Mayan influences are very noticeable in Merida and across the Yucatan.
There are dozens of incredible Mayan ruins in the region surrounding Merida. Likewise, Mayan art is very prominent throughout the city. As you travel across the Yucatan you will find that many people still speak the Mayan language. And the Mayan influence on food can be found everywhere!
This was our first trip to Merida and because of COVID, many cultural activities were canceled. We stayed in Centro, exploring the more colonial aspects and livability of the city.
Eating in Merida
Merida has a fantastic array of foods available. Beyond what most from the US would consider ‘Mexican’ food, we had terrific Pizza. We had Fish and Chips and Shepherd’s Pie at an Irish pub, as well.
Paseo de Montejo 481
97000 Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
Paseo de Montejo 56
97000 Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
There are a lot of foods influenced by the Spanish and European traders. You’ll find lots of the spit-roasted meats of Tacos al Pastor, a dish influenced by the Lebanese. You’ll also see Queso de Bola or Edam Cheese from the Netherlands. It’s incorporated into Marquesitas, which are also served with Nutella.
Oddly enough, for two guys originally from Philly – Queso Philadelphia seems to play a prominent role in Merida’s foods. We saw the Philadelphia Cream Cheese logo on Marquesita carts. Beyond that, we heard it’s hard to find Sushi in Merida without Cream Cheese.
Marquesitas are not a traditional Mayan food. But, they are typically only found in the Yucatan. Along with another popular dish made with Edam Cheese; Queso de Bola. This dish is a ball of Edam stuffed with meat and steamed in banana leaves. It’s on our list for the next trip.
The influences of foods indigenous to the region and Mayan culture are everywhere in Merida. Foods like Sour Oranges, Habanero peppers, Achiote or Annatto, Corn, Turkey, Chiles, Squash, and Tomatoes are very prominent.
Here are some of the incredible Mayan influenced foods of the Yucatan we tried in Merida.
Cochinita Pibil may be one of the best-known Mayan dishes in the Yucatan. Prepared with pork, the meat is marinated in a Sour Orange Juice (Naranja Agria) and an Achiote marinade. It is wrapped in Banana Leaves and buried in an underground fire pit.
You’ll find Cochinita Pibil all over the city of Merida. Conchinita can be incorporated into tacos and sandwiches as well as served as a meal with Pickled Red Onion, Black Beans, and Corn Tortillas. We’ve also had Chicken Pibil, which was excellent as well.
Another favorite pork dish is Poc Chuc. Marinated pork is grilled and served with many of the same accompaniments as Cochinita. Some places included a chunky charred tomato and onion salsa.
Sopa de Lima
This soup is very similar to what most in the US would know as Tortilla Soup. A brothy soup made with chicken and served with corn tortilla crisps. The main difference and what gives the soup its name is the addition of a distinctive local lime. It gives it a great, slightly sour bite.
As turkey lovers from the US, we were really excited to see a lot of turkey in Merida. Wild turkeys are actually native to the region and popular in much of the cooking. We had no trouble finding fresh turkeys on our trip to the Lucas de Galvez Market.
One dish we saw everywhere is Relleno Negro. Unfortunately, this was a very confusing name because of our limited Spanish knowledge. It’s not a filled or stuffed dish as we assumed by the word Relleno. It’s actually a turkey dish made with blackened chiles and spices. Do not let the dark color or the words blackened chiles turn you off. It was delicious. We had it on tacos, and they were fantastic!
This is a native green leafy vegetable. It’s difficult to describe as everyone has a different take on it. Chaya, as known as tree spinach. Locals use it to aid in digestion and thought to improve vision, lower cholesterol and prevent coughs.
Because Chaya is so versatile, you can use it in many ways. We drank it at breakfast with fresh pineapple and ate it in an empanada with cheese.
This was probably one of the more interesting dishes we tried. Chuck tried it for breakfast at an outdoor café. Papadzules has unique flavors and textures. You make it by dipping corn tortillas in a sauce made of pumpkin seeds. You then fill it with chopped hardboiled eggs and top it with tomato sauce. It’s very mild in flavor and was definitely something we will order again.
Trying Mayan Foods
Mayan influenced Yucatecan food is literally everywhere in Merida – from inexpensive street fare to more formal and somewhat touristy restaurants.
We had dinner at two of the better-known restaurants featuring Yucatecan foods. Both had outdoor dining, which was essential to us as we are not eating indoors. And both were adhering to the local COVID precautions.
