This is an almost impossible list to write. It could so easily have become ‘Top 100 Eats in Yucatan’ or ‘A million great things to try in Yucatan’. I am a HUGE fan of the food here. On every corner, in every town, village and city in the state you will find absolutely delicious food. So, for now, I’ve focused on actual meals, rather than snacks, sweets, drinks etc.
Yucatan’s cuisine is recognised all over Mexico and all over the world. Lots of people come here just for the colourful, traditional and sabroso food. If you’re imagining typical Mexican food, think again. Throughout history Yucatan has been geographically and culturally separate from the rest of Mexico and its food is no different. It is a delicious combination of flavours. Obviously a lot of the cooking methods and ingredients come from the Mayans whilst others were bought here by the Europeans. There is also a big Caribbean influence and also a lot of Middle Eastern flavours due to the large Lebanese population that settled in Yucatan in the first half of the 20th Century. The most common ingredients in Yucatecan food are corn, pumpkin seed, red onion, chile habanero, bitter oranges, achiote, coriander and chile xcatic.
I’ve given recommendations about where you can eat each food. Obviously you can find all of these in loads and loads of different restaurants, cocina economicas and street stands. I’ve only given my suggestion for my favourite place to eat each one.
So here goes, my top 10 things to eat in Yucatan and where you’re best off trying them. Enjoy!
The star of Yucatan’s food scene, famous throughout Mexico, is la cochinita. Everyday, but especially on Sunday mornings, you will find queues of Meridanos outside food stands buying succulent cochinita for their families.
Traditionally cooked wrapped in banana leaves underground, cochinita is pork marinated in achiote and oh my is it tender and tasty. It is served with sweet red onion and chile habanero (not for the faint hearted!) and usually in tacos or crunchy tortas, with a dribble of the juices on top. De-licious!
Where to eat it: the best place is at one of the many puestos that pop up on the corners, especially on Sundays. My personal favourite is at Calle 42 with 35 in colonia Jesus Carranza. But in centro, try in Santa Ana or the mercado de Santiago.
My absolute favourite, Poc chuc is pork marinated in a citrus mix and grilled over a charcoal fire. It is served with grill-roasted onions, beans, rice, avocado and a tomato salsa. The combination of the sharp marinade and the sweet onion is mouth-watering. You can make it into tacos or simply dig in.
Where to eat it: the best poc chuc in Yucatan is at a famous restaurant called El Principe de Tutul Xiu in a small town to the South of the state called Mani. If not, try it at El Meson de Marques in Valladolid.
3. Sopa de Lima
Great for a light dinner, sopa de lima is full of flavour. As you can guess from its name, the key ingredient is lime. Yucatan’s limes are not at all bitter like those in other parts of the world, in fact they are sort of sweet. The flavour of the soup is tangy and refreshing. It is cooked with turkey or chicken, coriander, onion, red and green pepper and a good heap of tortilla chips.
Where to eat it: Los Almendros in the Mejorada park, at Calle 50 with 57×59. They make a tasty and very traditional soup.
4. Queso Relleno
I bet you weren’t expecting this! A big chunk of edam cheese filled with minced beef and spices and cooked in the oven, queso relleno is the surprise of Yucatan’s cuisine. It is served bathed in a corn flour based sauce called ‘kol’ with some tomato salsa on top.
Yucatecans adopted ‘queso de bola’ (edam cheese) as their own when it started arriving from Holland in large quantities through the ports of the peninsula. It is also used to make the famous sweet treat Marquesitas….more on that in another post!
If you love cheese and you want to try something totally unique to this region, queso relleno is your dish!
Where to eat it: in La Chaya Maya in Mérida. There are two locations, one on Calle 62 and another more beautiful one opposite Santa Lucia park on 55.
A crunchy, tasty snack for any time of day, panuchos are made by frying tortilla filled with black beans, then putting shredded chicken or turkey, sweet red onion, lettuce, cheese, avocado and tomato salsa on top. Listo!
Where to eat it: at literally any food stand in Yucatan – it is the most common antojito (snack food). If you are in Mérida on a Sunday, head to the street event ‘Merida en Domingo’ in the main square where you will find lots and lots of tented food stands selling paunchos. Find your favourite!
What can I say about longaniza? Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! Longaniza is bright red smoked pork sausage cooked with achiote and spices. It is native to Valladolid and is best enjoyed in tacos with beans and avocado or with your scrambled eggs. You can also crumble it into quesadillas or spinkle it on top of papadzules (see below). It basically makes any other food 100x more delicious!
Where to eat it: in Valladolid of course! Try El Jardin de los Frailes or just go to the city’s beautiful market and order it in tacos or with eggs at any of the stands.
7. Huevos Motuleños
Breakfast is the BEST meal of the day, especially when you’re eating huevos motuleños! This traditional breakfast consists of perfectly fried eggs on a base of tostada slathered in beans, with a wonderful tomato and chile sauce, peas, ham and cheese. It usually comes with fried plantain on the side. Need I say more?
Where to eat it: if you can, go to Motul, where these eggs get there name from. Its a town about 30 minutes drive from Mérida. On the upper floor of the market in the main square you will find the best huevos in the world.
Finally, something vegetarian! Papadzules are like enchiladas but a la Yucateca. Boiled egg is wrapped up in soft tortilla and covered in a pumpkin seed and epazote sauce which is extremely typical of the region. It is then topped with tasty tomato salsa. Yum!
Where to eat it: the best papadzules I have ever eaten were in the lovely restaurant Kinich in the yellow town Izamal. They were aromatic and creamy and topped with crunchy and smoky longaniza. Not to be missed!
If you’re in Yucatan you’re probably heading to the beach! There is so much amazing seafood to try in Yucatan but the all-time favourite is ceviche. Cooked in Yucatan’s distinctive lime juice, you can get ceviche made from fish, prawns, octopus or a mix of everything. The sharpness of the lime and the flavour of the coriander are to die for. Enjoy with a cold beer watching the sun set over the emerald coast.
Where to eat it: any seaside restaurant in Celestun, Progreso or Rio Lagartos will have great ceviche but my favourite is at Brisa y Arena in Chuburna Puerto.
10. Pescado a la Tikin’ xic
This dish is the very meaning of tradition – full of ancient Yucatatecan flavours, in Mayan tikin xic means ‘dry fish’ and this is another one to enjoy at the beach! Marinated in achiote and bitter orange, giving it that lovely red colour, the fish is then cooked wrapped in banana leaves over a wood fire. Its usually a white fish like grouper and comes seasoned with cumin and cloves and served with green and red peppers, chile, tomato and onion.
Where to eat it: definitely at La Palapa in Celestun, right on the beach.
11. Dulce de Papaya
Ok, so I said Top 10, but no meal is complete without dessert, right?
Dulce de Papaya is a great dessert of sweet cooked papaya made with brown sugar, cloves, lime and cinnamon. It is often served with queso de bola on top which makes for a delicious sweet/salty contrast. You can also find dulce de guayaba and dulce de camote.
Where to eat it: any sit-down restaurant will have this on its menu, as its one of only a few traditional desserts. Try a really good one at La Chaya Maya.