Delicious dishes from the Yucatan Peninsula, what they are, and where you can find them on the island.
The Yucatan Peninsula is a large area that encompasses three Mexican States (Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo), as well as parts of Belize and Guatemala. The region is famous for its prehispanic, Mayan culture, and history, as well as the traditional and delicious dishes that come from it. The local area utilizes many ingredients, often locally sourced, as well as traditional cooking techniques. Seafood, citrus fruits, chaya, pork, maize, achiote, and other ingredients are all used in the local cuisine, and we have listed some of our favorite dishes from the area, that you can find here on Isla Mujeres.
1. Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil, (cochinita - baby pig in English, and pibil - buried in English) is our favorite weekend treat on Isla Mujeres! Pronounced 'kow-chee-nee-tah'.
Traditionally served on a Sunday morning, this slow-roasted pork dish is typically served in tacos or a torta (sandwich), and can be found in different pop-up locations around the island on Saturday and/or Sunday mornings. Cochinita Pibil is a marinated pork dish, traditionally slow roasted in a pit, sometimes you can smell the cochinita being cooked in this traditional fashion close by the market in downtown Isla Mujeres on a Friday and Saturday. The dish is prepared as the pork is marinated in achiote paste and sour orange juice, and then wrapped in banana leaves before being slowly roasted in the pit dug into the ground. You can buy cochinita in Isla Mujeres from very early on a Sunday morning outside the market in downtown Isla Mujeres, there is a stand opposite Rubens. Or you can also get it inside the market itself. If you're staying in other parts of the island, you will see some pop-up tables and street carts, especially in the local neighborhoods. This is a delicious, Yucatecan version of pulled pork that you won't want to miss! Get there early, because by 10 AM they are often sold out!
On an island in the Caribbean, formerly a small fishing village, you are sure to find some delicious seafood options, but have you ever tried Tikinxik? There are locations on Isla Mujeres that are famous for this delicious grilled fish dish, and you are guaranteed to find it at many seafood restaurants. Tikinxik (pronounced - 'teek-en-sheek'. Tikin - meaning dry fish in English, and Xic - referring to the fins of the fish), is a popular seafood dish from the coastal areas of the Yucatan Peninsula. A large white fish, typically grouper, is cut in half/butterflied, marinated with achiote paste, sour orange juice, and other spices, and then placed in banana leaves, before being grilled - traditionally on a wood-fired oven in the ground. It is typically served as a whole fish to share, with slices of red onion, tomatoes, and sides of tortillas, rice, and beans. Playa Lancheros "La casa del Tikinxik", is famous in Isla Mujeres for serving this dish, with a recipe that is over 60 years old.
3. Poc Chuc
Grilled meat lovers, this one is for you! Poc Chuc (Poc - meaning to toast, and Chuc - meaning charcoal), refers to the way that the meat is cooked over fire, however, typically when you order poc chuc you are ordering a delicious pork dish, often served with onions, tortillas, rice, beans and a hot sauce (usually apart for you to add if you want a kick of spice). A filet of pork is marinated usually in a mixture of sour orange juice and achiote paste, similar to the previous recipes, and then cooked over a grill with the onions it is served with. On Isla Mujeres, you just need to follow your nose to Kash Keken Chuc, located mid-island, close to Chedraui, where you will be drawn in by the wonderful grill smell, check out the yummy poc chuc that they serve up here.
4. Sopa de Lima
Sopa de lima (lime soup in English), is a very traditional dish from the region. This aromatic soup is made with lots of local limes (specifically those grown in the Yucatan region), shredded chicken, or sometimes Turkey, and tortilla chips on the side. Added to the soup are often onions, cilantro, spices, and chiles. A lime-flavored soup, you may think, would be a strange dish to eat, but the combination of the ingredients, and the distinct sour-flavored limes that are grown in the area, make this dish a favorite amongst many, even on those hot summer evenings on the island. You can find sopa de lima at many restaurants on Isla Mujeres including the stands in the market downtown, El Poc Chuc, La Lomita, and Ruben's, to name just a few locations.
