Want to try traditional Yucatan dishes on your upcoming trip to the Yucatan, Mexico? Then you’ve come to the right place!
The Yucatan is home to some seriously delicious dishes that are completely different than other things you may have tried in Mexico.
A lot of people put Mexican cuisine into a broad category picturing only tacos, enchiladas, or quesadillas. But Mexican cuisine is far more diverse with each region having unique culinary dishes. And one of our favorite regions for Mexican cuisine is the Yucatan!
If you’re headed to popular tourist spots Merida or Valladolid in the Yucatan, this blog post will share 17 Yucatan dishes you simply can’t miss during your visit.
About Yucatan food
The Yucatan is a state in the south of Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula. It’s borders touch the Gulf of Mexico on the north and ends in the dense jungles of the south. The state is considered the heart of the Mayan culture, with several important Mayan cities, including Chichen Itza residing there.
Its Mayan roots remain a large part of its cuisine, using ingredients that are local to this area for thousands of years like:
- Chaya: a leafy green loosely related to spinach.
- Achiote: a colorful reddish-brown seed used to pigment dishes including Cochinita (annatto seed).
- Peppers, tomatoes, corn, and beans: staples of Mexican cuisine.
- Turkey: one of the meats the Mayans would have eaten.
- Eggs: typically hard-boiled but can also be used in other ways for breakfast.
After Spanish colonization in the 1500s, many new ingredients were introduced to the Yucatan. Later, other influences from France and even the middle east created a new, modern-day Yucatan cuisine. This hybrid of Mayan and global influence is still seen in its dishes today with ingredients like:
- Edam cheese: a cheese from the Netherlands.
- Pork: a meat that was introduced to the Yucatan from Spain
- Citrus: Naranja agria (sour orange) is a critical ingredient in the Yucatan’s most famous dish.
You’ll notice the flavors and ingredients are very unique in the Yucatan. As we were trying these Yucatan dishes we continuously said “I’ve never tasted anything like this before.” It’s certainly unlike other areas of Mexico and makes it all the more exciting to try!
The best places to try Yucatan dishes
The most popular places to try these Yucatan dishes are in the cities of Valladolid and Merida. Merida is the capital of the Yucatan and its largest city home to roughly 2 million people. Meaning it has loads of great restaurants to try these regional specialties at.
🪅 We’ve created a list of the 17 best restaurants in Merida to help you narrow down your search and plan your foodie experience. This list goes beyond the “tourist hot spots” and shows you how to eat like a local.
Another popular place to try these Yucatan dishes is Valladolid. Valladolid is halfway between Merida and Cancun and around a 2-hour drive from both cities. It is a smaller city than Merida, but in many ways an even more authentic representation Yucatan cuisine. Many people in the town and surrounding villages still speak Mayan as their first language.
We visited both Valladolid and Merida and can attest to the quality of food in both places. Ultimately, the best place to try these Yucatan dishes is in the city you’re visiting! However, we found the smaller the town, the more flavorful, authentic, and affordable the Yucatan dish was.
Now, let’s dive into the must try Yucatan foods.
Salbutes are perfect puffy tortillas that have been fried slightly to give their outside a lovely crisp. They are topped with virtually anything you can imagine, from pastor, longaniza, lechon, or cochinita. Think of them as a puffy taco!
These are typically served for breakfast. Which may seem odd for our non-Mexican friends. But Mexican’s often eat heavier dishes like tacos, gorditas, and rich soups (like menudo) for breakfast. Meaning salbutes fit right in.
Salbutes are a cheap, tasty, and quick meal that you can find every from street carts, markets, and restaurants.
Panuchos are similar to Salbutes, but aren’t as puffy. Instead these slightly thicker tortillas are stuffed or coated with frijoles negros (black beans), then topped with the meat of choice. Additional toppings will depend on your meat choice, but you’ll often see cebello (onion), salsa, or lechuga (lettuce).
Panuchos have slightly more of a crunch than salbutes and are another Yucatan dish you can find almost anywhere in the mornings.
