Ever since I first visited the restaurant and ethno-gastronomic center Ya’axche, in Halachó, I’ve struggled to explain to people why I loved it so much. Honestly, I loved it so much and gushed about it so much that I’ve even wondered if I’m not doing a disservice to both the place and its prospective visitors by creating expectations that are simply impossible to meet.
That hasn’t been a problem so far: everyone I’ve recommended this experience to has come back just as amazed as I was. The full experience (which Olivia describes in further detail here) might look unremarkable on paper: a cooking class (how thorough is up to you) or a Yucatecan restaurant. It doesn’t sound groundbreaking, but it is. It may be its very simplicity that makes it unique; I’m still trying to work out that mystery.
The authenticity of Yucatán—just like, I’m sure, the authenticity of many other places around the world—has become so valuable so quickly that, in many cases, it’s become commodified, in a way, and lost some of what makes it special. Suddenly, a simple Panucho (a corn tortilla with beans, meat, and vegetables) isn’t enough; people feel the need to serve goose-egg Panuchos made with heirloom tomatoes imported from Vietnam and edible gold leaves. Dishes that embody the remarkable irony in Yucatecan food (arduous, but simple), become harder and harder to find.
I couldn’t say with certainty if that’s what drove chef Wilson Alonzo, a proud native of Halachó, to create Ya’axche, but it’s a very important element of what it achieves. In this space, Wilson goes back to the techniques that for centuries put delicious dishes on tables all over Yucatán: open-air kitchens, three-stone fires, lovingly worn and torn pots and utensils; above it all, patience and devotion, in addition to respect for each ingredient and each process. All these elements in food that also tastes great makes for a total winner—that’s the case at Ya’axche.
However, perhaps the beating heart of Ya’axche, the thing that makes it so unique and so challenging to put into words, is the authenticity of Wilson himself. I’ve met very few people in my life who truly convey their pride, love, and passion even for Yucatán that Wilson does. With the same down-to-earthness that characterizes his cooking, he’ll tell you about the history of Halachó, about the family lot on which he ventured to open this business, about the central role Ceiba trees have played in his life, and about his own beliefs and perceptions of the world. Talking to Wilson and trying his dishes isn’t only rediscovering the endless wealth of the real, authentic traditional Yucatecan food, no bells or whistles; it’s also learning to see life through a different lens, at a different speed.
Does it feel like I’m creating expectations that are impossible to meet? I encourage you to see for yourself; so far, the numbers are on my side.
By Alicia Navarrete
Communicologist born circumstantially in México City, but who says “uay” since 1985. Life has allowed me to see the world, which in turn has allowed me to discover how much I love the place where I live.
Photography by Gustavo Moguel and Olivia Camarena Cervera for use in Yucatán Today.
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