Mexican cuisine is one of the richest in the world. In 2010, it became part of history as a Intangible Cultural Heritage Site.
That’s why, during your vacation in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, discovering the flavors of Mexico will be an integral part of your experience in the Yucatan Peninsula.
We have prepared this post, especially for curious visitors who want to delight their palates during their stay in the Mexican Caribbean.
Read on to discover the culinary specialties of Mexico and don't miss your adventure of flavors!
In this new article, we offer you a small dictionary of Mexican cuisine to give you a brief review of the dishes that you should definitely try during your stay in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Literally "Water from Chile", the aguachile definitely has an apt name.
If you don't like spicy flavors, I advise you to avoid ordering this dish reserved for seasoned palates.
Generally, aguachile is made from fish or shellfish. It is a mixture of animal proteins, bell peppers, and raw vegetables (red onion, cilantro, etc.) drizzled with lemon juice.
It is eaten cold with toast or crackers.
A caldo (broth) is a must on the menus of all Mexican restaurants. This broth goes well with all flavors. Vegetables, chicken or fish – surely you will find the one that you like the most.
My recommendation: the shrimp broth, slightly spicy and very tasty.
🐟 Ceviche: fresh fish tartare!
“Ceviche” is a typical Peruvian dish, but Mexico has taken over this classic of South American cuisine with its Mexican twist.
Ceviche is a marinated preparation based on raw fish and/or shellfish. The pieces of fresh fish (or shrimp or octopus), are cut into small cubes and marinated in lemon juice. Then they are mixed with different seasonings: white onion, cilantro, tomato, pepper, avocado, or some fruits like mango.
It is then served cold (and very fresh!) and accompanied by toast and sauces to season the ceviche to your liking.
In the Riviera Maya region, you will find some delicious ceviches. Here are some good addresses for fish restaurants in Cancun… to take note!
If you have visited Mexico City, the word "Chapulin" may not be completely unknown to you because it resembles the name of a famous place in the capital: Chapultepec Park, which means "Hill (-tepec) of grasshoppers". (chapul)".
Los chapulines are, therefore, nothing more and nothing less than grilled grasshoppers!
Delicious on their own or seasoned with chili, grasshoppers are eaten in tacos or to accompany guacamole.
Don't hesitate to take the plunge!
🐷 Chicharrón (pork rind):
Chicharrón is a delicacy from the snack family that combines two things that Mexicans love to eat: fat and frying.
Healthy readers, I advise you to skip straight to the next point or risk fainting.
The chicharrón is a piece of lard... fried. Do not look at me with disgust, I assure you that it is delicious! A crunchy, honeycombed texture is achieved, perfect for dipping into guacamole or serving as croutons in a soup.
Try it and you will love it!
You cannot come to spend your vacations in Cancun and the Riviera Maya without having a real Mexican breakfast and trying the famous chilaquiles!
Originally it is a dish for the next day, taking advantage of the leftovers. It is cooked with tortillas from the day before so as not to waste them.
Once cut into pieces, the tortillas are fried in oil before being covered in a spicy sauce (green or red) and sprinkled with chicken or meat and served with eggs.
🌾 Suitable for vegetarians! They can also be without animal protein if you ask for it that way.
🇲🇽 Chile en Nogada:
This dish can probably be considered the most typical of Mexico after the famous tacos that have a separate post in our gastronomy section.
Chile en Nogada is a seasonal dish typically eaten only around Mexican Independence Day (September 16). However, many restaurants now offer it year-round.
Chile en Nogada is simply a sweet green pepper (poblano chile) stuffed with pork.
It is then covered in a white walnut sauce that gives the dish its name (nogada) and its sweet and salty flavor. To finish, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
Green pepper, white sauce, and red beans are the colors of the Mexican flag that comes to your plate to celebrate the famous Cry of Independence.
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During your vacations in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, it will be practically impossible for you not to try this specialty of Mexican cuisine.
And not for nothing, it is a typical dish from the sea that will delight you with its mix of fresh products and marine flavors.
Whether it is fish, shellfish, shrimp, octopus, or mixed, the cocktail is the king of the beach in the Mexican Caribbean.
