The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is Mayan country and that means all kinds of fascinating surprises, from ancient Mayan pyramids and tropical jungles to sacred cenotes and succulent food. Consisting of three Mexican states − Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo (home to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya) − the peninsula has a colorful history with an impressive cultural mix making it an extraordinary place to visit.
For about 2,000 years, the Maya dominated an expansive region, including the Yucatan Peninsula, with their influential empire until the Spanish invasion of 1519. After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, the Mayan territories were divided between various countries. Mexico retained the Republic of Yucatan, which comprised the Mexican states of Yucatan (achieving statehood in 1824), Campeche (in 1863), and Quintana Roo (in 1974).
As a primarily agricultural society supplemented by hunting and fishing, the Maya cultivated such foods as corn, beans, avocados, chile peppers, squash, guava, papaya, tomatoes, other fruits and seeds. They also discovered cacao and created a drink called “xocolatl” (chocolate). Their significant contributions clearly extend beyond mathematics, astronomy, architecture, language, and art to include the culinary arts.
The multicultural presence of today’s Yucatan Peninsula has considerably influenced Mayan food, which was initially simple, peasant cooking with a diet consisting of mostly corn, eggs, fish, shellfish, and black beans. Evolving from foods and spices introduced to the Maya through trade and migration, Yucatecan cuisine is an exotic blend of Spanish, French, Lebanese, Cuban, Caribbean, and of course, Mexican and Mayan flavors.
Many traditional Mexican foods originated from the Maya, such as tamales and tortillas, but the following Yucatecan recipes have that extra special touch. Instead of just cooking, consider the Mayan way: Their sacred book, Popol Vuh, says that man was created from white and yellow corn cobs, which is why they believe ‘creating’ with food honors the gods.
Top 3 Mexican Recipes
#1. Tikin Xic (pronounced “teekin sheek”) − Grilled Fish
White fish fillets (6)
Achiote* paste, 18 ounces
Epazote** herb stems (6) or 1 teaspoon dried, chopped epazote
Sour orange juice, 1 cup
Whole white onions (2), sliced
Whole green peppers (2), sliced
Tomatoes (3), sliced
Banana leaves (6)
Marinate fish in achiote and orange juice with tomato, onion, and green pepper slices for 1-3 hours. Then lay each fillet on a banana leaf, baste with olive oil, season with epazote, and cover with tomato, onions, and peppers. Wrap each fillet in a banana leaf and grill on both sides for 5 minutes, or bake wrapped in foil at 350° Fahrenheit (177° Celsius) for 40 minutes. Serve with rice and purple onion slices marinated in olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and thyme.
* Achiote paste: a marinade of slightly bitter, earthy flavored red annatto seeds, spices, and tomato.
** Epazote (Skunkweed): a pungent, slightly bitter herb with a hint of lemon flavor.
Both can be obtained at Mexican grocery stores.
#2. Sikil Pa’ak − Toasted Pumpkin Seed Dip
Roasted tomatoes (3)
Roasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), 1 cup
Roasted large white onion, 1/2 sliced
Roasted, seeded habanero chile (1), may substitute jalapeno or Serrano chiles for less heat
Fresh cilantro leaves, 1 handful
Salt to taste
Roast the tomatoes, onion, and chile on the grill or griddle. Roast the pumpkin seeds in a heavy skillet, stirring often to prevent burning, and remove when brown. Place the pumpkin seeds in a blender or food processor, and grind until fine. Add the roasted tomatoes, onion, chile, and cilantro, and blend into a smooth, thick paste. Salt to taste. Serve with corn chips and fried or toasted tortillas, or use as a sauce on chicken and tacos.
#3. Mayan Hot Chocolate
Milk, 4 cups
Unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup
Flour, 1 teaspoon
Brown sugar, 1/4 cup
Crushed cloves (3)
Nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon
Cinnamon stick (1), broken in small pieces
Dried, crushed chile peppers, 1/4 teaspoon
Powdered confectioner’s sugar, 2 teaspoons
Vanilla extract, 1 & 1/2 teaspoons
Corn starch (optional)
In a double boiler, heat milk on medium-to-low heat. Sift the cocoa powder and flour together, and add only enough milk to make a paste. Add the brown sugar, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and dried chile to the paste. Mix paste with the hot milk, stirring frequently to prevent burning. For a thicker consistency, gradually add corn starch. Once smoothly blended, remove the floating spices with a slotted spoon. Then add vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir and sip.
After creating these delicious recipes, tell us how you liked them.
About the Author
Christina Famiglietti is a professional writer and editor and with experience in various industries. Her most recent passion is the Mexican Caribbean, where she lives and is inspired to write about her beloved Mexico — its nature, culture, travel, and tourism.