Small family businesses make the world go round. And in Mérida, a new wave of family-run, Asian cuisine spots are on the rise. These places share the fact that they all blossomed during the pandemic and that they are owned by persistent and passionate entrepreneurs.
We spoke to a few of them about their stories and the challenges of tackling these specific cuisines.
Curry House & Daki
Yucatán-native Monserrat had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to find love. While living in England she met Kieren, a young chef who grew up in Birmingham, which happens to be the UK’s curry mecca. You can see where the story is headed.
When Kieren finally managed to migrate to Mexico between lockdowns, he found himself itching for a new project. The idea was to open something that diners couldn’t find here. Mérida’s first authentic Indian curry joint kicked off in dark kitchen mode but is now an actual sit-down restaurant.
It didn’t take off instantly, precisely because locals weren’t very familiar with the concept. “It’s like mole,” Monserrat would tell her acquaintances to persuade them to order food from Curry House. It must have worked, because Curry House began to grow.
Their menu is a stripped-down version of the sometimes endless options that curry places offer. It includes classic flavors like tikka masala, madras, and vindaloo, but they come with either chicken or beef —you can also make them vegetarian. They also serve kebabs and different variations of naan bread. Not to mention, it is perhaps the best place in town for a good lassi, a sweetened yogurt drink.
According to Monserrat, the butter chicken is the most successful variety of curry. Another consistently popular item is called A Bit of India, which includes samples of four different kinds of curry.
After the success of Curry House, Kieren and Monserrat began to think of other concepts that could take full advantage of the kitchen they had already set up. That is how Daki came to be.
Daki is a wok-centered kitchen that attempts to bring together flavors from several different Asian cuisines, such as Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Japanese. The menu allows patrons to create their own combinations with a selection of bases, protein, vegetables, and sauces. Standing on the shoulders of Curry House, Daki has eased its way into the hearts of its sister business’ clients. According to Monserrat, their effort to use authentic ingredients and recipes is what sets it apart from other wok places in the city.
As for the happy couple, they have since opened pizza and taco joints in the very same spot as Curry House and Daki, and are now thinking about their next step in life.
Phone: 999-501-3121; Instagram: @the.curryhouse
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/54JDnZcd1ZgpdfZm7
When the pandemic began in 2020, Roberto was out of a job. A chef in the Riviera Maya area for 15 years, he decided to return to Mérida, his hometown, to figure out his next move.
During lockdown, he came up with the idea of selling food comida corrida-style. Taking advantage of the knowledge of Asian cuisine that he had gathered during his years in Quintana Roo, he began to introduce weekly specials. One of them was baos.
Baos are a common street snack in places like Singapore, Malaysia, and most famously, Taiwan. “They’re really not complicated at all, it’s basically just flour and water,” says Roberto before explaining that it’s the steaming that gives baos their fluffy and chewy structure.
A taco of sorts, the classic gua bao is filled with either pork belly, chicken, or vegetables. Roberto has added his touch with varieties of his own creation like octopus, jaiba (crab), and brisket.
People started to ask Roberto for more, which ignited in him the idea of opening up an entire kitchen just to sell boas. And thus, Wah Bao was born.
In time, the kitchen turned into a restaurant, located in the Montes de Amé area. Roberto has since added ramen and sweet baos sections to his menu. The latter includes a killer caramelized apple bao. Other items that he recommends to first-timers are the duck and the brisket baos.
From unemployed to proud business owner in just a couple of years. After taking his fate into his own hands, there seems to be no going back to the hospitality industry for Roberto. He is already home.
Phone: 999-994-1540; Instagram: @wah_bao
How to get there: https://g.page/wahbao?share
Pandemic-bred Tawi Tawi has become an open secret among lovers of Asian cuisine in Mérida. It’s one of those cases where great food and impeccable branding come together to create an attractive product.
Owner Adriana, whose attention to detail shows across the whole concept, is a longtime dumplings lover. “I’ve always thought that dumplings are the new sushi.” That is why, when faced with the challenge of opening a food delivery, she knew what she wanted to sell right from the start.
Tawi Tawi’s menu is minimalistic but modular. Patrons can create different combinations of fillings, cooking methods, and sauces. For example, there are four kinds of fillings (pork, chicken, shrimp, and veggies), three kinds of sauces (ponzu, peanut, and spicy), and three cooking methods (steamed, fried, and spicy-fried). This system allows a great amount of versatility and ordering becomes a playful experience.
For now, Tawi Tawi remains a dark kitchen, but the place definitely has the potential to grow into a full-scale restaurant.
Phone: 999-327-0155; Instagram: @tawitawi.mx
How to get there (pickup only): https://goo.gl/maps/TvLFA4tzzU84faHc7
Alethia, originally from Guadalajara, has been living in Yucatán for over 15 years. She has always enjoyed baking, but it was only a couple of years ago that she discovered a kind of baked good that would change her life: the Japanese cheesecake.
It was a friend of hers who first told her about it. She was intrigued and gave it a try, with great results. At first, she would only sell them at her church. She then began to bake on a daily basis and sell them from home. Increasing sales made it obvious that she was on to something.
The most important ingredient in a Japanese cheesecake is eggs, which give the bread its characteristic fluff. The main challenge is to tame this flavor with other ingredients. However, Alethia had the additional challenge of adapting the traditional recipes —which are based on Japan’s climate— to the warm and humid conditions of Yucatán. This has been an almost scientific process of trial and error that has led to near perfection.
Opened just a few months before the pandemic began, Yummi benefited from the new delivery culture that developed in most cities around the world. The growth of the business was such that last year, Alethia and her family opened their first physical store in Francisco de Montejo. Each member of the family plays a role in running the place and the entire operation is a team effort.
In classic Yucatecan fashion, Alethia introduced a hazelnut spread and queso de bola Japanese cheesecake, which quickly became the most popular item on the menu, to no one’s surprise.
999-199-6622; Facebook: @panjaponesmerida
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/BBznGsaLwqDPwjxX6