Mexican Street Food in the Yucatan

As foodies heading south one of our first to do’s was to find some authentic street food in Mexico. Little did we know that on the Yucatan Peninsula street food was going to be very different from the standard Mexican street food. It naturally involved many of the same Mexican dishes that we have come to love, but it is a very different food culture and its influences are strongly European.

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Our adventures included searching for the best street food and Mexican dishes we could find. The Santa Lucia Parque area is the best in town for authentic Mexican cuisine alongside the newer innovative Mexican restaurants. However, just wandering around any area in Merida will result in you finding some fantastic refreshing Mexican drinks or refrescos and fabulous street foods.

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Street foods in the Yucatan are a totally different category from your usual Mexican taco stall. If you are visiting or staying anywhere along the Emerald Coast, you will see a multitude of little homemade stalls purveying a variety of street eats in the Yucatan.  These vary from small cobbled together wooden booths to red plastic Coca Cola sheds.  It can be a little intimidating if you do not speak Spanish or know what is being offered.  This is a little guide to help out.

Mexican Street food in the Yucatan

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1  Cochinita Pibil

Served everywhere in the Yucatan cochinita Pibil from the finest of gourmet restaurants to simple street stalls. The national dish Cochinita Pibil is pit-cooked pork that has been marinated overnight in a naranja agria (sour orange) and annatto based marinade. 

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Initially devised as a way to preserve meat in the tropical climate, Pibil has become the region’s most famous dish. A Mayan word that means to bury, or to cook underground, Pibil is pork, or other meat, wrapped in banana leaves and then baked in a cooking pit for several hours.

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2  Coconut –  cocos frios, cremitas de coco, bolis de coco

a street food stall in the Yucatan selsling al things coconut

Much of what you see as Street food along the Gulf in villages like Chuburna and Progreso will be coconut based, as this is the traditional means of earning primary or secondary income for many local families.

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The coconuts are harvested all year round and for the most part, landowners allow the gathers to collect the coconuts free of charge from their land.  It is an exchange that benefits both as coconuts when ripe can cause a great deal of damage when they fall to both people and property.  The collectors generally come into your property, harvest the ripe coconuts and take away all the coconut tree debris and branches that need to be trimmed and cleaned up.  Most homeowners offer the workers refrescos or a little propina (tip) to buy some Coke with when they are finished harvesting.

The main items you will see at the roadsides are Coco de Pays (coconut custard pie), Coco Flan, Coco Frio (cold coconut water), Cremitas de Coco, Bolitos de Coco and Coco Paletas (a coconut popsicle).

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For Rick Bayless who first tasted Pay de Coco in the Yucatan, it has become a real treat.  Traditionally made with sweetened condensed milk the pie is dense and chewy, rich with freshly grated coconut.  It stays fresh for a few days and is not a fragile pie.  You can find an adapted recipe on the Rick Bayless website.

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Cremitas de Cocos is a popular dessert here in Yucatan, very similar to a flan, the coconut is thickened with cornstarch and eggs into a simple pudding, which costs around 10 pesos. You will find an excellent recipe here on the Locogringo Blog

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Coco Frios are lovely green coconuts with the top chopped off and a straw stuck in to get at the delicious and incredibly healthy coconut water.

Bolitos de Coco con Camote is little round balls of sweet potato flavoured with Mexican honey or sugar and cinnamon.  The mixture is formed into a ball and then rolled into freshly grated coconut.

3  Raspados

Raspados are found all over Mexico and they are essentially a snow cone, but with one significant difference, the origin of the verb raspar means “to scrape” and the best raspados are hand scraped from a huge chunk of ice.  The raspado is then flavoured with fruit syrups, a pinch of salt and a drench of condensed milk and chamoy if requested. A sweet, cold treat for the hot summer months raspados come in a variety of flavours from coconut to mamoy, pineapple and many more.

Mexican street food raspados, shaved ice with a fruit syrup and condensed milk poured over top

4  Paletas in the Yucatan are a cool Mexican popsicle treat.  Made from fresh fruits and fruit juices the combinations are endless but at the roadside stalls, the main flavour is coconut.

An old Mexican legend says that the Aztec emperors had servants who would bring ice from the volcano, outside Mexico City. The emperors would eat this ice, mixed with fruits.

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In the 1940s, one of the most famous Mexican heladerías opened for business — La Michoacana. Typical flavours include watermelon, lime, mamey, mango, coconut, and pineapple with chilli powder, cucumber with chilli powder, pecan, pistachio or tamarind. Sometimes they are covered with chocolate or nuts, and sometimes they have layers of different flavours.

Mexican street food in the Yucatan does include the familiar tacos, tortillas, and tortas but it also includes some items that are uniquely Yucatecan.

5  Marquesitas are something that you find made all over Merida and it is a favourite treat for kids and adults alike. This is a crepe that is rolled up around a variety of fillings from blackberry jam, to the real speciality that is queso and caramel sauce or Nutella.  Invented in Merida in 1938 these crepes became the favourite snack of the daughters of a Marquis living in the City so much so that they became named the marquesita after the little girls.

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6  Merenque, merenque, merenque”  is a call you will hear very frequently on the beaches of the Yucatan, pastel coloured  Italian meringue whipped by hand is piped out onto paper-covered tables, and then baked from above by placing red-hot coals atop a large steel drum that covers the merengues. The merenque is also shaped into a spiral and a stick placed on one end for a children’s treat, these merengues are usually brightly coloured.

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7  Kibis

As you pass through rural areas and fishing villages (as well as in Mérida) you will often see handwritten signs advertising kibis it may seem strange to see this Middle Eastern treat here in the Yucatan but there is a large Lebanese immigrant community that has made these little stuffed treats a great street food snack.

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Kibis are made from roughly ground wheat kernels (similar to bulgur).  They are football-shaped and then deep fried, once they come out of the oil they are then stuffed with fillings that include; meat, cheese, cabbage, habaneros and onions.

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8  Panuchos

A panucho starts with a tortilla that has been warmed split and stuffed with refried beans, the tortilla is then fried and finally topped with meat, sour orange pickled onions, and sometimes lettuce or cabbage along with avocado and sliced tomato.

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9  Salbutes

The salbute is similar but the tortilla is simply fried and then topped with everything but refried beans.

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10  Elotes

Elote’s are grilled corn on the cob that is then dressed with a lime-flavoured crema (mayonnaise), dipped in cotijo or queso fresco (which is cheese) and then sprinkled with chilli pepper.  Unlike North American sweet corn on the cob, Mexican corn has a solid very starchy and sweet kernel.

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11  Esquites

Esquites are from the same corn but removed from the cob and served in a cup.

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12  Tamales

Everyone loves a tamale but here in the Yucatan tamales are a rare thing to find as street food. They are a labour intensive dish that you may find at some of the markets in the area and consider yourself lucky if you do find some to buy. If you get the chance take a cooking class to learn how to make them.

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As an expat living in Mexico for a year I had the pleasure of experiencing a great deal of fabulous Yucatecan dishes. I also loved discovering all the new farmer’s markets that were beginning to flourish alongside some fantastic artisan crafts.

Pin Street Eats for later

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