Yucatán and Campeche States Feature
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
- Spanish Phrases
Chefs in Mexico skillfully combine ingredients and techniques from the New World and Old, but the cuisines here vary dramatically from region to region. The flavors of Yucatán are subtle, unique, and not to be missed.
Regional culinary traditions in the country can be divided into four regions. Foods from the north have an unpretentious culinary tradition; here you'll find dishes that were originally served on ranches and haciendas. On both coasts, seafood takes center stage. The central region includes the area in and around Mexico City, where many of country's most characteristic plates were invented in convent kitchens during colonial times. Foods from the south, including the Yucatán, are singular within Mexico. This region was once a difficult area to access, so the culinary traditions that developed on the isolated peninsula were quite different from those in other areas of the country. At the same time, centuries of commercial and cultural trade with Cuba, Europe (especially France), and New Orleans have left their mark on Yucatán culinary traditions. More recent Middle Eastern influences are also visible.
In the Yucatán's warm weather, nothing satisfies like a cool aguas fresca (fruit-infused water). One drink that you won't want to miss is agua de chaya. Chaya, sometimes called Mayan spinach, is a nutritious leafy green that's used in a wide variety of recipes, including soups, omelets, tamales, and a sweet agua fresca.
Vistors to the Yucatán often discover a wide variety of dishes they've never seen before. This is because Yucatán cuisine is not often served in Mexican restaurants north of the border, or even in other areas of the country. Here are some of the most typical dishes—all of them well worth a try!
Huevos motuleños. This is a popular breakfast dish that originated in Motul, a small town east of Mérida, where the ancient Mayan city of Zacmotul once stood. Eggs, sunny side up, are covered with black beans and cheese and served on a crispy tortilla. Other ingredients like red salsa, ham, and green peas are usually heaped on top. Fried plantains are often served on the side.
Sopa de lima. This soup is traditionally prepared with turkey, indigenous to the Yucatán, and includes pieces of tomatoes, sweet chile or green pepper, and lime juice. It's garnished with strips of lightly fried tortilla.
Queso relleno. Legend has it that in the 19th century a boat from Holland was forced to dock on the peninsula because of bad weather, and the people in Mérida were delighted with the cargo of Dutch cheese. From this trip, a typical Yucatecan dish made with Gouda or Edam cheese was born. A salty cow's-milk cheese is stuffed with spiced ground beef and served with two sauces: a tomato-caper sauce and a milder creamy sauce.
Cochinita pibil. This is perhaps the most representative dish in the Yucatecan repertoire. The word pibil means "roasted in the hole," which describes just how this dish is classically prepared. The Maya used to roast venison in this way, but the Spanish-introduced pork is now the standard. The meat is first marinated in a mixture of bitter orange juice (from the Seville oranges that grow in this region), achiote (an intensely peppery flavored paste that some describe as having a nutmeg-like flavor, made from annatto seeds), oregano, salt, and pepper. Next, it's wrapped in banana leaves and placed in a hole lined with stones that have been heated with fire. The meat cooks slowly. These days, this dish is often made in a pot on the stove or slow-roasted in the oven. It's usually served in tacos with pickled onions called cebolla en escabeche.
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