A Taste of Yucatán

Delicious Mexican food is one of the reasons we like visiting Mexico.

There are so many dishes unique to Yucatan state that in three weeks I haven’t been able to try them all.

It is my mission to sample them all. Dare I say that Yucatecan food just might be my favorite?

Warning: The following photos may cause intense food cravings.

I really like that many dishes are served with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and radish garnishes. Yucatecan food is generally not spicy by itself, but habanero sauce is served with everything along with a warning, “Pica!” “This is spicy!”
I love the gooey melted cheese!

“Here isolated from the rest of Mexico an entirely different culinary tradition was born. This area was home port to the Dutch, French, Spanish and of course marauding pirates, and it experienced a fascinating impact on the people and the local cuisine, so much so that no other region in Mexico has the same kinds of dishes served here.”

Mérida and the state of Yucatán have traditionally been isolated from the rest of the country due to being enclosed by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It has created a unique culture.

What makes up the Tastes of Yucatan cuisine? It incorporates traditional Mexican ingredients such as avocado, purple onions, tomatoes, corn and habanero chile as well as several that are of Mayan origin including things you might not suspect, such as wild turkey, deer, quail and chaya (which is similar to Swiss chard but grows on trees.) The Maya also used banana leaves instead of corn husks. Other ingredients in the cuisine of Yucatan state have been imported from Europe, such as the sour orange from Spain and the Dutch gouda cheese.

In other parts of the world vinegar is used to pickle and preserve, but here, naranja agria (sour orange juice) is the acid that was initially devised as a way to preserve meat in the tropical climate.

The region’s most famous dish – Conchinita Pibil uses the sour orange juice. Suckling pig is marinated overnight in a naranja agria and annatto based marinade, wrapped in banana leaves, and slow roasted in an underground oven, called a pib, for several hours. “Pibil is a Mayan word that means “to bury, or to cook underground.” On its own, cochinita pibil isn’t spicy.

Poc chuc is another favourite dish that is marinated in naranja agria juice along with a red seasoning mix. It is a thin pork fillet that is marinated and grilled.

At the Museum of Gastronomy Yucateca we shared the “Yucatecan Grill.” It included Poc Chuc, Cochinita Pibil, and Chicken Pibil marinated in sour orange, and the smokey sausage coils of Valladolid Longaniza served with with pickled red onion, guacamole, salsas, corn tortillas and a sour orange to squeeze over it all!
This is a plate of poc chuc tacos.
Sopa de Lima is a traditional Yucatecan dish, much like chicken tortilla soup, but the broth is made with distinctive local limes. It is garnished with crispy fried tortilla strips.
Another bowl of Sopa de Lima from a different restaurant has a different broth and pictured with some chaya drinks. Chaya, sometimes called “Yucatan tree spinach” is a superfood used in many Yucatan foods. It can have a semi-bitter or earthy taste and in a drink is often blended with pineapple or lime juice.
Queso Relleno is a true Yucatecan dish that is found nowhere else in Mexico. Queso relleno, meaning “stuffed cheese,” is a more modern dish — and actually, heavily influenced by the European and Dutch expats who moved to the Yucatan. Edam is a large ball of cheese, prized more for the softer cheese towards the center than for the harder edges of the ball. However, clever chefs put the often-discarded outer shell to good use, and queso relleno was born. A rind of Edam cheese is wrapped around a mixture of different ingredients like ground meat, olives, hard boiled egg, onion, raisins and pumpkin seeds formed in a ball, which is then wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. It is topped with a red and a white sauce. This one was actually disappointing; the cheese was not soft or gooey.

“Makes sure to get your daily dose of Vitamin T” is a common saying in Mexico (or so I read online, so it’s true, right?) Though most assume the “T” implies only tacos — it also stands for tamales and tortas.

The torta – a sandwich – of cochinita pibil.

In Mexico, you’ll always be able to find authentic Mexican tacos. However, in Yucatan, you can also change up your tortilla style with salbutes and panuchos.

These salbutes are so colorful and fresh! A salbute is a soft, puffy pillow-like fried tortilla, instead of a standard, flat tortilla topped with a protein filling, which is often turkey or cochinita pibil. They are served with lettuce, tomato, avocado and pickled red onions. Salbutes are somewhat similar to sopes, which you’ll find throughout Mexico. The main difference between salbutes and sopes is the amount of masa used, as sopes are much thicker.
A panucho is a tortilla where the masa is formed around mashed, refried black beans and fried. It is not fried to a crisp like a tostado, so it’s texture is chewy with some crunchiness. Like a salbute, it comes with meat and all the same toppings, but the beans add another layer of flavor. In Yucatan, panuchos are just as common as tacos. In the picture above is a chipotle chile.
A sampler plate of tacos and panuchos.

