On the Yucatan Peninsula, along the shining waters of the Mexican Caribbean, the Mayans created one of the greatest civilizations in history, a series of pre-colonial kingdoms that, over thousands of years, left a fascinating legacy that includes a far-seeing calendar, a string of stunning ruins and, of course, some fantastic culinary customs. You can still taste traditional Mayan dishes—and a lot more—along the beaches of Cancun and on bustling Fifth Avenue in Riviera Maya’s Playa del Carmen.
Cochinita pibil, a Mayan staple that dates back some 1,800 years and is traditionally cooked in an underground pit. Slow-roasted in a banana leaf, pork is marinated with bitter oranges and coloured using annatto seed. Try it at: Yaxche (pronounced jag-shey) Maya Cuisine, a traditional Mayan restaurant in the heart of Playa del Carmen. The chefs there cook up a very authentic version.
Dinner at La Habichuela Sunset. Located in the heart of Cancun’s hotel zone, this waterside restaurant serves both seafood and Mayan classics like relleno negro (turkey and meatballs in a roasted chile sauce), paired with a Mayan show featuring traditional dances (boosted a bit with some 21st-century pizzazz).
Grand Velas Riviera Maya offers eight restaurants including two four-star establishments, one of them Frida, which serves up gourmet Mexican. Grand Velas is also home to Cocina de Autor, a five-diamond spot where every dish is an original, created with local ingredients by its innovative chefs.
The Best Part
Playa del Carmen’s famous Fifth Avenue offers dozens of small, bustling restaurants spread along a four-kilometre pedestrian stretch. And you don’t have to navigate it on your own—a locally owned company called Gastronomic Tour Riviera Maya takes groups of no more than a dozen to the best spots, telling the stories behind the dishes (including the Mayan creation myth that says humans sprouted forth from corn, one of the most important Mexican ingredients) all along the way.
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This story is part one of a four part feature, exploring Mexico’s culinary scene.
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