3. Sikil Pak
Sikil Pak is a typical botana in the Yucatan. Botanas are the Yucatans version of Spanish tapas, a free dish that is served in most Cantinas when you order a drink. The dip is made by blending pumpkin seeds with tomatoes and spices to make a creamy dip.
The consistency was between a bean dip and hummus but it had a flavor like we’ve never had before!
4. Longaniza de Valladolid
Longaniza de Valladolid is a thin chorizo like sausage that comes from the city of Valladolid. You can find these sausages ground as a taco filling, on tlayudas, on salbutes or panuchos, served in a taco with eggs or served whole as it’s own dish.
We really enjoyed these sausages because they had a bit of bite to them. They reminded us a bit of chorizo, but with a slight twang from the vinegar used in it. Definitely order this when you’re in the Yucatan!
5. Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil is the Yucatan’s most iconic dish. This famous dish can now be found all over Mexico as people celebrate the unique flavors of this region. Cochinita is slow roasted pork that is marinated in sour oranges and axiote (annato seed) which gives it a rich orange color.
Traditionally, the cochinita is wrapped in banana leaves then cooked underground in a hole called a pib. Very few places in the cities of the Yucatan still cook cochinita this way but you can find this traditional method of cooking cochinita pibil in some of the smaller Mayan villages.
If you want an authentic experience and to learn about this dish along with relleno negro, book a reservation at Chef Rosalia Chay’s restaurant in the small Mayan village of Yaxuna. She was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table BBQ and was voted one of the top 20 restaurants in the world.
The experience and cochinita there is like no other. If you aren’t able to reserve a spot there there are tons of great places to try Cochinita across the Yucatan.
But no matter what, add this dish to your list!
6. Relleno negro
Relleno negro is similar to Cochinita, in that the pig is roasted slowly. However, the recado, or paste used to flavor and cook the pig is completely different. Relleno negro blends garlic, other spices, and roasted chiles which gives it that unique black color.
I know it’s not the most appetizing looking dish you’ve ever seen (black is not a great color for food), but I promise it’s DELICIOUS. We tried the relleno negro in several places across the Yucatan, but Chef Rosalia’s restaurant was our favorite.
7. Sopa de lima
Sopa de Lima is one of the most popular and common dishes you’ll find across the Yucatan. This brothy soup, typically made with turkey, is simple but so tasty. They mix meat (turkey or chicken) with onion, tomatoes, spices, loads of lime and top it with crispy tortillas.
I’m still not sure why soup is one of the popular dishes in the Yucatan considering how hot it is here year round, but I’m not mad about it.
8. Tamales coladas
The Yucatan is home to several unique tamales. Vaporcitos and Tamales con Espelón are two examples. But one tamale we really enjoyed during our trip was Tamales coladas. This tamale has a much looser texture than your typical tamale which comes from the lard that is added to the masa mixture.
The masa is stuffed with chicken or turkey, a tomato sauce, and a bit of spice (like habenero salsa), and is cooked in a banana leaf. The result is a gooey and decadent tamale.
Polcanes are like the cousin of gorditas. They are made with thick masa that is cut in half then deep fried rather than stuffed (like a gordita). Then they are packed with your filling of choice. You can choice from any of the meats mentioned in this list (like cochinita, lechon, longaniza, etc).
They are much crispier and at times, greasier than a gordita. Personally, we like gorditas more but they are something special you can only find in the Yucatan.
Castacan is pork belly that is slowly cooked in pork fat. Sound like heaven? It does to us. We tried these famous tacos at Wayan’e in Merida, and are happy to say they did not disappoint. You can add cheese to the castacan tacos or have them mixed with black beans (like in the torta).
We preferred the castacan tacos con queso personally. I could have eaten these all day!
11. Queso relleno
Queso relleno may be our favorite Yucatan dish aside from Cochinita Pibil. This unique dish takes a special type of cheese, called Edam cheese, or queso de bola in Spanish, and stuffs it with relleno negro. Its smoothered in the richest black sauce (from the relleno negro) then topped with a hard boiled egg.