If you're visiting Isla Mujeres, and are in the downtown area in the evening, in the plaza, or the very north end of Av. Hidalgo, you are sure to see some of the small carts with their unique waffle/crepe irons creating these delicious snacks. Marquesitas (pronounced- 'mar-kay-see-tas') are a common street food snack from the region, they are similar to a crepe, except that they are crunchy. They are made using a batter, which is poured onto a unique metal iron, which is similar to a waffle maker, which is then closed and turned over a flame. You can choose from a choice of fillings, typically including Edam cheese, condensed milk, Nutella, caramel, and bananas. Go for a mixture of sweet and savory, such as Nutella and Edam cheese, you will be pleasantly surprised. Once the filling is added on top, the marquesita is rolled up, making it easy to eat while you go about the rest of your evening.
Antojitos are like Mexican street food, which includes lots of delicious light bites and snacks. You can get one or more different items to try at one time, Panuchos are one of these Mexican antojitos from the region. Panuchos (pronounced - 'pan-ew-ch-ows') are made with a refried tortilla, stuffed with refried black beans, and topped with shredded chicken, or turkey, cabbage, pickled red onions, tomato, and sliced avocado. Panuchos are often sold at loncherias (cafeteria/snack bar type restaurants), such as La Mestizita and Antojitos Isla in the mid-island area.
A salbute (pronounced 'sal-boot-ey') is very similar to a panucho. Salbutes are also Mexican antojitos that come from the Yucatan region, they are made with a deep-fried tortilla that is typically topped with chicken, or turkey, cabbage, pickled red onions, tomato, and avocado. The main difference between a panucho, which is also a masa-based tortilla, and the salbute is that the salbute is not stuffed with refried beans. However, like panuchos, they are often seen on the menus of loncherias such as Antojitos Isla.
Looking for something truly unique to the region? Papadzules (pronounced - 'papa-tsu-les') are not easy to come by on the Isla Mujeres, but you can find them at La Mestizita, located mid-island, in the local neighborhood of La Gloria. Papadzules are similar to enchiladas and are usually eaten at breakfast. They are made with corn tortillas, filled and rolled with hard-boiled eggs, and covered in a sauce made of epazote (a herb from Mexico, also known as Mexican tea), and pumpkin seeds.
9. Huevos Motuleños
A popular breakfast dish from the Yucatan peninsula, Huevos Motuleños (pronounced - 'wey-bos mot-oo-len-yos') is a dish from the town of Motul, by Merida. It is prepared with corn tortillas, topped with beans and sunnyside-up fried eggs, cheese, tomato sauce, and often with diced ham, peas, and fried plantains. You can find this dish at many of Isla Mujeres' popular breakfast spots, including Mayakita.
10. Frijol con Puerco
Traditionally served on Mondays, frijol con puerco (beans with pork, pronounced 'free-hole con p-were-ko'), is a heart stew originating from the Yucatan peninsula. Typically this stew of black beans, bean broth, and pork, is served with rice, tortillas, and garnishes such as cilantro, radishes, lime, and red onion. You can sometimes find this dish on Isla Mujeres at the downtown cantinas - La Tablita, and Facebar on a Monday afternoon as a botana (snack), to accompany your refreshing, cold beer. It is also often served at the mid-island locheria Manolitos.
If you are looking to try some more local food, don't forget to check out some of these dishes too if you see them on a menu - Relleno Negro, which can sometimes be found on the menu of the mid-island loncheria - Manolitos, is a very typical dish of the region, traditionally prepared in November with turkey and a mix of herbs, spices, and charred chiles, that give it a black coloring. Lechon al Horno, slow-roasted pork, very similar to cochinita pibil, can be found at street food stands around the island. Agua de chaya y piña - chaya and pineapple water. Chaya is a very popular ingredient in the Yucatan, as it is indigenous to the region, it is similar to spinach and often featured in omelets, empanadas, and other dishes. This delicious Chaya and pineapple water is a refreshing drink and is often found at the loncherias around the island, such as the food stands at the market in downtown Isla Mujeres.