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Ancient Mayan Culture Inspires Mayan Kitchen

On February 8 of this year, Mayan Kitchen opened in Sunnyvale. Inside the restaurant, located at 139 S. Murphy Ave. (cross street: W. Evelyn Ave.), the turquoise chairs, mustard table cloths and images of spices on the wall offer a welcoming atmosphere. Visual Designer Deborah Armstrong plotted the design of the space.

A popular order here is a Yucatán dish called cochinita pibil, tender and flavorful achiote-marinated pork served with silky refried black bean puree, tasty cilantro rice and citrus-flavored Xec salad. Also recommended is the sikil p’ak, a creamy Mayan salsa dip made with pumpkin seeds that comes with fresh radish chunks and crispy chips in a variety of flavors.

Katie Voong, Management Partner of Mayan Kitchen as well as K Tea Cafe in Sunnyvale, a separate to-go boba establishment in the same building, wants her diners to consume healthy food.

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“At Mayan Kitchen, we specialize in Mayan cuisine and we also offer vegan options and shareable plates,” Voong said. “During the pandemic, the biggest thing I missed doing was eating with my family. I want people to come and enjoy a cultural experience with a shared bowl and dine family-style. Mayan Kitchen is the third restaurant in the United States offering Mayan food that is a not a quick-service facility.

“My executive chef, Ed, and I have a collective 20 years working as chefs,” Voong continued. “We work well together. We care about ingredients. We care about our customers.”

Voong explained that Mayan cuisine utilizes natural ingredients, such as oranges and lemons, for its vinegar marinades. Instead of using store-bought vinegar, the restaurant prepares its own vinegar with natural fruits. Voong added that the restaurant’s empanadas are freshly made to order and never frozen.

Born and raised in Yucatán, Mexico, Executive Chef Ed Correa considers himself a Mayan descendant. Making panuchos, tortillas that are deep-fried after being filled with black bean puree, and salbutes, a fluffy deep-fried tortilla, gives Correa memories of living in Yucatán. According to Correa, the cooking in ancient Mayan culture inspired the recipes he learned from his mother and grandmother.

“The Mayans adopted the sour orange from the Spaniards and mixed it with the meat they used to preserve with salt and found that it was delicious,” Correa said. “They used sour orange on many dishes cooked pibil style, which is an ancient technique of digging a hole in the ground to make a pit fire, then adding the meats, covering this with banana leaves and then covering it all with dirt and using it as an oven. At the restaurant, we use a similar technique but without the underground oven.

“When you think of Mexican food, you think of tacos and mole,” continued Correa, distinguishing between Mexican cuisine and Mayan cuisine. “When you talk about Mayan food, our food is more based on the spices from the region where we grew up. For me, Mayan food incorporates annatto seeds, also called achiote, which is a spice we use a lot in our food. Cooking is how I can share my culture with the rest of the world.”

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