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What: Queso relleno is a monster of a Yucatecan dish, a filling, savory, meaty delight, and one that unabashedly displays a Dutch influence. It is, as the name translates, stuffed cheese: A round of Edam cheese (called queso de bola here) is partially hollowed out—apparently, hacienda owners would eat the creamy innards and give the unwanted rinds to servants, according to one likely origin story of this dish—and filled with minced meat (pork or beef), raisins, nuts, various spices, sometimes olives and hard-boiled egg, and then it’s wrapped in muslin and steamed. Once nice and melty, it’s traditionally topped with two sauces: a red tomato sauce and a simple white, flour-based sauce called k’ool. It’s not the prettiest dish to look at, but it sure tastes good.
Good to know: No one knows for sure how Dutch Edam cheese got to this part of Mexico: Some attribute it to Caribbean trade routes (or even a Dutch Antilles-bound boat blown off course); others claim wealthy Yucatecan hacienda owners who grew henequen, a fiber used to make rope, brought it back from their European travels. In any case, it’s here to stay, common in not only this dish but delicious street-sold marquesitas as well (see also this blog post, East Coast Mexico's Dutch Influence).
Where: This dish is served only in restaurants, so make it a good one that specializes in Yucatecan cuisine. We loved Labná (998-892-3056; Margaritas 29, map) in Cancún.
When: Daily, noon-10pm
Order: The queso relleno (155p) is excellent here, a creamy helping of melted Edam, ground beef, raisins, and nuts, with tomato sauce and k’ool on top. It’s served with tortillas, but we loved eating this straight out of the bowl. Don’t miss the wonderful sopa de lima as well, and other local specialties like papadzules, escabeche oriental, and pavo en pepian (aka pipian).
Alternatively: The area’s great Yucatecan/Mayan restaurants are where you want to go for this dish. Also in downtown Cancún, try Loncheria El Pocito (998-884-4736; 31 Norte, betw. Av. Lopez Portillo & Chichen Itza, map); in Playa del Carmen, hit up El Faisan y El Venado (Carretera Federal at Calle 2 Norte, map), just off the highway, or Yaxche (5th Ave. & 22nd St., map), on tourist strip Quinta Avenida.
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