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Caribbean influences in Yucatan food [moved from L.A. board]

I recently ate a delicious meal at Chicen Itza.... and will go back soon! anyone know the best dishes where I can taste 'Caribbean' influences/what recipes/ingredients in Yucatan food.

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  1. The Yucatan Pensula is borded by the Caribbean (And Yucatecans do consider themselves to be Caribbeans, especially those in the state of Quintana Roo). But the cuisine itself is a mixture of Mayan, Spanish and Immigrant traditions (Yucatan was a major port, Cortez himself first Landed on Cozumel before he went on to conquer the country...) What sort of ingredients and techniques are you looking for specifically?


    1. The Yucatan has been part of Caribbean trade routes for thousands of years... as such their cuisines share common roots & have influenced each other over the ages.

      The most prolific food to emerge from the Yucatan - Caribbean union is Barbecue. The name Barbecue is derived from the Spanish word Barbacoa which itself is derived from the Taino language spoken by the natives of the Caribbean Islands.

      The Yucatecan version of Barbecue is called Pibil as in Cochinita Pibil derived from the Yucatec Maya word Pib for the closed pits used in Yucatecan Pib cooking. The oldest known Barbecue Pits were excavated in Campeche and carbon dated to 2000 B.C.... putting the Yucatecan / Caribbean barbecue tradition at 4,000 plus years or so.

      Sadly... very little Cochinita (& other) Pibil is still made in a Pib... urban families & tourist restaurants have opted for a straight oven version which misses out on the smokey, crisp elements of an authentic Pibil.

      I am told that in small towns around the Yucatecan you can still find Pibs... & that the Pibil is sometimes made from the more flavorful, more traditional Wild Boars & Deer of ancient times... as oppossed to their more convenent, but less satisfying counterparts.... the domestic pig & chicken.

      For those who have never had Pibil... you are typically served slow cooked, achiote marinated, fall apart tender meats in banana leaves (used to create little ovens inside the Pib) with marinated onions (Red Onions pickled in Sour Orange Juice) & paired with Xnipec (chopped Habanero salsa) or its more glitzy cousin... Mango Salsa & a Chaya Tamal (Chaya is a green aka Jungle Spinach)

      10 Replies
      1. re: Eat_Nopal

        Wonderful post!! :)

        Lots of homes in Merida have Pibs built into their back yard. Ours does (Located in the historic Sarmiento) as does several of my uncles (and Cochinita is always made in the morning... I loved waking up to the smell of recados mixing with pork and roasted banana leaves. It's also making quite a resurgence among the population there (I have a friend in the upscale Los Pinos who had one specially made for his 'McMansion'... LOL!)

        Deer in Yucatan can be very hard to find because at one point not that long ago it became protected (The Yucatecan deer is very different than American), you could STILL find it if you had connections, but the perfered preparations were a bit more delicate such as a salpicon instead of Pibil which would hide the delicate flavor and might over cook it....) Boar you can still find (And I got almost trampled by one as a kid... LOL!!)

        The best thing you can do in Yucatan... Go to Merida, talk to the natives... TELL them how much you LOVE Yucatan food and you will be taken home... :) We are a VERY proud people... :)


        1. re: Dommy

          Dommy... I am very happy to find out that the Pib tradition is alive & well around Merida... note to everyone... disregards all of Frommer's recommendations have locals give you tips instead.

          Hey Dommy... how are other Yucatecan foods doing.. like Chaya etc.,.. are people maintaining the traditions... or are they getting lazy... and eating more convenient, less nutritious foods.

          Also... I didn't see any Nopales anywhere in the Yucatan... is this the one part of Mexico that doesn't have that tradition?

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            Chaya is still widely used. You absolutely can not have a Tamal Colado or Brazo de Reyna without it. In fact, on a flight from Merida to Mexico city, we saw a stewardess bring on a branch of Chaya on the plane. My mother happily gave her advice on how grow and then cook it... :)

            Nance and Cherimoya are still very popular. As is the Pitaya (My absolute FAVORITE!), Dulceria Colon on Montejo street has the most WONDERFUL Pitaya ice cream... it's one thing I really miss from there! :)

            The way I describe Yucatecans to people here in the U.S. that don't understand the regional differences of the Mexican people (Even pre-columbian we were all different societies) is that the Yucatan is the Texas of Mexico. Very proud of our past (Mayan, Colonial and all...) and very independent, we'd be our own country if we could... LOL!! :). In fact my little cousin who goes to a VERY nice private school is learning to speak Quiche!! With more and more people from the U.S., Asia (The amount of Japanese who go to Yucatan is astounding!) and even Mexico showing more and more interest in Mayan/Yucatecan culture, then there is actually an incentive for us to remain true to our history and traditions...

            As for the Nopal, not it's not typically eaten there. I grew up with it here in the U.S. because my mother actually spent her childhood in Mexico City. As Joan said, you do see it in the markets, but I think that is because the tourist trade has brought so many Mexicans from the north to Yucatan. As I mentioned, we are very proud... You will often see bumper stickers in Yucatan with "100% Yuca". LOL! My cousin brought me one to put on my car here... :)


            1. re: Dommy

              Hey Dommy have you ever seen a Brazo de Reyna here in the US? Im dying to try it.

              On a side note: Cumbia rules! La Senora Dynamita!

              Awesome, Informative posts guys

              1. re: kare_raisu

                I made a post on the L.A. board about my local sources for Brazo de Reyna and other Yucatan Tamale variants you can find here! :)


                Also there is lots of Yucatecan food being done in Chicago and Texas as well as in Florida. The Yucatan being the furthest south and east of Mexico is actually A LOT closer to Florida than it is to California!!


