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Xcaret Magazine - Yucatecan Cuisine
The Peninsula of Yucatan is widely recognized for the variety and delicacy of its gastronomy. The delicious dishes are product of the great imagination and creativity of the people, who have created wonderful combinations with the products nature has provided.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived here in 1519, they discovered exotic treasures: potatoes, avocados, corn, sweet potatoes, chocolate, tomatoes, green peppers, pineapples, beans, countless birds, small mammals (armadillos, monkeys, porcupines), insects (agave worms, grasshoppers and ant larvae), and reptiles (iguanas, lizards and serpents) featured in the preparation of a wide variety of strange but exquisite delicacies of the new world. In the Yucatan Peninsula they also discovered "chaya", a plant like spinach, annatto (a spice for seasoning fish and meat), squash seeds, papaya and cacao. The fusion of both cultures, Mesoamerican and European, gradually modified the customs and tastes of both people, producing an interesting culinary combination.
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In the Yucatan peninsula, a remote area of the Mexican republic, the fortunate mixture of indigenous Mayan, Spanish, and even Arab ad French elements created a new cuisine of exceptional quality which has been constantly revitalized, resulting in never-ending culinary innovations. Traditional Yucatecan cooking, with its great variety of appetizing aromas, exotic seasonings and extraordinary colors, is an example of the gastronomic richness of this country.
These are many Yucatecan specialties, some of which require elaborate preparation, all of which are simply delicious. The most popular dishes include the following: The famous "sopa de lima" (lime soup) is on the menu at any Yucatecan restaurant worthy of its name. It is made with chicken consommé and lime juice with fried tortilla strips.
Even though the region is known as the "land of the pheasant and deer", today chicken and pork are the main ingredients of Yucatecan cooking. Perhaps the most popular dish is "cochinita" or "pollo pibil" (pork or chicken pibil). An indigenous dish, "pibil" refers to the way meat was cooked before the arrival of the Spaniards. The natives would fashion a primitive oven called "pib", a pit dug in the ground, then place the meat inside in a tightly covered clay pot, topped with red-hot rocks and banana leaves, and then cover everything with earth. This way, the meat retained its natural juices. This tradition still continues in the country. Of course, delicious pork or chicken pibil can also be prepared in the comfort of a modern kitchen, in a large pot with a tight fitting lid, over a low flame, following recipe directions exactly.
Other dishes include "queso relleno" (stuffed cheese), a piece of Dutch cheese filled with ground pork and spices; "relleno blanco" (white stuffing): turkey seasoned with spices, hard-boiled egg, olive, raisins and capers; and "relleno negro" (black stuffing):turkey, ground beef and hard-boiled eggs mixed with "quemado" (burned) chili; and Tikin Xic fish, marinated in annatto and grilled over hot coals.
Cornmeal dough is the basic ingredient in traditional tamales (with different fillings and steamed in banana leaves), and the typical Yucatecan "antojitos" (fried treats), including "panuchos": tortillas that are split and spread with bean puree; "papadzules": rolled tortillas filled with hard-boiled egg and covered with tomato sauce and squash seeds; and "salbutes", with chopped lettuce, shredded poultry, pickled onion and tomato. All of these are the perfect accompaniment to a trip to the market or a cold afternoon beer.
All of these dishes are served with "salsa picante" hot sauce (especially the local Xni-pec sauce), and beans and guacamole, also delicious on their own, wrapped in warm tortillas.
The sauces are red or green depending on the tomatoes used, and are made with either fresh or dried chili peppers, and the degree of hotness depends on the kind of chili used. Keep in mind that the "habanero" chili pepper, exclusive to this area, is the hottest of them all.
Guacamoles (pureed avocado) and refried beans topped with white cheese make the main dish even more delicious. The beans can also be served whole. Many types of beans are grown locally: black, white, red and pinto, and each one has a unique favor making it different from the rest.
During your stay in Yucatan, let yourself be tempted by the different flavors, shapes, colors and textures so different from the ones you're used to, and have an unforgettable experience.