tacos with picked red onions and avocado slices lechon pork | best yucatan foods

33 Best Yucatan Foods & Mayan Dishes in Mexico [2022]


Want to try some traditional Yucatecan foods?

You’ve come to the right place, and the right guide because I live in the Yucatan, in Merida, Mexico! Considered the Cultural Capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida is one of the best places to learn about, and eat, traditional Yucatan foods.

The Yucatan Peninsula, located in southeastern Mexico, is home to the country’s largest Mayan population.

Inhabitants of the land long before Mexico was, well, Mexico, the Mayan influence on Yucatan foods is part of what makes this regional cuisine so unique to the rest of Mexico.

Yucatan cuisine is different from what many know as Mexican food. For years, it took a backseat in Mexico’s culinary hierarchy — though this is changing.

Thanks to features in Netflix shows like Taco Chronicles and Chef’s Table: BBQ, Yucatan foods are more popular than ever. 

Below, you’re going to learn about the dishes and ingredients that make up traditional Yucatecan cuisine.

From street food snacks to main dishes, desserts and even Yucatan drinks, these are the 33 must try Yucatan dishes in Mexico, plus 10 yummy Yucatan drinks.

Table of Contents show
Best Yucatan Food Dishes
cochinita pibli tacos at manajar blanco, one of the best restaurants in merida
You can try cochinita pibil pork inside tacos, panuchos and salbutes (we’ll get to those!), tortas (sandwiches), and more.

The king of Yucatan foods, cochinita pibil is essentially Mayan BBQ! This beloved dish is made with marinated cochinita (suckling pig), that’s wrapped in banana leaves and slow-roasted underground in an oven called a pib — hence the “pibil” in cochinita pibil.

On its own, cochinita isn’t spicy; the flavors come from the achiote and naranja agria marinade.

When served, you’ll get a side of habanero pepper salsa, which is very spicy, and pickled red onions. These are central condiments in Yucatan cuisine, and come alongside many dishes.

Check out Chef’s Table: BBQ on Netflix (Season 1, Episode 4) to see cochinita pibil prepared the traditional way by Chef Rosalia Chay Chuc in her remote Yucatan pueblo of Yaxuna, Mexico.

Pollo Pibil (Chicken Pibil)

Pollo pibil is made the same way as cochinita pibil — but using chicken instead of pork. While you won’t find it everywhere, some places do offer pollo pibil to accommodate those who don’t eat pork. Note: You’ll sometimes see this listed on menus as pollo ticul.

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

2. Papadzules | Traditional Mayan Food

enchiladas with egg and pumpkin seed saucelechon pork | best yucatan foods

You may be wondering if there are any Yucatan vegetarian foods. In all honesty, there aren’t many, but for vegetarians traveling to Yucatan Mexico, you’ll definitely have to try the papadzules (pronounced pa-pawed-zool-es).

Papadzules are an ancient Mayan food, still eaten in their original form in Yucatan today. This dish is made with enchiladas (rolled tacos), that are filled with boiled, chopped egg and topped with two sauces, pepita salsa, or pumpkin seed sauce, and chiltomate, a mild tomato salsa.

While all the other dishes listed in this article are a bit heavy, with pork as the main ingredient, papadzules are light yet flavorful.

For some Yucatan visitors, papadzules may be an acquired taste; however, they are a locals’ favorite you can find throughout the Yucatan.

traditional Yucatan Foods

3. Poc Chuc | Yucatan Foods: Main Plates

grilled pork steak surrounded by colorful grilled veggies | best yucatan foods
Poc chuc on the grill with some chilis and tomatoes. (Photo: Alejandro J. Flores Presuel via Flickr)

Poc chuc is a thin pork filet that’s only seasoned with naranja agria juice, then grilled. Though a seemingly simple dish, poc chuc let’s two of the central and most important Yucatan ingredients shine — pork and naranja agria (sour orange).

Poc chuc comes served with the typical condiments — habanero salsa and pickled red onion — but also some accompaniments.