Served in a good bowl or glass, the cocktail is eaten very cold. Its mix of seafood and raw vegetables (white onion, tomato, coriander) and its incomparable sweet sauce "katsup" is the ideal accompaniment for your lunches with your feet in the sand.
Speaking of the beach… If by chance you want to read a nice and super well-written article about the beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, I advise you to click here. I'm just saying... 😇
🌶️ Enchiladas :
Another antojito that is better to avoid eating with your fingers is the enchiladas!
And for good reason, they come covered in hot sauce! Simply put, enchiladas are fresh tortillas that are typically filled with chicken or beef. They are then covered in hot green or red sauce. Depending on the region they can be baked and gratin with cheese (San Luis Potosí).
Odigoo tip: a little trick to recognize spicy dishes? Trust its etymology! Chil-aquiles o en-chil-adas both contain the word “chile” which means chili. This is a good mnemonic tip to avoid finding yourself with a dish that is too spicy! 🔥 🔥 🔥
A variant of enchiladas, their poblana cousins, enmoladas are, as the name suggests, covered in mole! A mixture of spices that we will return to in detail a little later in this article.
Did you think you were done with the bugs? Big mistake! It was not counting the escamoles also known as “Mexican caviar”. Escamoles are ant eggs. This is a delicacy for Mexicans.
To eat with toast and guacamole.
You'll find escamole in most of Cancun's fancy restaurants. To find out the best addresses in the city, do not hesitate to consult our article on the subject.
🐛 Gusanos (worms):
I promise you, this is the last time I will tell you about insects in Mexican cuisine! Well… I could give you other examples but I think you're not ready yet ;) this is the subject of another article about the unusual flavors of Mexico.
Let's go back to the Worm and specifically the worm that lives in agave plants. It has a special role in Mexican gastronomy. At one time it was found floating at the bottom of mezcal bottles, but today this practice has all but ended. It's just fun for tourists.
Por otro lado, los gusanos de agave, una vez reducidos a polvo, producen una sal muy sabrosa que va particularmente bien con la degustación del mezcal.
Acompaña tu mezcal con un poco de sal de gusano, una rodaja de naranja o mango y tu copa tendrá el sabor que solo los verdaderos conocedores disfrutan.
Another great specialty of Mexican gastronomy is the huitlacoche. It is among the most traditional and ancient Mexican and pre-Columbian ingredients. It is a fungus in the form of small white bags inside which is a bluish-black substance. It is a parasitic fungus found in corn and is a delicacy to Mexicans.
At first glance, it doesn't look very appetizing, but it would be a mistake to dwell on this impression. It's really delicious!
It is usually found as a filling for antojitos, especially quesadillas and sopes.
Let yourself be tempted, you will be pleasantly surprised.
You will often hear about marquesitas on this blog, it is the cute sin of one of our editors. He talks about it in almost all of his articles!
Marquesitas are one of the most famous street desserts in Mexico. They are very thin and crunchy sweet pancakes that are prepared in a kind of waffle iron.
You can eat them with a sweet filling (jam, spread, Nutella with banana…) but if you really want to savor them Mexican style, choose the one with grated cheese!
If you are really ready for the total experience, do not hesitate to compose your marquesita with sweetened condensed milk and jam or cheese and Nutella".
🐮 Menudo or Sopa de pancita:
The Menudo is a beef bacon soup or a tripe soup if you prefer.
You will find it in all food markets but also in some restaurants.
Some say that Menudo would have beneficial properties for difficult mornings. As the Mexicans say: "to get rid of the hangover".
It is difficult to find something more typical in Mexican gastronomy than this mixture of spices with a complex and pronounced flavor that is the mole.
The best-known mole is brown in color and has a strong cocoa base. It usually accompanies chicken but it can also be used as a sauce for other dishes, for example, enmoladas.
Red, green, poblano, sweet or spicy, there is a wide variety of moles to enjoy during your vacation in the Riviera Maya.
What will be your favorite?
Until you try the nopal, you can't really say you know what typical Mexican food is.
The nopal is a cactus whose fruit you will surely know as the prickly pear or the prickly pear.
In Mexico, we not only eat the fruits of this cactus but also the cactus itself when it is young and tender.
