"First one on the left," was the instruction from my friend Courtney Contos, a currently Vermont-based chef who runs culinary tours in the Yucatan and will soon open a kitchen store and culinary school in Valladolid. My friends and I were taking the 10-minute trip from the larger city to Temozón, a tiny town just north of Valladolid famous for its wood furniture and the smoked meat that results from burning the leftovers from the building process. At least theoretically.
The self-feeding economic/food system is a nice idea, but when I toured the outdoor kitchen at Carnes Concepcion (actually the second one on the left, adjacent to a furniture store), alongside logs that didn't look like they came from furniture building were what appeared to be the remains of demolished homes, plenty of dust and sand, and large pieces of cardboard that tented meat sitting on the grill.
The grills are heated by raging fires burning just below their grates. This is no low-and-slow cooking. Meat is prepared quickly, but doesn't lack for smoky flavor.
Diners order at the front counter, where practically every pig part imaginable awaits in metal trays. A lady cuts up whatever you order and plops it in a styrofoam bowl. It's not just meat, either. There are vast piles of Oaxaca-style string cheese, soft and tangy and eminently fresh, as well as warm corn tortillas pressed almost to order.
Once seated, guests use the tortillas to pick up the meat and spread them with a choice of homemade salsas. There are sodas and beers, but if you're looking for vegetables besides pickled onions, you're out of luck.
I was especially fond of the thin slices of loin, perfect for packing into the yielding tortillas. But the real reasons to dine in Temozón are the sausages. Longaniza, red with achiote (also known as annato), the same spice used to flavor Yucatecan classic cochinita pibil, is the specialty of Valladolid. However, the strikingly jet-black morcilla is worth a visit on its own. It's not your typical mealy blood sausage. The dark meat is packed with herbs and bursts with fat. Strangely, it reminded me of my childhood predilection for Slim Jims. It would be just as easy to grow addicted to the morcilla.
But in the Yucatan, there are so many other things to save room for.