A Caribbean oasis spreads over the Yucatan peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo. Sea breeze, palm trees, fine sand, turquoise ocean, starry sky … how can there be a better setting for one of the most renowned dining destinations in the country?
To comply with Lent during Holy Week, one option is visiting the Riviera Maya, whose cuisine is based on fish and seafood, freshly caught in the Caribbean Ocean. These marine dishes are prepared with Mayan ingredients and techniques, giving them a unique flavor. What’s more, this place is going through a culinary boom thanks to renowned chefs who reinterpret regional dishes with a gourmet touch.
To season the Riviera dishes, cooks use chaya – a local plant – habanero chile – small, orange, and very spicy – and xcatic chile, also called blond or water chile. They also use red onion, marinated in sour orange juice, cilantro and achiote paste, obtained from macerating achiote seeds.
Although hotel complexes have restaurants serving Mexican specialties, the best option is to eat out, at a place specializing in local food. If you like seafood, be sure to order a grouper, scallop or octopus cebiche. Complement it with Xnipec sauce, containing tomatoes, habanero chiles, cilantro, red onion, sour orange juice and salt. But beware, it is quite spicy. Another local delicacy is Tikinxic fish, originally from Isla Mujeres. It is marinated in an achiote paste, tomato, onion, garlic and orange sauce; and buried in a hole dug in the sand and covered with a banana leaf. Accompany this delicacy with freshly prepared tortillas and a semidry red or rosé wine.
If you do not feel like eating seafood, order the traditional papadzules, corn tortillas, soaked in a pumpkin seed sauce, filled with boiled egg and bathed in a tomato sauce with habanero chile and onions. For dessert, treat yourself to a papaya sweet, or ciricote or a delicious warm or cold Mayan cocoa.
Where to eat
Chef Pedro Balam has created a delicious menu with traditional Mayan dishes, mestizo delicacies and some modern recipes. Try Mayan style lobster, flamed with Xtabentun, a regional liquor; fish stuffed with seafood covered in criolla sauce, or giant shrimp with coconut.
5th Avenue between Avenue 38 and 40 Street, Playa del Carmen, Q. Roo
In this traditional Mayan restaurant, for starters ask for an order of vegetarian salbutes or panuchos (puffed tortilla with a side of marinated onion and avocado; panuchos additionally contain beans), shrimp in guajillo chile sauce or mestizo style fish. Another option is to share a tamale plate, which includes Tzotobichay, with chaya, boiled egg, pumpkin seed and Sakan Kay, squash blossom and chipilin strained dough, filled with fish. For your main course, enjoy xcatik chile stuffed with cheese or tropical fruit.
5th Avenue, corner with 22 Street, Playa del Carmen. Q. Roo
Ah Cacao Chocolate Café
The best Mayan cocoa can be found here. The menu includes ice mocha, hot or cold Mayan cocoa (with vanilla, cinnamon and chile), brownies, ice cream, dark chocolate bars and many other products.
Playa del Carmen Branch: 5th Avenue x 30 Street, Q. Roo
Puerto Aventuras Branch: Punta Celis Street Centro Comercial Marina, Q. Roo