Once stripped of their spines, these flat, spike-like leaves can be eaten cooked or cold in salads, as an accompaniment to antojitos, or even on the barbecue!
They are very good for your health, so give them a try!
Suitable for vegetarians!
🌶️ Pico de gallo:
It literally means "the grain of the chickens". Pico de gallo is to tacos what the Caribbean Sea is to the Riviera Maya—an inseparable duo!
Composed of diced white onion, tomatoes, cilantro, and jalapeño peppers, pico de gallo is your "5 fruits and vegetables" kind of snack.
Pozole is a typical Mexican soup. Depending on its origin, it can be green, white, or red. Its basic ingredient is corn; a large grain of white corn that requires several hours of cooking.
Pozole can be made with pork, chicken, or a combination of these. It is usually served with sliced radish, chopped iceberg lettuce, white onion, and cilantro.
You can also decorate it with fresh cream, lemon juice, spices, and pieces of chicharrón.
It is a generous, consistent, and spicy dish!
Ideal to warm up.
🌶️ Salsa verde Salsa Chiltomate
If you have already read our previous articles on Mexican gastronomy, then you should know that one of the fundamental elements of Mexican cuisine is... the sauce, or the salsa in Spanish! There are dozens, maybe even hundreds with more or less spicy flavors.
Salsa is absolutely inseparable from Mexico.
Among the best-known of these sauces that accompany your antojitos, tacos and other specialties are green sauce and red sauce. You can try them at all hawker stalls, markets, and most restaurant tables.
The green sauce is a mixture of green tomatoes, white onion, cilantro, and chile (Arbol or jalapeño). Everything is mixed to give a thick and spicy sauce that goes very well with appetizers.
The red sauce also known as chiltomate is a specialty of the Yucatan. Therefore, you will have many opportunities to try it during your vacations in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. To find out all about this delicious peninsular sauce and all the other must-have dishes from the region, be sure to check out Episode 4 of our saga on Mexican gastronomy!
Color intensity is not always synonymous with the spiciest flavor! Be cautious and always taste the sauce in small amounts to avoid feeling like your mouth is on fire or, as it is commonly said locally: enchilarse*
Aztec soup, also known as tortilla soup, is a basic item on Mexican restaurant menus.
Like the chilaquiles, it is a dish that is prepared using the remains of the previous day. The Azteca soup allows you to reuse tortillas from the day before so they don't go to waste.
Azteca soup is presented as a soup based on a broth of tomato, onion, garlic, habanero chile (Chile de arból), and epazote, an aromatic herb from Mexico.
The soup is then sprinkled with fried corn tortilla pieces.
To complete this delicious dish, you can add thin slices of avocado, cream, fresh cheese or even a bit of chicharrón to give it a crunchy touch.
This appetizer is one of my favorites and it is a pleasure to finish this dictionary of Mexican gastronomy with this last specialty.
There are two types of tlayudas from different regions of Mexico.
The Oaxacan tlayuda looks a bit like a calzone (pizza pie). It usually contains beef and cheese, but it can be made with whatever you like.
A word of advice, eat a whole one before ordering more, they are quite a filler.
🇲🇽 The tlayuda is by far my favorite. It is very different from its cousin from Oaxaca. It comes in the form of a thin oval crunchy blue corn cake. On top of this tortilla, a layer of beans (bean purée) is placed, then sprinkled with nopales, sliced white onion, cilantro, and hot chiltomate sauce.
Green - white - red—another delicious Mexican flag to be consumed without moderation! However, be careful, tlayuda toluqueña can be very spicy!
Here, dear readers, this is the end of the 3rd part of our article on Mexican gastronomy and the delicious specialties that you will surely have the opportunity to taste during your vacations in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
If you are interested in this aspect of Mexican culture and want to take advantage of your stay to discover the flavors of this country, do not hesitate to take a look at our gastronomic tours for an introduction to the pleasures of the table and the taste buds.
Find our fourth and last episode very soon, specially designed to introduce you to "the culinary specialties of the Yucatan peninsula" as well as the activities around cooking that you can do during your vacations.
If your mouth is already watering, hurry up to book our tours!