During the beginning of Carnival Dream’s October 22 voyage, a majority of the trip was overcast due to the impending storm we did not know was close by. Because of the turn of events in weather, we headed straight from our Honduran adventure to Cozumel– bypassing Belize completely. We had prepared to eat our hearts out on a Belizean foodie tour, but you can’t stop Mother Nature from changing your plans, especially when you’re travelling.
Going from a gloomy, albeit amazing, day in Honduras to the sun-filled resort of Cozumel was a complete flipflop. As the first sunny day of our trip, Cozumel quickly became my mental definition of a tropical paradise. It was also where we had the chance to experience a fiesta of epic proportions.
Cue The Original Salsa and Salsa Tour. My friend and I eagerly booked this particular excursion months in advance when we found it on Carnival’s website. The tour was a combination of salsa making, margarita making, and beginner salsa lessons. We did not know at the time of our booking that The Original Salsa and Salsa tour was TripAdvisor’s number one rated tour for Cozumel, but we quickly learned why.
Our instructors for the day (or Dancing Chefs) were Pita and Stephanie. They had a charismatic energy and overall zeal for life that had the entire tour laughing and relaxed within the first five minutes. The event was held in the banquet hall of a local hotel. Seeing as our cruise was joining in on another ship’s tour, there were over 90 participants in all. This didn’t stop Pita and Stephanie from making everyone feel welcome, frequently shouting throughout the day, “Can I get an Ole?!”
Before we started cooking, everyone donned chef’s hats provided by the Dancing Chefs. They were all white except for one. As Pita and Stephanie explained, the colored chef’s hat was for the table’s team leader. Everyone at our table seemed slightly hesitant to take the hat, unsure of what might be involved when we put the distinct leader hat on. I finally caved and said I would do it, plopping the royal blue hat on my head. Once all of the tables had picked their leaders, Pita shouted, “Great, now all of the leaders are going to show us our first salsa move!”
I let out an insecure laugh as I stood up, shaking my head as everyone at my table grinned; a look of relief gracing about 75% of the faces at the table. As one of my table mates put it, “I haven’t had enough tequila for that yet.”
I’m comfortable in a kitchen, having cooked quite frequently from a pretty young age. Dancing…that’s a different story. But I was there to learn and I have little to no shame when it comes to embarrassing myself in public, so I took on my duty as team leader full-force.
We were told to put our arms out at waist-level, with our hands facing out.
“Now, remember what Mr. Miyagi taught you in the Karate Kid and wax on, wax off!”
After we got that motion down, they told us sway our hips in the same motion. With that, we officially had the first salsa move down and were rewarded with our first margarita of the day.
Tequila and I have a very testy history, do margaritas aren’t my typical drink of choice. With that in mind, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the traditional lime margarita served at Salsa and Salsa was the best margarita I’ve ever had. It’s all accredited to the edition of the Mexican liqueur, Controy. Every margarita I’ve made, or had, up until this point was made using triple sec. Controy has a sweeter and smoother finish than triple sec, and it cuts the sharpness in the tequila so well that I might have actually enjoyed it for the first time since my 21st.
Traditional Lime Margarita
serves 1; recipe provided by The Original Salsa and Salsa Tour
- 1 shot of Tequila
- 1 shot of Controy (Orange Liqueur)
- Juice of 1/2 a lime
Rim your glass with salt. Add ice. Squeeze the lime juice in your glass. Add the two shots of alcohol and stir.
Our first margarita recipe was followed close behind by a frozen strawberry version, but it was subpar in comparison to its traditional counterpart.
The salsa making followed, starting off with a spicy red salsa and a salsa verde. These two salsas were identical in ingredients except for the main stars in each dips: roma tomatoes were used in the red salsa while tomatillos were used in the green.
We were provided with a cutting board, knife, lime juicer and whole ingredients, all of which had been roasted in the oven beforehand. Before this lesson, all of my salsa making was done with fresh, uncooked ingredients. Working with roasted vegetables added a new depth of flavor that I really enjoyed. Roasting the onions and garlic helped take away the sharpness often found in these ingredients when left raw and it also made mashing up the salsas much easier.
The next salsa made was the overall winner for my friend and I: guacamole. Their version of guac was simple. We took half of our salsa verde and mixed it with a ripe avacado, seasoned it to our liking with lime juice and salt, then, voila, kick-ass guac.
Oaxacan Style Guacamole
recipe provided by The Original Salsa and Salsa Tour
- 1/4 cup of green salsa verde
- 1 ripe avocado
- Lime and Salt to taste
Use a mortar and pestle (or molcajete) to blend all the ingredients until smooth.
The margaritas continued to flow as we worked on our salsas, the hotel servers working like a well-oiled machine, refreshing our glasses and bringing out the needed ingredients for our next salsa. As the day progressed (and more alcohol was consumed) the recipes became much less hands on much more mix and eat– the knives were taken away by salsa number 4: pico de gallo.
The pico de gallo was probably the most fact-filled recipe of the day. We learned that the classic salsa isn’t actually known as pico de gallo in Mexico. In its homeland, pico de gallo is called Salsa Mexicana because of it’s resemblance to the Mexican flag.
The pico was followed by a tropical salsa, which was simply pico de gallo with pineapple added. Our final salsa of the day was the sweetest of them all: dessert salsa. It was entirely fruit-based, made with cantaloupe, pineapple, apple and coconut. They also incorporated a Mexican rum liqueur called Rompore that was addictive. We spooned our dessert salsa onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream, making it the perfect finish to our salsa-filled cooking lesson.
The cooking was followed by a 15 minute break, which gave everyone time for a much needed bathroom break. It also let the servers quickly move the tables out of the way so that we could learn some more salsa moves.
I can’t say that our dancing was the greatest, but my friend and I could have easily had the most fun out of the couples on the dance floor. As two single girls, we kind of went to the beat of our own drums, twirling around and laughing at the ridiculousness of ourselves.
As the dancing came to a close, Pita and Stephanie had the observers hand out superlatives. All of the couples from our table received one going from “Best Dancers” to “Drunkest Couple.” My friend and I were dubbed, “Most Improved.”
We returned to the port shortly after and were given the chance to explore the shops that fill Cozumel. It was as close to paradise as I have yet to experience and I hope that anyone who ventures to Cozumel finds the time to check out the Original Salsa and Salsa Tour. I’ve provided you with two of the recipes as a sneak peak into this magical margarita and salsa filled fiesta, but there’s nothing like experiencing in in real life. Now, can I get an Ole?!