Teya: Gastronomia Yucateca Viva
Teya: Gastronomía Yucateca Viva
Calle 60 346
97000 Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
The restaurant is located in the Paseo 60 shopping area and had a good number of physically distant outdoor tables. The service was terrific, and we really enjoyed the food.
La Chaya Maya
Calle 55 520
97000 Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
They actually have two locations in the Merida Centro – one is a little more modern looking and had no outdoor dining. We chose the second for its colonial charm, but mostly for its open-air courtyard.
The food was delicious, the service was a little less attentive. We really enjoyed the atmosphere and especially the woman making handmade corn tortillas next to our table. Yes, she was six feet away and wore her mask the entire time, touching nothing but her masa and the tortillas.
These were actually two of the more expensive meals we had in Merida. Neither was expensive by US standards but certainly not the least expensive place to have tried any of these dishes.
We love checking out Yelp reviews whenever we can. Here are links to Mark’s Yelp reviews of the places mentioned
When you visit Merida, be sure to check out as much of the local foods as possible. We’re starting a list of more items for our next trip!
22 thoughts on “My, Oh Mayan – Influences in Merida, Yucatan”
Wow the food looks DIVINE! I’ve always been intrigued by Mayan culture and always wanted to visit Yucatan. This post gives me some serious wanderlust 😍
It was wonderful and so different than most Mexican food we see in the US. However, we actually found a local place here at home that does Sopa de Lima and Cochinita Pibil.
I love Mexican food! I ate it last night actually 😉 I tried some authentic Mayan foods last time I visited Mexico as well. I love touring outside of the popular cities and eating authentic food. Looks like you guys do as well, great post. You’ve made me hungry, lol!
We love Mexican food but really ate a mix of Mayan, Mexican, and a lot of other things just to mix it up – we drew the line at TGIFRIDAYS and Chili’s. LOL
I wouldn’t think of pizza when I think of mexican food or a mayan influence but that pizza looks sooo good and so do all the other foods!
LOL, pizza isn’t. Just one of the many varieties of food that was also available. The Italian owner has amazing food, the pizza was some of the best I’ve had.
I have been to the Yucatan and I love learning all about the Mayan culture and especially meeting the Mayan people. They are amazing. I will admit that I have never eaten any authentic mayan food and I’m not sure I would be able to lol.
The conchinita and the poc chuc were very mild tasting… nothing spicy or super adventurous about them.
Wow the choice of food along would have me chosing for hours. It all just sounds delightful. I’m not sure if I would brave the Relleno Negro though.
Oh, way more choices than these. Lots of traditional Mexican foods too – we had grilled beef nachos and Chorizo Tacos too. The Relleno Negro was actually VERY good!
I am an ardent follower of Mayan culture, read about it a lot, saw many documentaries but for the first time I am reading an article from the food point of view. And definitely Mayana have immense food range, I would love to try out the chayas whenever I am traveling to that side.
The food is amazing and has a wide range of influences beyond the Yucatecan. Wonderful fruits and vegetables we take for granted are originally from the Yucatan and credited to the Mayans
oh my sweet lord, that pizza is everything. The food looks amazing!!
The pizza was pretty amazing Chuck had a Pizza Frita that was wonderful as well. Next time we’re going for their homemade pasta. It’s nice to have multicultural foods beyond the Yucatecan and Mexican foods.
I don’t think I have ever seen food like this before, and I have been to Mexico! Clearly, I did not do it right haha. From what you said, the Yucatan sounds like a dream, but your food photos are what stole the show for me. Will definitely need to visit Mexico again.
Food in Mexico is VERY regional – not only does Merida have very heavy Mayan influences, but the beaches in Sisel and Progresso are also very close and they feature a lot of fresh seafood.
We have a timeshare in Riviera May and have entertained whether it’s worth making the trip. The food looks very interesting!
Merida is about three hours by car – We’ve heard the ADO buses from Cancun are super inexpensive and very nice.
Mexico has been on my bucket list but I live so far away, I haven’t yet been able to make it! Yucatan is obviously one of the places I will visit and apart from the Mayan ruins which I really want to see, food will be a primary objective of my trip. I love Mexican food in general and can only imagine what Mexican food in Mexico will be like! Never heard of a Papadzules but sounds like something I’d totally be down for trying, looks yummy!
We loved the food and while we ate a lot of meat, we usually tend to eat much lighter and were happy to find a considerable number of vegan and vegetarian options in Yucatecan foods.
Yucatan is an amazing place for history lover. The architecture and street art shares a great knowledge about Mayan culture. The people and street food in Yucatan helps a lot to know about their culture and tradition.
We loved exploring Merida and hope to get back to see more and explore the rest of the Yucatan as well.