In a country as large as Mexico, there is some significant variety in regional cuisine. You can, of course, find tacos and other staples anywhere. But there are some places where you’ll absolutely want to sample the local fare. When I was in the Yucatan a couple months ago, I made sure to try as many of the Yucateco foods as I could during my visit. From a large cheese wheel filled with ground pork to an anise-flavored liqueur, there are some things you shouldn’t miss. Here are my favorite Yucateco foods from my recent visit to this awesome Mexican state.
This is a quintessential Yucatán dish consisting of slow-cooked pork that is flavored with citrus and annatto. The latter gives it a great red-orange color. Traditionally, the pork is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an earth pit. Cochinita pibil refers to an entire pig that is marinaded and cooked this way. The cochinita pibil I tried while in Merida was excellent.
This dish pretty much blew my mind. What initially seemed like a weird mashup turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. If you’re familiar with the chile relleno, a queso-stuffed pepper, the queso relleno turns things on it’s head by as it is the cheese that is stuffed. And it’s not just any cheese. A queso relleno should be made with a Dutch Edam cheese. The cheese is hollowed out in the middle and stuffed with a mix of pork, nuts, raisins, and spices before being steamed so that it is soft but not melted all over the place. The whole thing is covered with a sauce.
Not convinced by the description? I thought the whole thing amazing. The mix of textures and flavors is fantastic. The queso relleno pictured above is from the Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca, an upscale restaurant that serves many traditional Yucateco foods.
Sopa de Lima
Lime soup made for an excellent starter. The dish seems both simple and delicious. It’s a very mild soup, made from chicken stock, chicken, lime, cilantro and other spices, and a garnish of tortilla strips and avocado. Definitely a fan. This is one of the Yucateco foods I hope to one day try to make at home since it should be relatively easy, as compared to some of the others on this list.
I’ll be honest, I almost passed on trying relleno negro. It looks sorta like mole, but the flavor is quite different and has a burnt taste to it. The black sauce begins with a mix of blackened Yucateco chiles, peppers, cloves, and other spices. Chicken or (more typically) turkey is added to the black sauce. The dish is also served with but, ground pork meatballs and hard boiled egg. The dish is a Yucateco classic and wholly unlike pretty much any other Mexican food I’ve ever tried.
Xtabentún. Shtah-ben-toon. So many of the words in Mexico’s Yucatán are heavily influenced or directly carried over from Mayan. Almost anything starting with an X is suspect (note: it makes the ‘sh’ sound). The odd name of the beverage I saw is what first turned my head, but once I found out what it was, I definitely wanted to try it.
Xtabentún is a special liqueur made with fermented honey and flavored with anise seed. This is mixed with rum to make a super sweet and thick final product. Not exactly something you want to drink straight (although I did try it this way). But in the right cocktail, it’s a great flavor.
There are other Yucateco dishes that I didn’t manage to try, including papadzules and huevos motulenos (the latter is a breakfast dish). I also tried poc-chuc, a grilled pork dish flavored with sour orange. Wasn’t a huge fan of it when compared to the cochinita pibil, although it could have been the particular restaurant I visited.
On the whole, I loved the food I tried during my visit to Mérida. One of the biggest highlights of traveling anywhere new is the food, and Yucatán didn’t disappoint!
Have you visited the Yucatán? What are your the best Yucateco foods in your opinion?