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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Refried Beans, Jalapeño Peppers, and How to Eat at All-Inclusive Resorts

"I bet I can eat refried beans and jalapeño peppers for 12 straight meals."

So did Spicy Food Guy toss out his "Cool Hand Luke" challenge to his family members, all of whom rolled their eyes and went back to enjoying the sun and warmth of the Riviera Maya.

As it turns out, Spicy Food Guy rather enjoyed the refried beans and jalapeño pepper challenge, though it became the bane of existence for those who had to share the same bathroom as SFG

Spicy Food Guy and his family were enjoying some quality time at the Occidental Grand Xcaret a couple months back.  In prior years, the SFG family had vacationed at the Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya.  All-Inclusive Resorts are hit and miss establishments when it comes to food.  A quick perusal of will show reviews that range anywhere from "the resort had the most fabulous food ever and I gained 10 pounds" to "I couldn't find a single dish that wasn't undercooked and my husband ended up in the hospital with food poisoning."  But given that SFG has some experience in these types of resorts, he thought he'd provide some guidance to those vacationers that might be headed down for their first visit.

But first some setup; most of the food service offerings in all inclusive resorts work in the same general manner.  A grand buffet anchors most of the meals, the selection is huge, and you can eat there with no reservations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Most evenings the grand buffet has a specific theme, such as seafood, Mexican, or Italian.  In addition to the buffet, most resorts offer pool side lunch cafe's where you can get standard lunch fare -- tacos, burgers, pizza, hot dogs, nachos, that sort of thing.  Finally, all the resorts will have anywhere from two to five standalone dinner restaurants that require reservations and have some sort of dress code.  The restaurants range anywhere from Japanese to Mediterranean to Steakhouses.  Finally, most places offer some limited version of room service.

So how in the hell do you decide where to go and what to eat?  As I said, Spicy Food Guy is here to help.
Tip 1 -- Go big on breakfast. First, it doesn't take much to prepare a fairly elegant breakfast, and most resorts do a terrific job of setting up a nice brunch-like atmosphere.  A good omelet, prepared in front of you with your ingredients of choice, is always a great way to start the day.  And because most resorts are located in sunny warm environments, there is almost always a broad selection of fresh fruit.  The kids can enjoy cereal, scrambled eggs, or french toast.  Spicy Food Guy generally steers away from bacon and sausages, mostly because they always appear to be undercooked.  Plus, making breakfast the big meal of the day gives you at least a remote chance of burning off some calories before day's end.

Tip 2 -- Go local.  Shockingly, the best food in most Mexican resorts is, well, Mexican.  It's what they know.  The pica de gallo is always fresh and delicious.  The refried beans are outstanding.  Tinga Pueblana, Mexican pulled pork, practically melts in your mouth.  It always cracks Spicy Food Guy to read a review that says "We were really disappointed with the food at the Italian restaurant in the resort".  Really?  You were?  Spicy Food Guy is always soooo tempted to leave a comment like "No shit, bright eyes, Italy was located on another damn continent last time I checked.  Of course the Italian food sucks in Mexico.  Dumbass."  But SFG never writes this, he just thinks it.

Tip 3 -- Lunch 1 and Lunch 2.  This is a food strategy that was developed by Independent Thinking Stepdaughter of SFG (ITSOSFG).  Most of the poolside lunch cafe's are open from about 11:30 to 2:30, and they are jam packed from 12:15 to about 1:30.  So ITSOSFG came up with the brilliant idea of having a smallish lunch around 11:30 when the crowds were light and the food had just been set out, and then repeating the process at about 2:00.  Lunch 1 and lunch 2.  Helps stop binge eating, you get a quiet lunch, and really fast service.  Brilliant.

Tip 4 -- Avoid shellfish.  Admittedly, this is kind of a no-brainer.  The chances of getting food poisoning from shellfish, especially when served raw, is well documented and known.  Now Spicy Food Guy loves oysters, but he is not about to risk a spending a sunny day in the Riviera Maya vomiting in his bathroom.  Just stay away from the shellfish.

Tip 5 -- Straight from the bottle.  We all know American and European tummies don't always handle Mexican water very well.  So avoid it.  Drink water from water bottles.  Drink beer or soda poured from a bottle.  And is there anything finer than the thoughtful, well timed tequila shot?  Spicy Food Guy thinks not.

Spicy Food Guy hopes you enjoy your trip, and he highly recommends the jalapeño peppers and refried beans.  Peace out, Amigos.

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