:
Huevos a la chiapaneca: Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, especially prior to a day of physical activity and exploration. Huevos a la chiapaneca is a hearty breakfast dish of fried eggs accompanied with frijoles de olla (stewed, juicy beans), tostadas (fried corn tortilla), fresh cheese, avocado, chile, and chopped onion. This dish is sure to provide the necessary energy for a day of action.
Cochito horneado: Whether for lunch or dinner, this famous regional dish is one of the most popular and well liked of the region. With a base of delicious pork meat marinated in a savory broth (recado) consisting of chile guajillo, chile ancho, freshly ground black pepper, tomato, salt, and butter, the cochito horneado is every meat-lovers dream.
Mole chiapaneco: While Mexican mole is most famous in the neighboring state of Oaxaca, mole chiapaneco has seen its own rise to fame and continues to be a highly demanded dish in the region. With a sauce based on ingredients such as chile ancho, nuts, tomato, onion, raisins, and chocolate, this local favorite is sure to impress the most sophisticated of pallets.
While the local cuisine may seem impressive on its own, it is best when accompanied by a local beverage. While many visitors will choose to indulge in artisanal tequila or mezcal made in the local mezcalería, the region has its own unique drinks to offer. Whether it be the aforementioned atole, pozol (corn dough, water, and spices), or pinole (roasted ground maize mixed with cocoa, agave, cinnamon, chia seeds, vanilla, and/or other spices), visitors are sure to be impressed by the uniqueness and gusto of the region’s beverages. It is common for these local drinks (often served warm) to be consumed along with regional deserts, such as local chocolate and coconut candies or the famous sweet breads known as “nugres” and “pan coleto”.
It’s easy to see why so many people have decided to add Palenque to their list of places to visit. Upon witnessing its breathtaking landscape and mystic ruins, or diving head first into its rich culture and diverse cuisine, this destination is sure to impress. After visiting this popular Mexican treasure, the question “where is Palenque?” will be an easy one to answer, as one will be flooded by memories of the towering ruins, dense jungle, warm people, and last but not least, the region’s “sazón”.