When we think of Mexican food, we likely think of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or tostadas, with heaping sides of rice and beans. The truth is though, that is not true of Mexican food at all.
If you’ve been to Mexico, you likely already know that. What you might not know though, is how different the food is when you get to the Yucatan. The Yucatan State is almost like a different country from the rest of Mexico.
The native culture of this state clings to its Mayan roots. That’s apparent in locally made crafts, clothing, and of course the food!
Travelers from different countries and even different parts of Mexico will all enjoy discovering the wonders of Yucatecan food.
Foods to Try in the Yucatan
1. Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita, as it’s endearingly referred to, is the most famous of the foods originating from the Yucatan. It’s a slow-roasted pork dish that is served with pickled onions and tortillas (sometimes in taco form).
The meat is incredibly tender and complimented well by the pickled onions (raw or cooked onions simply won’t do!). The texture and aesthetic are comparable to Kaluha Pork, the famous Hawaiian dish.
2. Queso Relleno
This is a popular dish among natives and locals with some European influence, Dutch specifically. The cheese is queso de bola, or Edam. The dish consists of the rinds from the cheese stuffed with a mix of beef, pork, nuts, and spices, then covered in a tomato sauce.
The dish is said to have originated from servants using the discarded rinds of the cheese (after the heads of the house ate the soft insides of the cheese) along with other leftovers.
3. Sopa de Lima
This Yucatecan soup, translating to (lime soup) is made with a larger lime that contains a slightly different flavor from the traditional and common lime. This larger lime only grows around this region, making the soup a unique Yucatecan specialty.
It’s served with (usually) shredded chicken and topped with crispy tortilla strips. Depending on who’s preparing the soup, there will likely be a variety of other veggies and spices mixed in.
4. Huevos Motuleños
If you want to start your day like a native Yucatecan, start it with huevos motuleños. This dish starts with corn tortillas topped with huevos fritos (fried eggs), black beans, and cheese (shredded and small slices), and is finished with the tomato sauce found in many dishes from the Yucatan.
Often, you’ll find fried plantains on the plate too. The dish gets its name from the Yucatecan town of Motul, about 30 miles east of Merida. It’s a staple in local homes and cafes around Yucatan.
Panuchos are a common dish in Yucatan. They resemble small tacos but are not considered tacos. The tortilla is fried and a bit crispy, though not to the point of a tortilla chip.
Panuchos can be topped with anything really, cochinita, chicken, or just beans and veggies. What makes it a panucho is the way the tortilla is prepared.
A salbut is very similar to a panucho, maybe even indiscernible to the untrained eye or palette. The difference is the way the tortilla is fried. The tortilla of a salbut will have a slightly softer texture than its panucho sibling.
The tastes will be similar, and both can be topped with whatever meats, beans, and veggies the preparer desires. To locals though, they’re entirely distinct.
7. Poc Chuc
Poc Chuc is another of Yucatan’s most popular and authentic dishes. Like cochinita, it is a marinated pork dish. Rather than being shredded pork though, it’s a pork filet marinated in orange juice.
It’s served with pickled onions and black beans. The dish contains the flavors most associated with the foods derived from the Mayans.
Here we have another pork dish. Sensing a pattern here? Pork is to food in the Yucatan as beef is to food in the states. It’s a cornerstone.
Castacan is a pork belly that is crisped up on the grill with cheese tossed on and melted in before cooking is finished. The meat and cheese combo is usually served on a tortilla as a taco, but doesn’t have to be. It’s a simple dish, but it packs a flavorful punch!
If you’re walking the streets of towns in the Yucatan, especially Merida, you’ll surely hear the call of, “Marquesiiiiiiitas!” Marquesitas are a sweet street cart regional specialty that will hit the spot after an authentic Yucatecan meal.
A marquesita is similar to a crepe, but crispier. The toppings/stuffings are customizable, with offerings of fruit, spreads, and cheese. If you order one “tipico” (typical), it’ll have a nutella spread, sliced strawberries, and cheese inside, topped with additional shredded cheese after its rolled.
10. Agua de Chaya
If you’re not familiar, chaya is a leafy spinach like vegetable that is native to the Yucatan region. It’s used in many regional dishes, and is the main ingredient in the beverage agua de chaya.
Agua de chaya is an agua fresca, a traditional Mexican drink where water is infused with an ingredient to give it a specific flavor. This particular beverage is served cold and is a trademark offering from street carts and cafes with regional options.
As you might guess from the name, Campechanos come from the state of Campeche, the little-talked-about third state on the Yucatan State. Campechean culture and food is similar to that of Yucatan.
The campechano is a taco different from any other taco you’ll have. Why? because it contains more than one type of meat. Native Campecheans thought it was a good idea to mix meats in a taco and provide a more flavorful experience.
The meats are typically chopped or cubed, sometimes served with melted cheese over the top.
Where to Try Foods In the Yucatan
Allow us to leave you with 3 must-try restaurants in the Yucatan.
Cochinita Pibil At Kinich In Izamal
Kinich Restaurant in the small town of Izamal serves an unbeatable take on cochinita, both in taste and presentation. The atmosphere inside Kinich will match top-tier dining experiences you’ve had for a fraction of the price.
Campechanos At Taqueria Los Chachalacos In Tulum
Huevos Motuleños At La Casta Divina In Merida
Finding cafes to start your day is one of the most fun parts of traveling to a new city. This little cafe on the corner lives up to its name which translates to “The Divine Cast”. The service is excellent and the food is authentic and delicious.
Summary of What to Eat In the Yucatan
If your go-to Mexican restaurant in the States is Roberto’s, because it’s open all-night and hits the spot after a night of drinking, you’ve likely never heard of anything on this list.
If you’re interested in traveling to destinations in the Yucatan such as Merida, Tulum or Cancun, or maybe a smaller town like Valladolid, Campeche City, or Izamal, the dishes on this list will provide you with a far more flavorful experience than what you’re used to.
It’s worth exploring the Yucatan and trying the foods offered there. It will be a unique experience, different than the rest of Mexico in many beautiful ways!