These include frijol con puerco, a slow-cooked, rich Yucatan pork and beans stew, and chiltomate, a non-spicy, charcoal-roasted tomato salsa.

traditional Yucatan Foods

4. Queso Relleno

meat and cheese dish lechon pork | best yucatan foods
🧀 WARNING: Cheese lovers will get addicted to queso relleno! (Photo: La Cultura de Yucatán via Flickr)

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. This Yucatecan fusion dish is made with Edam cheese, a well known Dutch cheese.

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.

After the Edam ball is hollowed, it gets stuffed with different ingredients like pork, olives, hard boiled egg, onion, raisins and pumpkin seeds.

The newly-formed ball gets wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until the cheese semi-melts. It is topped with a red and a white sauce.

traditional Yucatan Foods

5. X’catic Relleno

stuffed green chili pepper lechon pork | best yucatan foods
Xcatic relleno is the Yucatan version of chili relleno. (Photo: Justino Vivanco via Pinterest)

Chili x’catic (pronounced ish-ka-teek) is a long, bright yellow chili pepper, similar to a banana pepper. It is a bit spicy, and used most often in crema de chili x’catic, a creamy dip you can find in most grocery stores. 

X’catic relleno, or stuffed x’catic pepper, is an x’catic chili that’s cut lengthwise down the middle, and filled with a mixture similar to that of queso relleno.

Some of the ingredients you’ll see include pork, olives, onion, and pumpkin seeds; this is what’s called a picadillo, or meat hash.

Chili Relleno

This is the more popular version of x’catic relleno, which is found all over Mexico and in many U.S. Mexican restaurants. If you’re familiar with chili relleno, or “stuffed chili” that’s made with a poblano pepper, x’catic relleno is the same dish, but with a chili x’catic instead of poblano.

traditional Yucatan Foods

6. Lomitos de Valladolid

meat stew in a red sauce lechon pork | best yucatan foods
Lomitos valladolid is a rich, hearty meat stew. (Photo: Randy F. via Flickr)

While Yucatan foods are regional, some are even more local to one specific city.

Lomitos de Valladolid is one such dish, originating in the pueblo magico (magic town) of Valladolid, Mexico — an up-and-coming travel destination that’s considered one of the safest cities in Mexico.

This dish consists of slow roasted pork in a garlic tomato sauce that has just a hint of chili. Because of the long and slow cooking process, the meat comes out incredibly tender and juicy.

It is often served plated with a hard boiled egg in the center of the dish.

traditional Yucatan Foods

7. Castacan (Pork Belly)

fried pork chunks | best yucatan foods
🥓 If you love bacon (who doesn’t?!), you must try Yucatecan castacan. (Photo: Alejandro J. Flores Presuel via Flickr)

As you have noticed by now, the main protein in Yucatan cuisine is pork. Castacan is a Yucatecan pork belly preparation, where the meat is slow cooked in its own lard, then baked to crispy perfection. It is often compared to chicharron, though castacan is crispier.

For bacon lovers, castacan is a must try — though be aware it’s often made only on weekends.

At traditional chicharronerías (chicharron cafes), you can order castacan in a torta (sandwich), or in salbutes and panuchos, and also by the kilo to make your own tacos.

traditional Yucatan Foods

8. Lechon

lechon pork | best yucatan foods
Lechon meat is juicy and delicious — but it’s the crispy skin, called cuerito, that everyone covets.

Lechon is slow roasted pork, popular in the Philippines and much of Latin America. While it’s not exactly an endemic Yucatan dish, it is one you can get everywhere in the Yucatan nowadays.

💡 Yucatan Food Tips: Ask for “lechon con cuerito” to get a piece of the crispy skin with your order.

Carnitas

Like lechon, carnitas aren’t a Yucatan food per se; they actually come from Michoacán State near Mexico City.

Carnitas are essentially chunks of fried pork — and as you may have noticed, the Yucatan loves a good pork dish, so you’ll find carnitas michoacanas throughout Yucatan.

traditional Yucatan Foods

9. Tzic de Venado (Salpicon) 

shredded beef salad lechon pork | best yucatan foods
Salpicón estilo yucateco, or Yucatecan salpicon, is a lighter dish made with deer meat and served chilled.

Salpicon de res is popular throughout Mexico. It is a shredded meat dish that’s often served cold, along with different veggies. You can think of salpicon as a Mexican salad, as the meat is combined with tomatoes, avocado, onions, radish and cilantro.

