Tabasco in the Age of Maya

It may be the end of one calendar era, but the people are still hungry. Tabasco has served as a crossroads for cultures and cuisine ever since the Olmec civilization advanced astronomy, calendar keeping, and other scientific activities that paved the way for the Maya reign.

“El gobernante” Olmec sculpture in Villahermosa. (Photograph by Jose Alejandro Manuel Garcia, Flickr)

You can have your history and your almuerzo (lunch), too, at the Carlos Pellicer Cámara Regional Anthropology Museum in Villahermosa, Tabasco’s largest city.

Here you can see Tortuguero Monument 6, one of the most famous relics in the Maya world. This cracked stone slab bears what may be the only documented ancient reference to the end of time (or, more likely, the end of a calendar cycle). Nothing stirs an appetite like a brush with an apocalypse.

Los Tulipanes, an eatery next to the anthropology museum complex, buzzes around lunchtime, when locals share plates of pejelagarto, “lizard fish,” cooked inside fresh empanadas; herb-stuffed tamales; and cheese-topped plantains.

The menu reflects comida tabasqueña—traditional Tabascan specialties such as grilled fish and palate-tingling sauces (which inspired Tabasco sauce, invented in Louisiana).

Photo: Cacao beans for sale in Mexico

Cacao beans for sale in Mexico. (Photograph by Donkeycart, Flickr)

No meal is complete without a cup of posol, a fermented corn-dough concoction that’s said to be the state drink.

Often served in decorated jicara seeds, posol can be sweet, sour, or spicy. It’s best blended with a lick of cacao, that flavorful ingredient.

The Maya dried, fermented, and toasted cacao seeds, using them in a wide variety of dishes. Today, cacao seeds work their way into tortillas, tamales, and other edibles.

They remain the essential elements of chocolate, which has been elevated to an art form here.

Jump on the cacao trail in Comalcalco, north of Villahermosa, where demonstration farms offer the chance to taste each step of the chocolate-making process, from the tangy, white pulp of fresh cacao fruit to the decadent bite of the finished product.

This piece, written by Joshua Berman and Andrew Evans, appeared in the August/September 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Comments

  1. Nikole Fairview - ExploringLifesMysteries.Com
    Washington, DC
    August 12, 2012, 7:12 pm

    Ah, the Mayans. They are forever a mystery to us all and so many people are just so enthralled with the history that surrounds them. The whole Mayan calendar thing is a bit creepy. I thought it was strange that there was some Twitter trend or something where people were talking about what they would be doing since at that time, or the next day, there was some idea going around that the world would end that day. I think this could have been New Year’s 2012. I think though that the Mayan Calendar date they thought they were referring to comes later in the year. In any event, I just thought it was strange and morbid to turn something like the world ending into a joke.

    Thank you for sharing information about this museum with us. The food sounds delicious, like a traveler’s dream. Food like that is the reason people love visiting other exotic countries so much. I think any information on the Mayans is fascinating to people because they are so mysterious and no one knows exactly where they went or why.