15 May 2019
We love the culinary culture in the Riviera Maya! Gary and I came from Texas over 20 years ago so we had been introduced to Mexican food before we arrived. But there is something to be said about eating locally, experiencing local foods and knowing that the ingredients are authentic. The Riviera Maya is a smorgasborg of international cuisine but it is also a smorgasbourg of NATIONAL cuisines. Like any country, there are regional dishes that are unique to geographic locations within Mexico. The Riviera Maya is unique in its ability to attract local residents from all over Mexico to work in tourism. The result is an opportunity to taste cultural dishes that come from central, northern, western and local kitchens!
Our favorite foods in the Riviera Maya that we crave and love!
This was a tough choice, I have to say. There are so many favorites that we love to dig our teeth into locally. Some are local Mayan dishes, some are Mexican dishes found all over the country and some are just local produce that excite us when the growing season comes around!
1. Empanadas – Mexican empanadas are typically a morning dish that you can find in restaurants and food carts. Let me warn you, these are deep-fried so should be eaten sparingly. Empanadas are stuffed tacos that are shaped liked half moons and deep-fried when cooked. You end up with a hot, crispy pie that you then add salsa, lettuce and cream to and eat with your hands. Glorious, yes, a once a month treat, yes!
2. Cochina pibil – We can not talk enough about this pulled pork, chicken or goat. Meat is slow cooked in various chilis and sauces and is served on tacos, in sandwiches or as a side dish. Love it! Again this can be found in restaurants but the best we have had is on street food carts. When you find a good cart, go early, as this dish can not be continuously made during the day. A pig is cooked, it is sold and then it is done for the day.
3. Ceviche – With the Mexican Caribbean as your backyard, of course ceviche is one of our all time favorites. Ceviche is marinated fish and/or seafood in fresh lime with onion, cilantro, tomatoes and chili’s mixed in! We have eaten fish ceviche right on the boat 15 minutes after a fish has been caught, in restaurants and at home! The flavor is fresh and the dish is over the top great!
4. Habanero salsa – over the years we have grown an appreciation and tolerance for Habanero salsa. This chili is the hottest chili on earth and when made into salsa is wonderful. Now before we talk about our Habanero tastings, this is not a condiment for the newbie. This is spicy, and needs to be eaten as a condiment, a compliment an addition. Try it on your eggs, with chips or with fish. Use sparingly and with caution. Recently we have been trying Habanero like fine wines, gathering local salsas and comparing flavors and heat. Wow is all we can say! There are no two Habanero salsas alike and each has a unique flavor making them special in their own way!
5. Aguas Frescas – On a hot Caribbean day this hits the spot! Aguas frescas are famous all over Mexico. Fruit and flowers are used to create some wonderful drinks that are so cold some days you want to jump into the serving bin where they are kept! Jamaica, Horchata, Melon, orange, pineapple are just some of the flavors you will find. You will find store fronts that just sell aguas frescas. Take a look, try some out and find your favorite.
6. Pozole – This should be called the kitchen sink soup as the tradition of pozole is just that, anything and everything that is in your left over in your fridge goes into a pot with the end result being a wonderful stewy soup that anyone will fall in love with. The base is either seafood or meat and then beans, rice, veggies, etc is added. The broth is thick and spicy. Pozole is a special dish and not served everyday. When you see it as the special of the day, stop and chow down.
7. Homemade Tortillas – Not all tortillas are created equal. When we first came to Mexico we only ate homemade tortillas, tortilla making machines did not exist. Well now 90% of tortillas are made with fancy machines to keep up with demand and only a few Mayan woman make homemade tortillas. Homemade tortillas are cooked over an open fire, are a little bit thicker than machine-made tortillas and have a very distinct texture and flavor to them. If you are lucky, you many find tortillas in the Riviera Maya made with Yucatecan yellow corn, again a very different flavor and look but all the same, delicious!
8. Fresh produce and fruits – The Caribbean sun seems to help create amazing produce and fruits. The sweetness in tomatoes is particularly significant but found throughout all locally grown produce and fruits. If we could pick some local produce and fruit favorites it would be papaya, tomatoes, pitahaya (dragon fruit), guanabana (soursop) and avocados.
Local food will enhance your Riviera Maya vacation
We have found that trying new foods in the Riviera Maya has increased our understanding and appreciation for Mexican Culture. Food is such an intimate part of the country. Would you go to Italy and not have a local pizza? Would you travel to New York and not have a bagel? Would you travel to Montreal and not have poutine? ‘Nough said and we love sharing our local insights about food and culture in the Riviera Maya and Mexico.