💡 Yucatan Foods Tips: You might see this dish spelled as dzic de venado or tsi’ik de venado, but they all refer to the same food.

There’s a version of salpicon in Yucatan, called tzic de venado, which is made with venison (deer), instead of beef. Salpicón yucateco, meaning “Yucatan style salpicon,” is something you’ll rarely find outside of Yucatan cities like Merida, Valladolid, Izamal and Campeche City.

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

10. Sopa de Lima | Yucatan Foods: Soups & Stews

chicken and lime soup with fried tortilla strips lechon pork | best yucatan foods

Sopa de lima (lime soup) is a favorite among Yucatan Mexican foods. It is a simple chicken or turkey and vegetable soup, but the lima yucateca (Yucatecan lime) gives it a unique citrus flavor.

The lima (lime) in this soup is different from the limes in the United States, and larger in size.

While there are variations on how it’s served, many places top the soup with deep fried tortilla strips for some crunch.

Even on a hot Yucatan Peninsula day, this soup is somehow very refreshing — maybe because it’s one of the lighter dishes in traditional Yucatec cuisine.

traditional Yucatan Foods

11. Relleno Negro

black stew lechon pork | best yucatan foods
Relleno negro is seen here as a stew, but you can also find relleno negro tacos. (Photo: steve8888b via Flickr)

Relleno negro is a stew-like dish made with turkey meat in a recado negro (black recado, or spice mixture).

Its jet black color may look weird at first, but this is a really delicious Yucatec dish that gets its color from roasted chili peppers — so it’s really not so “adventurous” after all!

Black recado is made from charred chile de árbol (tree chili), or chile ancho in milder versions. The ashes are ground down into the recado negro.

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.

Relleno Blanco

There are actually three recados — spice mixtures — in Yucatan cuisine. They are recado negro (black recado, seen in the dish above ⤴), recado rojo (red recado, used with cochinita pibil), and recado blanco (white recado). This is the least-common of the three.

You’ll rarely ever see it on menus in even the best Yucatan restaurants, so if you find it, consider yourself lucky!

The two main dishes you’ll see made with recado blanco are relleno blanco, a white stew similar to relleno negro but with light-colored chilis, and puchero, a rich pork stew.

traditional Yucatan Foods

12. Frijol con Puerco (Pork & Beans)

pork and meat stewlechon pork | best yucatan foods
Rich, hearty and filling, frijol con puerco is a locals’ favorite. (Photo: La Jornada Maya via Flickr)

Traditionally, frijol con puerco was only served for lunch on Mondays, though if you visit Yucatan restaurants that cater to visitors, like these restaurants in Merida Mexico, you can get it all week. Still, if you arrive too late in the day, even the restaurants will run out.

Frijol con puerco is similar to pork and beans in the U.S., but the meat is left in large chunks. It uses pinto beans, which can also be left whole or sometimes get mashed down a bit.

A beloved and hearty Yucatan lunch, head to a cocina economica and eat it with the locals on Monday.

traditional Yucatan Foods

13. Crema de Chaya

creamy green soup lechon pork | best yucatan foods
Cremas are one of the most unique Yucatan foods. (Photo: Boy Lucas via Flickr)

In Yucatan, a crema is a room temperature soup made with cheese and cream — hence the word crema in the dish’s name. Yucatan cremas are heavy for some, but for fans of cheeses and rich foods, they are a must try.

They’re often made with other ingredients added, like mushrooms, asparagus and corn. One of the most popular versions uses chaya, also known as “tree spinach.” Traditionally served at weddings and birthday parties, you’ll also find crema de chaya in some Yucatan restaurants.

traditional Yucatan Foods

14. Polcanes

fritter with potato and chichen inside and lettuce and purple onions on top | best yucatan foods
Polcanes topped with picked red onion, a staple condiment in Yucatan cuisine. (Photo: Charles Lemos via Flickr)

Polcanes (pronounced pole-khan-ess) are Yucatecan food fritters, often served as an appetizer or antojito (snack). They are a mixture of masa (corn), pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and ibes (white beans), that’s all macerated together, stuffed with a filling (usually potato and turkey), and fried.

