Quick Reference for Yucatecan Food
The Yucatan Peninsula has quite a few foods and flavors that are unique to the region. Pork is the primary meat of choice, although you will also find many dishes using turkey or chicken.
The Yucatecans also use a variety of squashes and pumpkins in their cooking. And red onion, oh boy, do they use red onion. You will find it in and on everything.....even when it's not listed as an ingredient. So, if you're like us and don't really care for red onion, quickly learn to say "sin cebolla" (without onion) when you order. You're welcome for that tidbit!
For the most part, Yucatecan food is somewhat bland as compared to many other parts of Mexico. With that being said, BE WARNED! Many dishes are served along with a side of spicy habanero sauce that will absolutely set your mouth on fire. You're welcome for that tidbit too!
Here's an overview of the some of the most common menu items:
Lechon al Horno is suckling pig that has been oven-roasted. It's typically accompanied by a spicy sauce that's made out of habaneros, tomatoes, sour orange, and onion.
Conchinita Pibil is pork that has been marinated in source orange and Achiote. It's cooked in banana leaves in an underground oven called a "pib" (think Hawaiian luau). There are also chicken and turkey versions of pibil. Usually, this dish is served with tortillas.
Poc Chuc is made from pork tenderloin. It has a spicy sauce made of chiles, sour orange, tomatoes, and onion. And, it may have a slice or two of avocado served on the side.
Salbutes and Panuchos are "same-same but different". They both are made of fried corn tortillas topped with chicken or turkey, lettuce (or cabbage), tomato, red onion, and avocado. The main difference is that Panuchos also have a layer refried beans and Salbutes do not.
Sopa de Lima is a soup made of lime and chicken broth. It may have bits of shredded chicken or turkey in it. Usually, it's served as an appetizer rather than a main dish.
Longaniza de Valladolid is sausage from Valladolid. It made of pork that is seasoned with pepper, garlic, and vinegar. It can be found as a stand-alone menu item, or you may see it included an ingredient in other dishes.
Papadzules are tacos that use hard-boiled eggs as the protein rather than meat. The chopped eggs are covered in a sauce made of toasted pumpkin seeds or tomato sauce.
Sikil Pak is a dip that is made out of toasted pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, and cilantro. It has a very unique flavor. It is usually served as an appetizer along with totopos (fried corn tortilla chips). Don't get it confused with bean dip. It tastes nothing like that!
Marquesita is the go-to dessert for Yucatecans. A large, thin waffle is slathered with Nutella, topped with grated Edam cheese, and then rolled up and eaten. The stuffing may vary a little, such as adding caramel or banana to the mix. Supposedly, the Marquesita was invented in the 1930s by an ice cream vendor in Merida who was looking to expand his offerings. For me, I don't think they are worth the calories.
Chaya, also called Mayan spinach or tree spinach, is not really a dish; it's an ingredient. I'm including it on the list because you will see it on many menus. Supposedly, it's a superfood that helps with digestion, blood circulation, and inflammation. I find it very tasty.
I hope this little reference guide is helpful to you as you are explore Yucatecan foods. Just remember to take it easy with the habanero sauce. Try a little at a time until you're confident that you're ready to go all-in. Your tongue will thank you for it.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YUCATECAN FOOD?
The Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca (MUGY) located in Centro Merida is a great place to try many of these unique dishes. Be sure and check out the exhibit behind the restaurant to see how the foods are cooked, including information about spices and techniques.