There are tamales like tamales colados, pib (AKA mucbipollo), brazo de reina, and vaporcitos one can find only in this part of Mexico.

One I haven’t been able to try yet is the Brazo de reina, which means “the queen’s arm.” It is a tamal made with masa dough that’s mixed with chaya, a local dark green veggie, which turns the masa green. It’s then stuffed with chopped hard boiled eggs and topped with sikil paak – a ground pumpkin seed and tomato salsa.

In Yucatan, vaporcitos are the most common type of tamal; so much so, they are usually called tamales yucatecos outside of the Yucatan Peninsula. We sampled this vaporcito at the mercado.

Kibis are diamond-shaped and fried breads. They are served plain or stuffed with a cabbage salad mixture, meat or a cheese similar to Edam cheese. Mexico had an influx of Middle Eastern (mostly Lebanese) immigrants in the late-19th century and the Kibis is similar to the Middle-Eastern kibbeh.

Kibis are mostly found from street vendors. I found the kibis to taste nutty; the flour is made from ground pumpkin seeds. This one is served with spicy cabbage and I tried one with meat. I would definitely like more!
I sampled some empanadas. This one is made with corn masa stuffed with chaya and cheese and fried. I also tried one with ripe platano and one with the lomganiza sausage.
I apologize for the poor quality of this photo. It was taken after dark while seated under a street vendor’s tent. On my mission to sample as many different foods as I could I ordered this Polcan with relleno negro. Polcanes are deep-fried little rounds made of masa and ground pumpkin seed and then stuffed with any number of different fillings.

Relleno negro is a stew-like dish made with turkey meat in a recado negro (black spice mixture). Its jet black color may look weird at first, but this is a really delicious Yucatecan dish that gets its color from charred chile de árbol (tree chili), or chile ancho. The recado spice mixture is added to turkey stock and turkey meat, then slow-cooked into a stew. It comes served with a hard boiled egg.

This entree of three corn and chaya crepes filled with turkey is bathed in three different sauces separated by creamy puree of plantain. The red Pipián sauce is made of ground pumpkin seeds and achiote, the light green colored Papadzul sauce is made from pumpkin seeds, and the spicy black relleno negro from charred spicy chiles.

Papadzules, is another favorite in Mérida. They are like enchiladas; corn tortillas folded over chopped hard-boiled eggs and then dipped in a pipián (squash seed) sauce and drizzled with a fried tomato sauce.

In Campeche I finally tried Papadzules and they were good. Reminded me of creamed eggs over toast, but with tortillas instead.

The Yucatan Peninsula is surrounded by water, therefore seafood and shellfish dishes are plentiful.

Ceviche de pulpo frito is a ceviche of “fried octopus” instead of uncooked seafood, mixed with the typical ceviche ingredients, and served on crispy tostado shells. This was large enough for us to share and was delicious!

Pan de Cazón means “dogfish bread.” It’s made with alternating layers of lightly fried corn tortillas and flaked dogfish and some refried beans and smothered in a tomato sauce. Dogfish is common in the Yucatan, and similar to cod, but with a milder, sweeter flavor.

We ate Pan de Cazon in Campeche.
Huevos Motuleños is the breakfast speciality of this area. The dish starts with fried corn tortillas spread with pureed black beans and topped with sunny-side-up eggs. The whole dish gets smothered in salsa roja (mild red salsa) and topped with peas, fried sweet plantains, diced ham and cheese.
Invented in Merida in 1938, Marquesitas became the favourite sweet snack of the daughters of a Marquis living in the City and eventually they became named after the little girls. Most evening food carts around parks cook and sell marquesitas. A batter is spread on a hot crepe grill. While still hot, the cooked crispy crepe is spread with a variety of fillings and rolled up. I tried the two local favorite fillings of grated cheese and Nutella and grated cheese with Lechera (like sweetened condensed milk.) Next time I want to try the Lechera with the blackberry jam.
One of my favorite Mexican breakfast dishes is Chilaquiles! This is a plate of Chilaquiles Divorciados half in green sauce and half in red sauce.

Did you notice how colorful all these dishes are in Yucatan state?

UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared in 2010 that traditional Mexican food is an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind” or basically, that it is a cultural treasure worth preserving.

I wholeheartedly agree! My stomach agrees! How about you?

Leave a comment about your favorite Mexican food. Are there other ethnic foods you consider “a treasure worth preserving?

3 responses to “A Taste of Yucatán

  1. Pingback: Colorful Mérida | Meet You In The Morning·

  2. Pingback: Cost of 2 Months: Yucatán, Campeche & Quintana Roo, Mexico | Meet You In The Morning·

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