Pibihuas

There’s a similar version, usually only found in the Valladolid pueblo magico (Mexico magic town), called pibihuas (pronounced pee-bee-wass). These are essentially the same dough used with polcanes, but they aren’t not stuffed before frying.

Rather, after the dough is fried, they get split lengthwise down the middle, opened up slightly, then stuffed with a filling.

Since these are common in Valladolid, Mexico, you’ll usually find them stuffed with another local delicacy, lomitos Valladolid, or even cochinita pibil.

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

15. Tamales Vaporcitos | Yucatan Foods: Tamales

vaporcito tamale covered in red salsa | best yucatan foods
The kind of Yucatecan tamales — the vaporcito. (Photo: Tom Chatt via Flickr)

Fans of traditional Mexican food have likely heard of, and even eaten tamales. These are an ancient, prehispanic staple food, made with masa (corn dough).

Throughout much of Central Mexico, your tamal will be steamed in a corn husk, but in Yucatan, this is done with a banana leaf.

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

In Yucatan, vaporcitos are the most common type; so much so, they are usually called tamales yucatecos outside of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Yucatan vaporcitos use a pretty standard tamal masa mixture for a base. They are sometimes stuffed with a protein, sometimes not, before being steamed in a banana leaf (instead of corn husk). They are served topped with a good amount of salsa.

traditional Yucatan Foods

16. Tamales Colados

colado tamale with meat inside | best yucatan foods
Tamales colados have a smooth texture that’s different for other types of Mexican tamales. (Photo: cajum_flavors via Instagram)

Tamales colados and tamales dzotobichay (info below ⤵) are unique because the masa (corn dough) is strained before the tamales get steamed, resulting in a smooth consistency. Traditional tamales colados are stuffed with meat, and often topped with a rich, gravy-style sauce.

Tamales Dzotobichay

Tamales dzotobichay use the same smooth masa, with some chaya mixed in, and then they are stuffed with pepita (pumpkin seed) salsa. These unique Yucatecan tamales are cooked in chaya leaves instead of banana leaves, and roasted over an open flame instead of steamed.

traditional Yucatan Foods

17. Pib (Mucbipollo)

a type of tamale called pib or mucbipollo | best yucatan foods
If you visit Yucatan in October or November, be on the lookout for pib tamales. (Photo: recipesabuelitamx via Instagram)

If you’re traveling to Yucatan during Hanal Pixan, the Mayan Day of the Dead holiday, don’t pass up the chance to try pib (AKA mucbipollo). This is a crispy, baked tamale, that almost looks more like a casserole than a Mexican tamal, as it gets cooked in large sheets.

💡 Yucatan Foods Tips: For Yucatan visitors, you’ll probably just want a single pib tamal, not a whole pan of it! Be on the lookout for chachacuahs or tamales enterrados, meaning “buried tamales,” for a single serving of pib.

Yucatecan pib is a locals’ favorite — and something you’ll rarely (if ever) see outside of Yucatan Peninsula. It is only made and sold from about mid-October to early-November to coincide with the Día de Muertos holiday.

🌺💀🌺 Head here for more info on Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

18. Salbutes | Yucatan Foods: Tacos

salutes at La Chaya Maya, best restaurants in merida mexico

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 (up next on the list!). In short, a salbute is a puffy fried tortilla, instead of a standard, flat tortilla.

When you order a salbutes, you’ll get a soft, pillow-like tortilla, topped with a protein filling — which is often pavo (turkey) or cochinita pibil. They are served with lettuce, tomato and pickled red onions, and spicy Yucatan habanero sauce on the side.

Sopes

As salbutes are a decidedly Yucatan food, they 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.

traditional Yucatan Foods

19. Panuchos

a type of taco called panuchos | best yucatan foods

A panucho is a tortilla that’s been stuffed with mashed, refried black beans, then fried. 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 — and maybe even more beloved!

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

20. Huevos Motuleños | Yucatan Foods Breakfast

breakfast dish with eggs, plantain bananas, ham and peas called huevos motulenos | best yucatan foods

Stay with me here — because this dish looks kind of strange — but it’s a hearty, delicious Yucatan breakfast you won’t find much outside of the region. Huevos motuleños (pronounced way-voes moe-two-len-yoz) is an egg breakfast from the pueblo of Motul, Mexico.

