True History of the Foods of Yucatan

The True History of the Foods of Yucatan is NOT a cook-book. This non-fiction work tells the story of Yucatan’s history through its food. It details the true origins of the foodstuffs, recipes, and ingredients that are now used in Yucatan cuisine. It also delves deeply into the food-ways of the pre-Columbian Maya and shows how Maya food of the past was completely different than today’s foods that are so often labeled “Mayan Food” by people trying to establish a connection to an imaginary past.

Many gastronomical myths promoted by clueless internet authors are dispelled by the inclusion of the true origins and etymologies of such iconic Yucatan recipes as queso relleno, papadzules, cochinta pibil, pastel del tres leches, and dozens more. Even the true origin of the humble tortilla will amaze.

The book includes an exhaustive index which can be used to quickly find any food mentioned. An amazing read, this book is a must for any foodie who ever traveled to, or thought about traveling to, Yucatan. From the same author of The True History of Cozumel, The True History of Tulum, The True History of San Gervasio, and many more non-fiction works.

The True History of the Foods of Yucatan is available from Amazon Books in eBook or paperback editions HERE. Para recibirlo en Mexico, cliquea AQUI.


For some authentic and tasty Quintanarroense recipes, try Pancho’s Backyard Restaurant, on Ave. Melgar between Calle 10 and Calle 8

For an interactive, alphabetical list of restaurants by name or type, see INTERACTIVE RESTAURANT LIST or one of the two interactive maps, the INTERACTIVE CITY MAP for restaurants and bars in the city or the INTERACTIVE ISLAND MAP for restaurants and bars outside of the city.

Today, Cozumel has a wide variety of cuisines available to the hungry traveler, but instead of describing these recent-to-Cozumel gastronomical fares, the following will help shed some light on the typical, traditional, Cozumeleño dishes.

Non-alcoholic drinks and beverages

Aguas Frescas. The US has lemonade. In Quintana Roo, we have lemonade, limeade, orangeade, watermelon-ade, guanabana-ade, and many other varieties. They can be made with either agua natural (still water) or agua mineral (sparkling water). A few of the many popular flavors are:

Barley (Cebada)
Watermelon (Sandia)
Key lime (Limonada)
Tamarind seed (Tamarindo)
Hibiscus flower (Jamaica)
Orange (Naranja)
Cantaloupe (Melon)
Soursop (Guanábana)

Licuados. Many of these same fruits that are used to make aguas frescas can be had as licuados, a drink made from chunks of fruit (not just the juice) mixed with water and sugar in a blender and served over ice cubes. They can also be made with milk (Licuados con leche). The US has milkshakes. In Quintana Roo, we have licuados con leche. These thin, but refreshing, milkshakes come in several flavors:

Banana (Platano)
Strawberry (Fresa)
Cantaloupe (Melon)
Peach (Durazno)
Avocado (no kidding!)

Horchata. This is a traditional, sweet, milky-white drink made from rice, almonds, sugar, and cinnamon.

Agua de coco. Agua de coco is the clear, refreshing liquid found inside the ‘pipa,’ or immature coconut, often advertised as coco frio. It is absolutely nothing like the canned ‘coconut milk’ in US stores.

Ice Tea. If you order Ice Tea (te frio or te helado) in Cozumel, you will get instant ice tea.

Water is agua.

Sparkling water is agua mineral.

Tonic is agua quinada

Juice (as in fruit juice) is jugo. Orange juice is jugo de naranja. Grapefruit juice is jugo de toronja. Jugo Verde is a blend of celery, spinach (or chaya) and orange juice.

Refrescos are soft drinks or sodas. Uva is grape. Manzana is apple. Cebada is barley (crème soda).

Alcoholic beverages

Xtabentun is a local alcoholic bottled beverage that is made from honey (traditionally from honey made by the wild, stingless bee of Yucatan), anise, and rum. A very nice digestive.

Michelada is a new arrival from the North of Mexico, a cold beer served with salt, lemon and sazón (sometimes the sazón is soy-sauce based, sometimes Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes Maggie sauce).


The traditional tortilla in Cozumel is a small corn tortilla, but these days many places also have flour tortillas for the immigrants from Central and Northern Mexico. This little, round, ground-corn flat-bread is the building block of many of Cozumel’s most treasured foods. It is served by the stack with most traditional meals to use as a pusher, sop, taco-wrapper, or just to eat as an accompaniment to the meal. When cut into triangles and fried into crisp chips, they’re called totopos.

Tortillas used in snacks or as part of the main dish

Salbutes. Take a fat corn tortilla, fry it until it puffs up, add shredded roast chicken, lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado, and a slice of jalapeño and you got a great snack called a salbute.
Panuchos. Take a flat, crispy, fried corn tortilla, top it with shredded roast chicken, black beans, tomato, lettuce, and avocado, and you got a panucho.
Papadzules. A corn tortilla, soaked in a thick chicken and pumpkin seed sauce, wrapped around a stuffing of chopped, hard-boiled eggs and covered with the same thick sauce used to soak the tortilla.


