The Tastes of the Yucatan Peninsula
Located in the eastern part of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is known for its sandy beaches, varied wildlife and birds, Mayan pyramids, and its regional cuisine. This cuisine developed from the ancient Maya traditional dishes made of corn, beans, tomatoes, wild turkey, seafood, and chocolate. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, more flavors such as pork, chicken, capers, olives, rice, and black pepper were introduced into the diet to form new complex savory blends. Modern Yucatecan restaurants now serve a wide variety of regional specialties highlighting the unusual combinations of the old and the new. So, if you think all Mexican food consists of guacamole, salsa, and white flour tortillas filled with ground beef and shredded cheese, come learn about some typical dishes found in the Yucatan Peninsula.
For those who like a hearty breakfast, try huevos motuleños. A corn tortilla is covered with refried beans and a fried egg, then chopped ham and green peas are added before the mix is covered with a tomato sauce and shredded cheese. This one will need extra napkins to eat!
If you enjoy a light lunch, try panuchos. A slightly crispy fried tortilla is covered with cooked shredded chicken, and garnished with shredded lettuce, slices of tomatoes, pickled red onion, and sliced avocado. A quick squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of salt create the perfect zesty dressing for this meal. A variation on this is the salbute which has refried beans stuffed inside the tortilla before the chicken and other toppings are added.
One of the most popular dishes found in restaurants is cochinita pibil or roast suckling pig that’s been marinated in a rich sauce made of achiote paste, sour orange juice, garlic, cumin, and salt, then wrapped in banana leaves and baked until tender.
Poc chuc is another pork dish frequently seen on menus. Slices of pork are marinated in a sour orange sauce before cooking, then served with a rich, slightly spicy tomato sauce and pickled red onions.
Sopa de lima is the Yucatan’s idea of chicken soup. A fresh chicken broth filled with shredded chicken, strips of fried corn tortillas, and lime juice. A basic fill-you-up dish that will also help settle your stomach when you’ve had too many margaritas the night before.
Tamales are a typical Yucatan dish. Wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, the steamed cornmeal dumpling can be filled with just about anything from chicken to pork to rabbit with figs and green olives.
For dessert, try the flan. Every restaurant has its own variation on this dish and owners vie for the best flan in the area. A slightly browned sugar syrup is poured into custard cups, then a rich egg and milk mixture is added and baked or steamed until set. When served, the sweet sugary syrup cascades over the sides of the creamy egg custard in a delightful blend of flavors.
Or head to one of the many pastelerias or bakeries in the area where you’ll find all kinds of sweet treats from sugar cookies covered in sprinkles to slices of cheesecake to coconut macaroons.
And if you’re thirsty, be sure to try some freshly squeezed orange juice, or a licuado-a fruit puree, water, and ice drink made from the local area fruits. Try watermelon, strawberry, tamarind, hibiscus flower, or pineapple…any are sure to quench the driest mouth. And don’t worry about the water or ice—all restaurants are required to serve bottled water as the limestone in the area makes the water hard to drink even for the locals.
Regardless of where you eat, a meal in the Yucatan will certainly surprise and delight you with new flavor combinations that bring new meaning to the words “Mexican food.” Buen provecho!