💡 Yucatan Foods Tips: The best place to try huevos motuleños is in Motul, at Doña Evelia Huevos Motuleños in the Mercado Municipal.

The dish starts with tortillas laid out on a plate, then pureed black beans and sunny side up eggs are placed on top. Peas, sweet plantains and diced ham (vegetarians can omit that) are then added. Finally, the whole dish gets smothered in salsa roja (mild red salsa).

traditional Yucatan Foods

21. Chilaquiles

best chilaquiles in Merida
Chilaquiles with salsa roja (red salsa) and longaniza de Valladolid. (Photo: Chilakilez via Facebook)

Not exactly a Yucatan food, but definitely one of the most popular Mexican breakfasts of all time! Authentic chilaquiles start out with a plate of totopos (tortilla chips). These are covered in a red or green salsa, or even mole sauce, and topped with a fried egg or meat, cheese and crema.

traditional Yucatan Foods

22. Longaniza de Valladolid

sausages handing from a piece of wood | best yucatan foods

Longaniza valladolid is a dense, smokey sausage from the city of Valladolid, Yucatán. You can find it served on its own with some salsa and veggies as an accompaniment, or with scrambled eggs at breakfast time.

For fans of sausage and smoked meats — this is a must try! 

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

23. Kibbis | Yucatan Street Foods

oval shaped fritters in a box for sale by as street food | best yucatan foods

Mexico had an influx of thousands of Middle Eastern (mostly Lebanese) immigrants in the late-19th Century.

Over time, these expats combined their cooking techniques and flavors with Mexican flavors and foods, to create delicious fusion foods — like tacos al pastor and kibis.

Similar to a kibbeh in the Middle East, Yucatan kibis (pronounced kee-bees) are eaten as an appetizer or street snack. You can find kibis, one of the most beloved Yucatan street foods, from vendors for about 25¢ each.

Kibis are diamond-shaped and served either hollow to stuff with a cabbage salad mixture, or stuffed with ground meat or queso de bola, which is similar to Edam cheese. Unless otherwise noted, kibis are fried, though some restaurants make a more healthy baked version.

traditional Yucatan Foods

24. Marquesitas

hand-held crepe dessert called marquesitas | best yucatan foods

When the sun goes down, the marquesitas vendors come out! This nighttime treat is essentially crepe that’s cooked a little longer so it crisps up and you can eat it by hand. You can order one with a variety of toppings, but traditional Yucatan marquesitas have Nutella and queso de bola.

traditional Yucatan Foods

25. Tortas (Sandwiches)

a mexican torta sandwich with meat | best yucatan foods

One of the most famous Mexicans sayings is to make sure to get your daily dose of Vitamin T. Though most assume the “T” implies only tacos — it also stands for tamales and tortas. As far as Mexico street foods go, the torta (sandwich) is just as important as the taco.

While tacos are one of the most common Mexican lunch foods, many eat tortas for breakfast.

Different tortas are popular in different parts of Mexico, but they all tend to use the same bolillo bread. This soft hoagie roll is one of the most beloved and best Mexican breads.

Among the best Yucatan tortas, you’ll want to get yours with the meats local to this region.

These include tortas de cochinita pibil (cochinita pibil tortas), tortas de lechon (lechon tortas) and tortas de poc chuc (poc chuc tortas), which you’ll find at most local mercados (markets).

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

26. Botanas | Yucatan Foods: Tapas

Botanas in Yucatan are similar to tapas in Spain. They are basically small plates of food which you get for free as long as you’re drinking in a cantina.

You don’t really get to choose what botanas you get, but if there’s something you received and loved, you can always ask for more of it.

Sikil Pak

tortilla chips and dip called sikil pak | yucatan foods
Sikil pak is one of the best salsas in Mexico — There, I said it! (Photo: Guzzle & Nosh via Flickr)

This ancient Mayan food is very delicious, and among the best Yucatan botanas. It is a roasted tomato and pepita (pumpkin seed) salsa, with very little habanero pepper added in for just the slightest kick. It has a strong umami taste and can be addicting — you’ve been warned!