A meat filling wrapped up in a corn tortilla. In Cozumel, all tacos are soft ones and typically made with corn tortillas.

Tacos de cachete (cheek)
Tacos de ojo (eye ball)
Tacos de lengua (tongue)
Tacos de sesos (brain)
Tacos de nervios (tendons)
Tacos de chicharrones (fried pork-skin)
Tacos al pastor
(made with pork roasted on a vertical rotisserie)

Enchiladas. Just like the ones in the US, but never made with that dark, chili gravy so popular in Tex-Mex cooking. They can come in one of 4 varieties:

Suizas = chicken, tomato sauce, and sour cream
Rojo = chicken, covered in red chili sauce
Verde = chicken, covered in green chili sauce
Mole = chicken, covered in mole sauce
Queso = cheese, covered in tomato sauce

Sincronizadas. A hot ham and cheese sandwich made with tortillas instead of bread.

Quesadillas. Tuck some fresh cheese into a doubled-over tortilla and grill until the cheese melts and you’ve got a quesadilla. Shredded, roasted chicken, or fried chorizo can also be added to these little snacks.


The word tamales is the Spanish plural of tamal. Only Americans call one tamal a tamale. The masa (ground nixtamalized corn and fat) used to make tortillas is also used to envelope a variety of fillings and steamed in a banana leaf to make tamales (de puerco or de pollo). Sometimes cinnamon and sugar is added to the masa to make a dessert tamal.

Tamales Colados (tamales of strained masa batter)

Tamales de Espelon (fire-roasted tamales made with Yucatecan black-eyed peas)

Mucbipollo (a large cake of baked masa stuffed with chicken, bean, and egg, served only around Halloween)

Note: In Spain, a tortilla is an egg and potato omelet. These are now being served in some Mexican restaurants now under the name Tortilla Española, not be confused with a Mexican tortilla.

Seafood cocktails

Coctel (Coctel de Mariscos) is a seafood cocktail made with your choice of seafood and a thin, tomato-based sauce.
Coctel de Camarones is shrimp cocktail.
Coctel Campechano is a mixed seafood cocktail.
Vuelve a la Vida is a cocktail made of raw oysters, shrimp, octopus, and their juices, which is purportedly good for hangovers.
Ceviche is seafood marinated in lime juice, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. It comes in various versions: Octopus (Pulpo), Fish (Pescado), Conch (Caracol), Shrimp (Camaron), all of the above (Mixto)
Tuchitos (means “little bellybuttons” in Mayan). It is chopped-up conch eyes and mouth parts in ceviche.

Soups (Sopas)

Sopa de Pescado is fish soup.
Sopa de Mariscos is seafood soup
Puchero de Tres Carnes is a hearty soup of vegies and beef, pork, and chicken
Potaje de Lentejas is a soup of lentils, bacon, and sausage.
Sopa de Lima is lime soup (made with chicken, chicken broth, lime juice, & tortilla crisps)
Crema de Frijol is slow-cooked black beans with herbs, mashed and strained to make a creamy soup.
Caldo Xochitl is a chicken-broth based soup with shredded chicken, avocado, onions, tomatoes, rice, shredded lettuce, and cilantro

Styles of cooking Fish (Pescado) or Seafood (Mariscos)

Al Ajillo means in ajillo pepper sauce
Mojo de ajo means in garlic sauce
A la plancha is grilled
Frito means fried
Entero means whole
Filete means filet
Sopa de pescado means fish soup
Sopa de mariscos is seafood soup
a la Veracruzana means cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, onion, capers, and green olives
Empanizado means breaded
Tikinxic is traditionally a fish split lengthwise, marinated in achiote (annatto) and lime juice, and grilled over an open fire. Today, it is usually oven-baked.

Types of Fish (Pescado) and Seafood (Mariscos)

Caracol is conch
Cangrejo is crab
Jaiba also means crab
Ostion is oyster
Langosta is Caribbean lobster
Pulpo is octopus
Huachinango is red snapper
Pargo is snapper
Basa is imported Chinese catfish
Robalo is snook
Lisa is mullet
Pez León is Lion-fish
Anchoa is anchovy
Tiburón is shark
Cazón is nurse shark
Mero is grouper
Jurel is horse mackerel
Calamar is squid
Camarón and gambas both mean shrimp
Pez espada is swordfish
Boquinete is hog fish (if you want a whole fried fish, this is the best)
Boquilla is white grunt
Chac Chi (red mouth, in Mayan) is a French grunt

Pork (Puerco)

Poc-chuc is thinly sliced pork, marinated and grilled, served with roasted tomatoes and pickled onions
Frijol con Puerco are black beans, pork, epazote, and onions, stewed together for hours
Chicharon is crispy, fried-out pork skin
Asado means roasted
Lechón asado or lechon al horno both mean roasted, suckling pig
Cochinita Pibil is a whole baby pig, slow baked (originally underground) with bitter orange and achiote
Chuleta is porkchop

Beef (Res)

Beef is not Yucatan’s strong point. Pork is the popular meat here. If you do order a steak, here is how to order it:

Rojo means rare
Media, or a su punto means medium rare
Tres cuartos means medium
Bien cocido means well done

Non-Yucatecan meat cuts now found in Cozumel are:

Suadero (a contracted version of sudadero) means “sweat-blanket” or “saddle blanket,” but is now the colloquial term for an oddly smooth-textured piece of meat cut from an area between the upper leg and the stomach of a cow or steer. It is often grilled and then chopped-up to be served in tacos in Cozumel.

