NOMA – Tulum, Mexico

For those not familiar with NOMA, here goes a brief description: NOMA is a two-Michelin-star restaurant by chef René Redzepi based in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list four times, and is one of the birth places of the “new Nordic” cuisine — namely — pickling, smoking and fermenting of indigenous ingredients.

This was definitely a memorable experience from the get-go. Reservations to the seven week pop-up experiment were sold out within minutes, even though the “ticket” was priced at $600 per person (before taxes and tip). I literally had to beg for a table… but that’s a story for another day.

Set in the middle of the rain forest in Tulum, Mexico, this was such an enchanting setting— white sand, handcrafted tables, open air and overhanging palm trees. I am not going to lie, the tropical jungle is quite temperamental and we did experience a couple rain drops, which we were kindly forewarned were coming by a NOMA staff member 5 minutes before they happened (psychic abilities?!). It was also extremely hot and muggy so even the slightest breeze was more than a welcome relief.

Flor de Mayo and tamarind

I am a rather picky vegetarian, so all my “fine dining, pre-fixed menu adventures” are always an extra annoyance for any chef. We got to sample and experience both the regular 15-course pre-fixed menu, as well the semi-customised vegetarian version, along with the alcoholic beverage pairing.

Hoja Santa leaves and beach herbs

As a person who absolutely loves Mexican food, I have to say I was already expecting something amazing, and even though the food we got was nothing like what I had hoped for, it was definitely a unique take on staple ingredients of the Mexican cuisine.

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Melon clam from Sea of Cortez

What followed next was equal parts fascinating and gross. The third course was salbute — a puffed deep fried tortilla from the Yucatan peninsula traditionally topped with turkey or chicken. Not in our case… we got to try some fried and chopped grasshoppers instead.

Salbute with dried tomatoes and chapulines

The fourth course was probably one of my least favourite dishes of the evening — basically a chilled flower soup — at least it was very colourful 🙂

Cold masa broth with lime and all the flowers of the moment

Coconut! Who doesn’t love coconut! This next course was a young local coconut with caviar. We were instructed to gently scoop the top layer of the meaty coconut with a handcrafted wooden spoon, and put some of the cream and caviar in the same bite — yum! Because I am not the biggest “caviar connoisseur”, I opted for the mango instead.

Young coconut and caviar

I love spicy foods and this menu did not disappoint. Almost every dish had a hint of spice to it, including the next two dishes. I have to say that my favourite course of the entire dinner was the banana ceviche. So simple, and yet absolutely divine — freshly sliced bananas with kelp oil — again, yum!

The next course was a Bahia Falsa oyster and Chaya taco — Chaya leaves are toxic when raw but edible after cooking and are even more nutritious than spinach. The oyster was prepared with fermented beef and an egg sauce.

Chaya taco with Bahia Falsa oyster and Xcatic papper

The whole grilled pumpkin stuffed with avocado, squash and local sea herbs, served with a tomatillo and avocado fudge on the side, was divine!

Following our visit last year to Quintonil in Mexico City, ranked 22 on the World’s 50 Best restaurants list for 2017, we were prepared for the next dish — tostada with “escamoles” (ant larvae). Escamoles were an Aztec delicacy and are basically considered to be insect caviar. Needless to say, my version of this dish contained none of that “goodness”, but rather had only the little beans.

Tostada with escamoles

The next course was one of the most buzzed about and it did not disappoint. An octopus tentacle atop dzikilpak, a local sauce made from pumpkin seeds.

The 12th course came in the form of Cerdo Pelón tacos. Cerdo Pelón is the acorn-fed Mexican relative of the famous among foodies, Iberian pig. The tacos contained bits from every part of the pig wrapped in freshly baked corn tortillas from a small indigenous Mayan community. My vegetarian substitute for the pork were some super yummy Yucatan potatoes.

Sadly, I have to say that the first dessert course we received was probably one of the grossest ways to prepare an avocado (which i honestly didn’t think was possible, as I am absolutely obsessed with avocados!)

Dessert of grilled avocado and mamey seeds

The second dessert was definitely amazing though, so it more than made up for the initial avocado disappointment. A Mixe chile stuffed with hand-made chocolate from local Jaguar cacao. Spicy and sweet is always a great combination in my book!

The green fruit visible in the background of this photo was actually the third dessert, and 15th and final course — Mango Piña from Oaxaca. We were instructed to roll the mango in our hands in order to squish and soften it, and then drink it straight from the fruit.

Chocolate from native Jaguar cacao and Mixe chile

The kitchen setup itself was something awesome. After we had finished our dinner, we were offered a walk around the open-air kitchen to meet some of the amazing people who had so masterfully prepared our meals.

It was like walking into a well choreographed play — even though we could clearly tell that people were extremely busy and lazer-focused on their individual tasks, there was a distinct sense of team work. People were happy and proud to be a part of the NOMA experience — and it was clear that they enjoyed the challenge which this pop-up in the wilderness presented.

Rene’s voice was could be consistently heard over the kitchen noise — encouraging, challenging and synchronising his team’s efforts. This was clearly one well disciplined group of people.

Over the course of our 4-hour dinner we met close to 20 people from the NOMA team, and they told us that the full group number for this pop-up was close to 400(!). This included families and children of the transplanted Copenhagen-based NOMA team, as well some aspiring chefs whom Rene had selected from local culinary schools.

Lastly, no dinner experience of mine would be complete without a comment regarding the booze! I have to say that the beverage pairings which they had selected were incredible — mead, mezcal, amber ale, and cold brewed coffee were all the perfect companions to our intricate dinner.

A sample of the fresh indigenous ingredients used throughout the 15-course menu

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