Xnipek

Another unique Yucatan salsa you might get with botanas is xnipek (pronounced shh-nee-peck, and sometimes spelled xnipec). This complex salsa is made from habaneros, tomatoes, sour oranges, garlic and roasted onions.

Codzitos

Yucatecan codzitos are essentially just rolled, fried tortillas — similar to a taquito — but not stuffed with anything. They are one of the most common Yucatan botanas, and come smothered in salsa, crema (sour cream), and queso fresco (fresh cheese).

Yucatan Guacamole

Yucatan avocados are larger than than more commonly-sold Hass avocado. The avocados in Yucatan are similar to Florida avocados (AKA Hall avocados), which are large with bright green skin.

They are more watery than Haas avocados, resulting in a thinner guacamole.

Brazo de Reina

green tamale covered in tomato sauce | yucatan foods
One of the best tamales in Yucatan, brazo de reina. (Photo: Mérida Hideaway via Flickr)

Brazo de reina, which means “the queen’s arm,” 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 salsa.

Higadillo Entomatado (Liver)

Even for those who may think they’re not a fan of liver, give this one a try. Higadillo or higado entomatado is made with sautéed liver and onions, and a lot of roasted tomatoes. The umami in the tomatoes cut through the strong liver taste, resulting in a perfect, and filling, beer snack.

Empanadas de Chaya

You’ll find empanadas (hand pies) throughout Mexico and much of Latin America. One of the most popular Yucatecan empanadas you’ll find are empanadas de chaya. These are made with chaya, a perennial dark green veggie, and queso de bola or Edam cheese.

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

27. Pan de Cazon | Yucatan Foods: Seafood

tortilla and fish fish in a red sauce called pan de cazon | yucatan foods

Pan de cazón means “dogfish bread,” and it’s sort of a Yucatan seafood lasagne. It’s made with alternating layers of fried corn tortillas and flaked dogfish, then smothered in a tomato sauce.

Dogfish is common in the Yucatan, and similar to a cod fish, but with a milder, sweeter flavor.

🐟 What is dogfish? Dogfish (AKA dogfish sharks or dog sharks) is a type of small shark, sometimes referred to as tiburoncito (meaning “small shark”) in Mexico. It is a whitefish with a mild, slightly sweet flavor that firms up when cooked — like cod in Fish & Chips.

traditional Yucatan Foods

28. Ceviche de Pulpo Frito

ceviche, chips, salsa and a beer at El Marlin Azul, best restaurants in downtown merida mexico

Ceviche de pulpo frito means “fried octopus ceviche,” and it does use pan fried octopus instead of uncooked seafood, but the same diced veggies and lime juice in any Mexican ceviche.

For some, they’ll shy away from this because it’s not “traditional ceviche,” but that’s a mistake!

Though pan fried, ceviche de pulpo frito is still a lighter, refreshing Yucatecan seafood dish. The cooked octopus adds some heat to the veggies and lime juice, which brings out their flavors even more, for one of the best ceviches you’ve ever tasted.

traditional Yucatan Foods

29. Tikin Xic (Dry Fish)

fish in a tomato sauce and wrapped in a large green leaf | yucatan foods
The name “dry fish” is a misnomer; yummy tikin xic is anything but! (Photo: Sriniv. K via Flickr)

Tikin xic (pronounced tee-keen-sheek) means “dry fish,” but don’t let the name fool you — this is a juicy, flavorful dish.

It is a whole fish that’s marinated in achiote paste and naranja agria, then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked under a wood fire, which imparts a smoky flavor.

Best Yucatan Food Dishes

30. Flan | Yucatan Foods: Dessert

flan custard dessert on a plate with a fork | yucatan foods

You’ll see flan all over Mexico, but you’ll rarely (if ever) go to a Yucatan restaurant that doesn’t have flan on their dessert menu.

Most Mexican food fans have heard of and/or tried flan, but this custard dessert topped with caramel sauce is something you must try in Mexico to appreciate.

traditional Yucatan Foods

31. Nieves (Sorbet)

magenta colored sorbet in a glass | yucatan foods
Nieve de pitahaya, or dragon fruit sorbet in Yucatan. (Photo: Alex Aguilar via Flickr)

Nieves means “snow,” and is basically a cross between an ice cream and shaved ice. They are often made with fresh, local fruits, or sweet ingredients like chocolate, and sold in local mercados (markets) or on the street by vendors.

