The food of the Yucatan Peninsula is famous worldwide, whether because of the amazing range of traditional dishes that have been preserved over the generations by Yucatecan families, or the unique and characteristic flavours imparted by their ingredients, some of which can only be found in this region.
Yucatecan gastronomy combines the traditions of the ancient Mayas with European ingredients imported after the Spanish conquest, with some additional elements stemming from the Middle East.
Before we begin, a warning: Yucatecan food is packed with flavour, but it’s also packed with spices, which can represent a challenge for some stomachs.
These are the seven Yucatec dishes you have to try on your next visit to the Yucatan Peninsula… if you dare.
- Cochinita Pibil.
Cochinita Pibil is a slow-roasted pork dish, flavoured with “achiote” — a spice mixture easily recognisable by its bright red colour — and flavoured with bay leaves, bitter oranges, garlic, onion and vinegar. Cochinita Pibil is traditionally cooked wrapped in a banana leaf, in an earth oven. It’s served with red onion in bitter orange juice and habanero chillies.
Panuchos are made from Mexican maize tortillas, sliced open and stuffed with a refried black bean paste. The tortilla is then fried in oil or lard, topped with pulled chicken or turkey, garnished with lettuce, tomato and onion, and seasoned with bitter orange and salt. It can also be served with a hot sauce made from habanero peppers.
These are hand-made tortillas, rolled and stuffed with hard-boiled egg, then drenched in a pumpkin seed sauce that is usually a pale green colour, similar to pistachio. To accentuate the flavours, it’s garnished with tomato sauce and slices of egg, the latter sometimes replaced by different varieties of cheese.
- Queso Relleno
Literally, “stuffed cheese” — the main ingredient here is Dutch Edam, known in Mexico as “queso de bola”. A whole cheese is hollowed out and stuffed with ground meat seasoned with both sweet and savoury ingredients, creating a unique combination of flavours. It’s cooked at a low heat and when finally ready, served with tomato sauce and a white sauce known as “Kol,” made from broth, cornstarch, lard and salt.
- Mukbipollo or Pib
Although this dish is known by several other names, Mukbipollo means “stirred buried chicken”. It’s a kind of Mexican tamale, made with dough and stuffed with chicken, pork or other meat, mixed with the traditional Yucatecan sauce “Kol,” tomato and aromatic herbs. It’s slow cooked in a small earth oven, and is considered a dish for special holidays, mainly the Day of the Dead celebrations.
- Pescado Tikinxik
Freshly-caught fish is marinated in “achiote”. The fish is then char-grilled, accompanied by a couple of freshly made tortillas and a squeeze of lemon, and voila! It’s ready to enjoy.
- Dzik de Venado
Venison marinated in bitter orange – a fruit typical of the region – and slow cooked. It’s served with a kind of salad, made with finely chopped tomato and onion and flavoured with cilantro and oregano.
Yucatan also has its own characteristic drinks, and one of the best known is Xtabentun, a liqueur similar to anise, made from the honey of bees that have fed on the xtabentún flower. It’s an ideal aperitif, which can be served with a little honey, or – for the brave – drank straight up.
So on your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula — will you dare give these dishes a try? After the first bite, you’ll probably want to finish the whole plate.