Cozumel’s Yucatecan & Mexican Specialties
Cozumel Yucatecan Cuisine is a must for all visitors! Cozumel has such great food. But in case you’re not familiar with Yucatecan and Mexican cuisine, here’s a brief glossary describing some of the more popular dishes you’ll encounter in your gastronomic adventures around town.
Key ingredients of many Yucatecan treats are sour orange juice (from a special kind of green, thick-skinned orange found primarily in the Yucatan) and a spice paste (recado) made from grinding up rusty, brown achiote seeds with garlic, black pepper, cumin, oregano, cloves cinnamon and vinegar.
Popular Yucatecan Dishes Often Found in Cozumel Restaurants
Sopa de Lima
Rich chicken stock to which may be added any combination of vegetables but always contains liberal portions of shredded white chicken meat and is seasoned with limes which bring out the delicate flavor of the broth. Served with fried tortilla strips and often with a side dish (salpicon) made of chopped radishes, purple onions and bitter oranges.
Slices of tender pork marinated in a mixture of sour orange juice and spices and served with a zingy sauce and pickled onions.
Baked fish–often grouper (mero) or snapper (huachinango) slathered in a mixture of sour orange juice, dried oregano and an achiote-based spice paste, then layered with slices of tomato, bell peppers and onions, wrapped in banana leaves and baked.
A hearty breakfast made from crisp, half-fried tortillas topped with black bean paste and fried eggs then crowned with a rich sauce of tomato, onion and peppers, and sprinkled with a liberal helping of green peas, cubed ham and crumbled cheese.
Pescado a la Veracruzana
This is Vera Cruz style fish seasoned in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, chiles, garlic and green olives.
Frijoles con puerco
The Yucatecan version of American pork and beans consists of chunks of pork cooked in one of the Yucatan’s favorite foods, black beans. The beans are invariably seasoned with a liberal sprinkling of epazote, known in the US as pig weed. Generally served with rice, fresh corn tortillas and a garnish of finely chopped cilantro, radishes and onions.
Octopus in it’s own Ink
Salty but tasty. Usually served on a bed of rice.
Arguably the ruby in the crown of Yucatecan cuisine, this luscious dish is made by marinating a suckling pig in sour orange juice, ground achiote and lots of other spices, wrapping in banana leaves and slow cooking overnight in an outdoor oven. Usually eaten with sauteed onions in a sandwich (torta) of soft french bread.
Traditional Mexican Dishes
Here’s a list of some of the most popular traditional Mexican dishes you’ll find on the menus and tables of many Cozumel restaurants:
Salsa Verde and Salsa à la Mexicana
These 2 sauces are as common on the tables of restaurants in Cozumel as salt, pepper and catsup are in the United States. You’ll even be offered these spicy, tangy sauces with your morning eggs. The green one is salsa verde, a tangy, mildly hot sauce made from roasted tomatillos blended together with chiles (hot peppers), garlic, cilantro and onions. The red one–Salsa a la Mexican is a hotter sauce so watch out. Made from tomatoes, onion, chile serranos, salt, lime, and cilantro.
Ensalada de nopales
Cactus paddles with thorns removed (naturally) simmered until tender and then sliced and mixed with onions, chiles, tomatoes and salt for a tasty and different salad.
A hominy chowder with shredded pork seasoned with dried oregano and other spices and garnished with finely chopped radishes, onions and/or pickled onions. Great pozole can be found at the taqueria Los Otates.
Served all over Mexico, these refreshing fruit-based drinks are a Don’t Miss! in Cozumel. A great place to get Agua Fresca is at the El Micheocan ice cream shops located all over town. Note: All restaurants in Cozumel use bottled water, by the way-for drinking as well as ice.
Thirst-quenching agua frescas are also made exclusively with bottled water. The delicious, icy drinks are concocted by pulping fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, mangos and the like, adding sugar and water and pouring over ice.
Tortillas (in this case often flour tortillas) filled (usually) with grated cheese, folded over and baked or quick fried in a lightly-oiled frying pan until the cheese just melts. These are a good choice if you’re eating out with youngsters of conservative food tastes and they’re also a very easy, fast dish if you’re Eating In. You can always dress them up with easy home-made guacamole or salsa.
Anjojitos (Finger Food)
Virtually all the delicious “finger food” snacks of Mexico begin with a tortilla. In Cozumel it’s usually a corn tortilla.
If you’re looking for the crunchy folded over kind filled with hamburger, cheese, lettuce and tomato, you won’t find it in Mexico. Here, the word “taco” refers to fresh, soft non-fried corn tortillas wrapped around any kind of filling you can imagine.
Some places in town, specialize in “Guisado” style tacos and have a variety of fillings laid out for you to choose from. Typical choices–sweet poblano pepper slices in cream sauce, potatoes and chorizo (a spicy Mexican sausage) nor sauced and shredded chicken, beef or pork.
A larger version of the regular taco and in the shape of a shoe-you know–the woven leather sandals. Eat them folded around whatever filling you choose–from mashed potatoes to refried black beans to mushrooms, chicken, pork or sausage. Often topped with slices of avocado and a bit of “crema” a rich, thin sour cream.
These are similar to the version you may have had in Mexican restaurants back home–flat tortillas cooked to a crisp in fat then topped with whatever fillings the cook has made up that evening (often you can point to the filling you want which will be on view behind glass in a large metal tray.) Then lettuce, cubed tomatoes and perhaps a little crema is piled on top.
Panuchos and Salbutes
A variation on the tostado, tacos are half-fried so they’re crunchy and chewy at the same time, then topped with a thin layer of refried black beans, shredded chicken breast, crumbled dry cheese and usually a thin slice or two of avocado. Thinly, sliced pickled red onions are another common and tasty addition.
Pastor tacos are a particular style of soft taco filling made from pork that’s been cut into thin strips, marinated in adobo sauce, skewered on an upright spit and cooked over a low flame.
The wafer-thin slices are piled on soft tacos, topped with chopped onions, cilantro, and in Cozumel, usually some chunks of pineapple. A good place to try out pastores in Cozumel is at Las Seras, on the corner of Avenida 30 and Morelos. Pastores are pretty much all they serve there. Be sure to try the green sauce which is not too hot and tastes like a combination of avocados and tomatillos.
These are tortillas folded over a filling of your choice-often cheese (queso) and deep fried to a golden crisp. Called “Dorado” tacos in some parts of Mexico, the word “Em Pah NAH da” for this fatty but luscious treat is used in Cozumel. This is another one the kids will probably like. A lot.
Sandwiches made on soft French bread rolls are served everywhere and are, in fact, one of the most common pick-up breakfasts for Cozumelenos. They generally wash down their torta de pollo, jamon y queso (ham and cheese) etc. with a soft drink of which “coca” (Coca Cola) is the preferred Drug-Of-Choice here.
You’ll be familiar with these if you eat Mexican in the US-steamed corn dumplings made from Masa dough pressed into a corn husk then filled-most commonly with pork but also other things-wrapped up in the husk and then steamed in a giant kettle.
Above is a variation on the traditional tamale known as a “Gordita” (little fat one). They make great tamales and gorditas most afternoons at the island’s oldest bakery, St. Martin which is in the middle of the block on Avenida 30 between Calle 5 and Calle 7.