With so many great tropical fruits that grow locally in Yucatan, try a pitahaya (dragon fruit), maracuya (passion fruit) and nieves de mamey (sapote). If you’re not feeling super adventurous, there’s always classics like coco (coconut) and mango nieves.

traditional Yucatan Foods

32. Caballero Pobre

french toast with ice cream and blackberries | yucatan foods
Caballero pobre is the French toast-inspired dessert you never knew you needed in your life. (Photo: Jour2 via Flickr)

Caballero pobre means “poor cowboy,” but this Yucatan dessert is actually very rich in flavor. It is sort of a dessert version of French toast, and also similar to torrejas, a popular dessert found throughout Latin cuisine. 

traditional Yucatan Foods

33. Dulce de Papaya

papaya and cheese dessert | yucatan foods
You’ll find papaya dulce in many small, locals’ run Yucatan restaurants. (Photo: Jose Oquendo via Flickr)

When you have a sweet tooth, dulce de papaya will cure it! This popular Yucatan dessert is a papaya that’s slow cooked in water, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

It is served cold, soaked in syrup, and accompanied by ice cream, coconut, vanilla cake, or chunks of queso de bola cheese.

traditional Yucatan Foods

BONUS: 10 Best Yucatan Drinks

Piña con Chaya

green drink, made with pineapple and chaya (mexican tree spinach)
Chaya con piña is very refreshing on a hot Yucatan day. (Photo: Austxdan via Flickr)

Chaya is a popular veggie, used in many Yucatan foods — but also the piña con chaya drink. Sometimes called “Yucatan tree spinach,” chaya is a superfood.

It can have a semi-bitter or earthy taste, like spinach, but the sweetness on the pineapple cuts through it in this drink.

Agua de Tamarindo

Agua de tamarindo, or “tamarind water,” is made with tamarind fruit — one of the most beloved flavors in both Mexico drinks and Mexican candy. It is tart and tangy like an orange, but also very sweet with some hints of cinnamon.

Agua de Jamaica

Agua de jamaica — pronounced haa-mike-kuh, not Jamaica like the country — is one of the most popular Mexican teas. It’s made with dried flor de jamaica (hibiscus flowers), and you’ll find it everywhere from Mexico City to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Horchata

horchata, mexican rice milk
Horchata is one of the most popular drinks in Yucatan, and all Mexico.

Horchata (AKA rice water or Mexican rice milk) is consumed all over Mexico. As Yucatan food is often on the spicy side, this cool, sweet drink really cuts through some of that spice. Horchata is a thick and creamy drink that’s made with rice, sugar and cinnamon.

Aguas Frescas

Aguas frescas, meaning “fresh waters,” are one of the Yucatan drinks people flock to on hot days to beat the heat! Many things can be classified as an agua fresca, including horchata and jamaica (the last two Mexico drinks mentioned), though they can also be made with fresh fruit.

Tepache

Tepache (pronounced tep-pach-ay) is something often made only in people’s homes, and then sold by vendors on the street. It is a fermented drink, made with pineapple peel, cinnamon sticks and water, and kept in a sealed jar for 2-5 days to fully ferment.

Michelada

michelada beer cocktail in mexico

There aren’t many Mexican beer cocktails out there, but the michelada is among the best.

A traditional michelada is made with your choice of beer (both dark and light beer works), Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, assorted spices like Tajín, fresh lime juice and a tamarind rim.

As micheladas are very popular, different places prepare them with slightly different variations. For this reason, they’re often compared to Bloody Marys, with each restaurant and cocktail maker adding their unique spin to the classic recipe.

Chelada

Cheladas are one of the most common variations on the classic michelada.

As some people aren’t keen on the idea of drinking Clamato (tomato and clam juice), a chelada omits it, and only has beer, Worcestershire sauce, assorted spices like Tajín and fresh lime juice.

Ojo Rojo

Another popular michelada variation is the ojo rojo, meaning “red eye.” It is essentially a classic michelada that comes with a rimmed-glass containing chamoy syrup and a tamarind spice mix. With these added, what you end up with is a sweeter michelada.

