Banana trees flourish in the tropical climate in the Riviera Maya. Not only are the bananas eaten and enjoyed for their soft sweet inside, but banana leaves are used for their functional properties. Large, flexible, waterproof and fairly durable, Mayans used banana leaves to prepare food. One of the most common ways to cook with banana leaves is to wrap ingredients to be steamed, grilled or baked. The leaves impart a subtle sweet flavor when cooked. Many traditional dishes are still cooked this way. In the Yucatan, fish, pork and tamales are traditionally cooked with banana leaves.
One of Chef Bernardo’s favorite dishes cooked in banana leaves is Tikin Xic (pronounced “teekeen sheek”). Marinated in achiote and Yucatán orange juice, garlic, fresh oregano, laurel, salt and pepper, the fish (Red Snapper at Esencia) is wrapped in softened banana leaves along with tomatoes, onion, red & green pepper and a couple epazote leaves. The fish is then baked in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 350°F (180°C). Tikin Xic is a main entrée on Esencia’s Dinner Menu.
Banana leaves are also used in treatments at Aroma Spa. Therapists use banana leaves in the Pedicure Indigena as a wrap and protectant to keep the foot mask in place. After exfoliating the feet with a sugar and honey scrub, the therapist applies a mud paste and wraps the feet with a banana leaf that has been slightly heated over a flame (softening the leaf and making it flexible and easy to manipulate). The wrap is left on till the mud dries. Feet are then washed with an herbal infusion and nourished with a cream to seal in the treatment. Nails are then painted if desired.