                1. re: Dommy

                  Dommy you are a great Yucatecan source for us, thanks!

                  > Can you find Chaya & other ingredients in L.A?
                  > On the Rey Pakal website.. it says that Relleno Negro is buried... is this like a Pib dish or more look what in Central Mexico we call a Mixiote?
                  > Could you please describe Col to us?
                  > The Queso de Bola Holandes used in the Queso Relleno & with desserts... is that a Gouda or a different Dutch cheese?

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    > Can you find Chaya & other ingredients in L.A?

                    Yes, you can find "Calabaza" seed at most Mexican Markets in bulk, again, Pumpkin seed will do in a pinch. Chaya is a little tougher to find. I've seen it being sold by the Herb Vendors that you can find on the corners near Maple and Adams in South Central L.A.... I'm going to Mercadito next week and see if I can it there. We have a constant supply in our Household because we grow it...

                    > On the Rey Pakal website.. it says that Relleno Negro is buried... is this like a Pib dish or more look what in Central Mexico we call a Mixiote?

                    Relleno Negro is also known as Chirmole. It can be prepared in a Pib. It is perhaps one of the HARDEST things to find here in terms of Yucatecan cooking. We would ALWAYS bring or request some brought in from Mexico. It's TOXIC to make at home (Because you have to burn so many chilies) . My mothers always had to lock up the Dog and cats in the garage when she'd make from scratch... LOL!!

                    > Could you please describe Col to us?

                    I'm guessing you are asking about the garnish? Basically it's a lightly pickled Cabbage Garnish that you put on Salbutes and Panuchos. You also place it in soups. Never Lettuce to garnish, always Col... :)

                    > The Queso de Bola Holandes used in the Queso Relleno & with desserts... is that a Gouda or a different Dutch cheese?

                    It's actually Edam Cheese (So it's a bit firmer than Gouda so it stands up to baking)... You can find balls around christmas time at La Flor de Yucatan and at Chichen Itza. :)


                    1. re: Dommy

                      Thanks Dommy.... with Col is the pickling liquid similar to typical Mexican Escabeche (light vinegar, laurel, oregano, garlic, cloves, allspice etc.,) or is there a more Yucatecan recipe?

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        It's more like the onions en Escabeche. You blanch chopped Cabbage and then add in a bowl equal amounts of water and onion. We don't typically add Herbs (We do to the onion, laurel/bay, oregano, Peppercorns) the main thing is for it remain crisp, but not woody. Flavorful, but not overpowering...


        2. re: Eat_Nopal

          How interesting! One of our favorite dinners at home or in our local Mexican restaurant is Chochinita Pibil. We do ours in the closed BBQ so that we get that smokey flavor. Love the pickeled onions, last time we made it we served it with black beans, and pupusas. My mouth is watering now. I'd love to try it with wild boar - we use pork from the mercado - the butchers even cut it in big chunks for us. I try to always keep a package of achiote paste on hand, just in case we get a whim.

          Thanks for the great information! We'll make a mango salsa to go with it the next time.

        3. I saw nopales in the markets, but not on the menus, in Tulum when I was there 2 years ago. Headed back in a couple of weeks. Will have to look and see if they're still there.

          2 Replies
          1. re: JoanN

            JoanN have eaten at Don Cafeto in Tulum (I liked it)... was deeply dissappointed at Ana y Jose. BTW, I really enjoyed staying at Los Lirios http://www.loslirioshotel.com/ just don't bother eating at their restaurant.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Completely agree with you about Ana y Jose. A lot of people seem to like it, but I think there's much better for the money. Also agree about Don Cafeto. Did you try Zamas? That's another Tulum restaurant I liked when I was last there. Don't know about Los Lirios. We stay at a villa on Soliman Bay, so we really don't eat out all that much. Do a lot of our cooking at home. And I just *love* shopping the Tulum markets.

          2. Yo Shrimp.... are you getting what you want or do you need more info?

            I would add that another element of Yucatecan cooking is a heavier reliance of Fruit with Savory Dishes... for example Puerco en Manchamanteles (a type of Mole that has Pineapples & other fruits swimming in it).

            Also... in the Coasts (like in Quintana Roo & Campeche) there is a great reliance on light seafood... Campechanas (Shrimp & Octopus cocktails), Ceviche in Coconut Broth, Fish Grilled over Hoja Santa, Coconut Shrimp.... as well as the Barbecue / Pib connection I have mentioned.

            1. We own a small hotel on the Costa Maya, which is close to the Border of Belice. My cooks are from Bacalar and heavily influenced by Caribbean cooking. Everyone cooks liberally with Calabasa, Chaya (we have a tree/bush going on in the sand here on the beach), Banana leaves (they would never think of making tamales in anything but chaya or Banana leaves).

              Something never mentioned about chaya is the the toxicity. Everyone here knows about it, but if you are traveling around the Yucatan and see some in the market, don't touch it with your bare skin. It can cause a rash. You must boil it at least 1 minute or it is like eating stinging nettles. My cooks handle it with gloves or put a plastic bag on their hands. They insist on 15 minutes and it doesn't seem to hurt the texture, which holds up and is more like swiss chard than Spinach. My favorite us of it is in eggs with cheese or Potatoes, chilies, and tomatoes, eaten with fresh tortillas. I found out that all the Mayan Medicine men have Chaya in their gardens and recommend it for everything from Kidney stones to diabetes. Since we have to drive a couple of hours to Chetumal for a good doctor, we make sure and get our Chaya Fix often! http://www.mayanbeachgarden.com