Xtabentun

bottle of xtabentun mayan honey liquor | what to buy in merida souvenirs
Xtabentun Mayan honey liquor, which isn’t seen much outside of the Yucatan Peninsula. (Photo: Manuel Cózar via Flickr)

Xtabentun (pronounced shtab-en-tune) is an ancient Mayan liquor that’s been made for thousands of years.

It consists of anise seed, and honey made by bees that collect the nectar of xtabentún flowers. Rum is added to the mixture, and it all ferments to create smooth, sweet xtabentun.

To drink, many locals have it straight up or poured over ice. Some people add it to their coffee, or even make a Mayan Coffee, which is coffee, a shot of tequila and a shot of xtabentun.

If you’re traveling soon, xtabentun makes one of the best Yucatan souvenirs to bring home.

traditional Yucatan Foods

Yucatan Foods: Spices & Flavors

As the Yucatan Peninsula has more of a tropical climate compared to much of Mexico, the foods that grow in this region are unique — and also give this food its distinct Yucatan flavors. Among the staples in Yucatan cooking, there’s naranja agria and achiote.

Naranja Agria (Sour Orange, Seville Orange)

cluster of oranges on a tree

Naranja agria grows all year in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is the size of a medium orange, with a tangerine-like flavor and bumpy skin. Sour oranges are used in many Yucatan foods, including poc chuc and cochinita pibil. Outside of the Yucatan, they are known as Seville oranges.

Axiote (Achiote, Annatto)

The achiote seeds come from the pods on the Bixa orellana shrub. They are removed and ground down to make axiote, or annatto spice powder.

Pronounced ahh-she-oh-tay, axiote is made by crushing the seeds of the Bixa orellana shrub.

This evergreen plant is native to Yucatan, and used in many traditional dishes — like cochinita pibil, considered by many as the king of Yucatan food dishes, and in the recado rojo spice mix.

Axiote, an Aztec word, goes by other names outside of Mexico, including annatto and achuete. It has a flavor close to that of a red peppercorn, but with a bit more bitterness, and a mild peppermint scent.

Besides adding flavor, it gives dishes like cochinita pibil their red color.

Chaya (Tree Spinach)

leaves on a chaya tree (mexican tree spinach leaves)

Chaya comes from the Cnidoscolus chayamansa tree, which is native to the Yucatan Peninsula. The tree grows all year-long, so chaya (AKA Mexican tree spinach) is always available, and used in many dishes, like crema de chaya, empanadas de chaya and brazo de reina.

Habanero Chili Peppers

Among the hottest peppers used in Mexico are habaneros, popular in Yucatan food. When dining, you’ll get a side of habanero salsa, to add as much (or as little) as you want.

🌶 Wondering, Is Yucatán food spicy? It’s really not very spicy on it’s own, but when you add even a few drops of habanero salsa, it can get very spicy, very quickly!

X’catic Chilis

A more mild, though still a bit spicy, Yucatan chili pepper is the x’catik chili. They look like a bright yellow-green banana pepper, and have a slightly sweet flavor.

Yucatan Recados

red, black and white spice mixtures in large bags in a mexican market
Red, white and black recados in a local Yucatan market. (Photo: Luic Acero via Flickr)

Recados are essentially mashed up spice mixtures. An essential part of Yucatan food, you can buy them in local markets when you don’t feel like making your own. To make a recado, you grind down a specific mixture of spices, then add water or liquid to create a thick paste.

Recados are used as the base for most foods in Yucatan, and come in three colors. The colors include recado rojo (red), recado blanco (white, which can look like a light green color), and recado negro (black); all used for different Yucatan food preparations and dishes.

Final Thoughts: Traditional Yucatan Foods in Mexico

You’ll find familiar Mexican ingredients used in Yucatan food, like masa (corn), chili peppers, tortillas, beans, onion, tomato and lime. However, Yucatan cuisine and what many consider Mexican cuisine are actually quite different.

Staple foods and flavors from Yucatan, like axiote, chaya and naranja agria, only grow in this part of Mexico, so even tacos taste different in the Yucatan Peninsula.

For foodies, you can’t go wrong eating anywhere in Mexico, though the food in Yucatan has its own distinct set of flavors.

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