It sounds odd, but I promise you it’s heavenly! Edam cheese has a bit of a kick to it. Personally, it reminded me of a funky gruyere but with a parmesan consistency. We will be ordering this every chance we get when we return to the Yucatan, it’s that good!
Continuing with my love for Edam cheese – another unique Yucatan dish to eat is Marquesitas. These afternoon and late night treats are perfect for a pre-dinner or post-meal snack. Picture a waffle and crepe-like cone cooked on a piping hot grilled then filled with edam cheese rolled up perfectly.
You can get loads of other toppings on your Marquesitas, like chocolate, strawberry sauce, cajeta (slow cooked caramel), or Nutella. But we opted for the original of just queso de bolla. I will be eating this every day when we return to Merida, without question.
Kibis are another Yucatan dish that takes inspiration from across the globe. This dish is inspired from an influx of middleeastern (largely Lebanese) immigrants that moved to this region at the turn of the century. These cone shaped balls are made from a dry cracked wheat then stuffed with either a cabbage slaw, queso de bola, or ground meat.
We tried them on our first trip and we weren’t blown away. But I’m sure if it was stuffed with Edam cheese I’d try it again. You’ll usually find kibis (also written as kibbis yucatecos or kibbes) on the street for super cheap (like less than $0.25).
Papadzules are the Yucatan’s traditional version of enchiladas. They stuff corn tortillas with hard boiled egg then roll them up and cover them in two delicious sauces. One is a pepita (pumpkin) sauce and the other is a tomato sauce.
While it’s considered one of the most “Yucatecan dishes” you can get today it has a lot of influence from the Spainards. Papadzules are the one Yucatan dish on this list we have yet to try, but it’s one we are seeking out when we return to the Yucatan.
15. Huevos Moltuleños
Huevos Moltuleños are a typical Yucatan breakfast that takes thinly fried tortillas and covers them in a tomatoe sauce. They add bacon to the sauce along with peppers and then top it with cotija cheese, fried eggs, and plantains.
I have to admit, it’s a bit of an odd mixture and wasn’t my personal favorite. I much prefer chilaquiles over this, but it is a unique and traditional Yucatan dish to seek out on your trip.
16. Poc Chuc
Poc Chuc is thinly cut pork that has been pounded and marinated in naranja agria (sour orange). It’s a really simple pork that packs a lot of flavor, both from the oranges and from the smoke of the grill. You’ll find poc chuc typically served with habanero salsa and pickled onions.
17. Agua de Chaya
Agua de chaya isn’t exactly a Yucatan dish. Rather, it’s a Yucatan drink. But it’s worthy of trying nonetheless! Chaya is a very popular plant that grows abundantly in Central America. It’s like spinach in it’s consistency and flavor and is often cooked with eggs or other guisados (stews).
In this case, the chaya is used to make an agua fresca. Agua fresca is a very popular drink in Mexico made from purified water and fruits. However, it’s only in the Yucatan that you’ll find Agua de Chaya. The one I’m drinking here was mixed with limon (lime) and was so refreshing!
There are a lot more unique Yucatan dishes to try if you’re visiting, but this list covers the top 17. Hopefully this post has gotten your foodie heart going and ready to dive into the delicious Yucatan cuisine.
Let us know your favorite dish in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our other Merida blog posts.
- The Perfect 2 Days in Merida, Mexico (Itinerary with Map) – Make the most of your short time in the city with this step-by-step itinerary!
- 17 Best Restaurants in Merida You Can’t Miss – See the best places to eat in Merida for breakfast, lunch, dinner (and botanas).
- 18 Essential Merida, Mexico Things To Do – A complete roundup of the top 18 things to do in Merida (in the city).
- Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Merida, Mexico – This complete travel guide to visiting Merida, Mexico will help you prepare and pack for your trip.
- Is Merida, Mexico Safe to Visit? Yes! Here’s Why – See why Merida, Mexico is considered Mexico’s safest city.