National Geographic Traveler: 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.

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.


This article originally appeared in the National Geographic Traveler “Intelligent Travel” blog in August, 2012, as an excerpt from my feature article in the print magazine.

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