FoodMexico

The Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula

Jetsetter Jenn1454 views
Lobster

Think all Mexican food is all burritos and tacos? Be prepared to be surprised. In the Yucatan Peninsula, you’ll only find these Northern Mexican meals in the most touristy of spots. Native Yucatec food has origins as ancient as the Mayan culture that first migrated to this region nearly 4,000 years ago, and has only improved with time and foreign influences. Heading to the area soon? Here’s a guide to the best food in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula
Pin Now, Read Later

The Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula

The Core Ingredients

The Yucatan Peninsula’s geography and topography make it unique from the rest of Mexico. It is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes seafood a primary protein. The water table is buried beneath a thick layer of limestone, which meant that farming and irrigation needed to develop at a rapid pace to sustain the population. Certain peppers and greens grow abundantly in this region, making it unique from Central and Northern Mexico. Here are a few of the ingredients that make Yucatec cuisine so unique.

Chaya

This is Yucatan’s version of spinach, and it’s health benefits supposedly outstrip it’s more popular cousin tenfold. It is native to the Yucatan peninsula and can be toxic when raw. Eek! Fortunately, it’s been around for a few thousand years, so a dozen or so cooking methods have been developed to make sure you can eat it without worry.

Habanero

Habanero Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula

This is the holy grail of Yucatec chilies. You won’t sit down in a single restaurant without a dish of homemade habanero salsa being plopped in the middle of the table with the admonishment, “Be careful, this is very spicy.” These little orange chilies definitely pack a capsaicin punch, and each restaurant’s recipe is different. So taste with caution! If you love spice (and I mean really, how can you not?), you will love trying the various salsas on offer in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Lobster

Lobster

One side of the Yucatan Peninsula is flanked by the Caribbean Sea, which means loads of delicious spiny (or rock) lobsters dominate the menus. These lobsters are smaller than the giants we often see from Northeast USA, and they are sweet and tasty. You’ll pay top dollar for them in the resorty areas, but when prepared right it’s worth the price.

Shrimp

The Yucatan Peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, which means an abundance of… shrimp! These tasty morsels of seafood goodness show up in a dozens of Yucatec dishes, and you’ll be so glad they do.

Sour Oranges

Sour Oranges Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula

These funky fruits are said to have arrived with the Spanish (though they originated in Southeast Asia). They look like large, round limes on the outside, but when you cut into it — ta da! It looks just like a regular ol’ orange. It’s a delicious blend of sweet and sour that’s hard to replicate using any other citrus.

Achiote

This seed pulp is native to many tropical regions in Central and South America, as well as parts of Mexico. It’s smoky flavor a crucial component to dozens of traditional Yucatec dishes.

Meals Not to Miss

Yucatec food is fresh, natural, and (for the most part) healthy. It has loads of low-fat seafood protein and fresh veggies, so you can gorge to your heart’s delight without having to pay too much attention to your waistline. Here are the best of the best dishes you should try.

Ceviche

Ceviche Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula

Hands-down the ultimate dish in the coastal Yucatan region. All that delectable seafood is marinated in citrus juice, chilies and spices until it’s cooked. It’s served with crunchy tortilla chips and it is absolutely divine. One of my favorites is the shrimp ceviche, but you can also get an all-fish version, or a mixed seafood version that also showcases things like octopus. I snagged a recipe for Yucatec ceviche from a chef in Cabo San Lucas (of all places), which you can find here. So simple, so delicious, you’ll be running back for more every day.

Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita Pibil Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula
Cochinita Pibil

This dish is the inland equal to coastal ceviche. Pork is marinated in loads of that famous sour orange and achiote spice, then slow-cooked in a banana leaf in an underground oven. The flavor is off-the-charts amazing, with a smoky tanginess that kicks all four corners of your palate into high gear. Do not skip this one!

Sopa de Lima

Sopa de Lima Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula

This is Mexican comfort food at it’s finest. Literally translated to Lime Soup, it’s actually more reminiscent of chicken soup, with a little tangy kick at the end. I tried to just eat a little taste of this one, then promptly cleaned out the entire bowl. If you find yourself with a cold or flu in this part of Mexico, Sopa de Lima will be just what the doctor ordered.

Poc Chuc

Pickled onions are hands-down one of my favorite things to eat. And pork is one of my favorite proteins (because bacon). Poc Chuc is an ancient Mayan dish that has both of these things in abundance. The pork is marinated with sour orange, achiote, oregano, and other spices, then grilled over an open flame. This takes the smokiness level to the max. Paired with tangy pickled onions, it’s flavor heaven. If you see a hand-painted “Poc Chuc” sign on the side of the road next to a woman working a grill, PULL OVER!

Queso Relleno

Queso Relleno Best Food in the Yucatan Peninsula
Queso Relleno

This dish is an example of foreign influence blending with Mexican cuisine, and the result is a flavor feast. Queso relleno means “Stuffed Cheese” in Spanish, which sounds promising, no? It’s an edam cheese rind (there’s the Dutch) stuffed with seasoned minced pork. The pork stuffing usually has about a dozen ingredients, all of which blend to give it a sweet-spicy kick that’s a nice contrast to the creamy, salty cheese. Because this is all steamed after it’s assembled, the cheese gets ooey gooey melty and the result can be a little soupy. If you have issues with texture, you may not love this dish. But the flavors deem it worth a try at least once.

Xtabentún

This is technically a drink, but it’s worthy of mention thanks to it’s historical roots in ancient Mayan tradition. It’s a fermented honey and anise liqueur derived from an ancient Mayan recipe. Now it’s mixed with a liberal dose of rum and served as a cocktail. It might not win awards as your favorite drink, but it can be fun to sip and pretend you’re an ancient Mayan king.

16 Comments

  1. Oh my! So much yummy food! My mouth is watering just reading about it all. Ceviche is my absolute favorite - and I'd have it every day if I could - so the Yuctan would be a dream destination for me!
  2. So many different options to pick from but being a vegetarian, only some of them interests me. The spinach “Chaya” seemed to be interesting “can be toxic when raw” ;)
    1. I know, a little sketchy huh? It's actually pretty good though... my favorite dish was a "chaya roll" that had seasoned shrimp, veggies and cheese wrapped up in a big chaya leaf! Super yummy :-)
  3. Oh wow-- that all looks amazing! I love lobster and that ceviche looks like some of the best I've ever seen. I would love to go check the food out here myself one day.
    1. The Yucatan area is seriously seafood HEAVEN. There's so much of Mexico I want to explore/taste, especially Oaxaca! Slowly working my way through, one state at a time I suppose. :-)
  4. Mexican is one of my favourite cuisines. This post is meant for people like me. I am keeping it aside for reference. Because eating good food is one of the best ways to experience a country and its traditions. Shrimp ceviche, habanero...bring it on!
    1. Me too! I love everything about it -- the Yucatan was a surprise with how fresh everything was! I'm used to pretty heavy meals in Mexican cuisine, and this was a welcome surprise. The ceviche is to DIE for, I think I ate it every day.
  5. You'll also need to try Sopa de Azteca or Sopa de Tortillas as they call it too. Ceviche is the best thing in the world!! Have you tried it with lion fish?
    1. Oooh I'll put it on the list for next time! Thanks for the recommendation! I tried just about every kind of ceviche on offer while I was there, but I'm not sure which species of fish was in all of them. Is there something special about lion fish? Do tell!

Comments are closed.