Arrachera is the cow’s diaphragm, the muscle that separates its chest cavity from its belly cavity. In the US it’s called the “skirt.” It is not the same as “flank” steak, which is a part of the abdominal muscles of the cow. Skirt steak is divided into two parts, the “inside skirt” and the “outside skirt.” The outside skirt is normally what you get when you order arrachera in Cozumel. This tough piece of muscle needs to be marinated in some kind of meat-tenderizer in order to make it chewable. It is also served cut across the grain. The piece of diaphragm gets its name from its similarity in looks (and texture!) to an arrachera, a regional name for a saddle cinch, the belt that goes underneath the belly of a horse and is used to keep the saddle from falling off.

Beef Fajitas are the Tex-Mex version of either grilled flank or skirt steak, which are served cut into strips and served on a hot cast iron griddle.

Chicken (Pollo)

Rostizado means rotisserie
al Carbón means charcoal grilled
Mole is a chocolate, sesame, peanut, and pepper sauce
Relleno Negro is a black blend of spices (called chimole) is used to make a broth in which a chicken (more traditionally, a turkey or pavo) is slow cooked.
en Escabeche is a way to serve marinated or pickled chicken along with the cooked marinade
Pollo Pibil is chicken basted in achiote and bitter orange and baked in a banana leaf

Eggs (Huevos)

Eggs are served in a bunch of different ways here. Some of the most popular ways are:

Al Gusto means “As you like them” or “cooked how you want”
Huevos Motuleños is a dish made of a crisp, fried tortilla is overlaid with a fried egg, tomato sauce, ham, cheese, green peas, refried black beans and a fried, ripe plantain.
Huevos Rancheros is a fried egg on a soft tortilla, cotija cheese, with a spicy tomato sauce on top
Chilaquiles are scrambled eggs with tortilla shreds and a red, green or black sauce.
Migas are also scrambled eggs with pieces of tortillas.
Revueltos are scrambled eggs
Revueltos con Longaniza is scrambled eggs with lean smoked pork sausage lightly flavored with paprika.
Revueltos con Chorizo scrambled eggs with fatty pork sausage heavily flavored with paprika

Estrellados means sunny side up
Volteados means flipped-over

Huevo cocido or duro is a hard-boiled egg.
Huevo tibio means soft-boiled egg.
Con Chaya
means “with chaya added.” Chaya is like spinach.

Some other recipes you should try while visiting Cozumel are:

Queso Relleno. A whole round of Edam cheese, hollowed out and stuffed with ground pork, and then baked in a creamy sauce studded with raisins, capers, green olives and onions.
Polkanes. “Snake-heads,” pumpkin-seed masa fritters.
Papadzules. Tortillas wrapped around boiled egg and covered in pumpkinseed sauce.
Kibis. Fried fritter of wheat bulger, ground meat, spearmint, & onion.
Relleno Negro. A chicken (traditionally, a turkey) is slow cooked in a broth made with concoction of burnt chilis and spices.
Frijol con Puerco. Black beans, chunks of pork, and Mayan herbs are slow simmered for many hours. Traditionally, the soup is de-constructed and each ingredient served separately; beans, broth, and pork all go in their own dishes. Garnished with cilantro, chopped radish, minced onion, each diner then re-mixes the ingredients with steamed white rice into his own, personal blend, in his own plate.
Puchero. A three-meat stew.
Helado de Elote. Fresh corn ice cream. Try it. You’ll like it!
Xnipec. A very hot salsa made with habanero peppers. The word means ‘dog’s nose’ in Mayan, because it makes your nose run (your eyes will, too!)

Fruits (Frutas) you may be unfamiliar with, but you should try:

Guanabana is sour-sop, in English
Naranja agria or sour-orange (for cooking only!)
Pitaya or dragon fruit, a hot-pink and green fruit with a sweet white center speckled with tiny black edible seeds.
Mamey is a football-shaped fruit with a brick-red meat. Very tasty.
Chico Sapote is the fruit of the tree that makes chicle, the sap once used for chewing gum. Tastes like a pear sprinkled with cinnamon!
Caimito is a star apple
Sapote Negro is a fruit whose pulp looks and tastes like chocolate-pudding
Anona is cherimoya
Zaramullo is sugar apple
Guayaba is guava and can be served as a fruit or as a fruit paste, Ate de Guayaba.
Nance is hogberry
Mamoncillo is guinep
Membrillo is quince and is served as a fruit or a fruit paste, Ate de Membrillo
Nopales (cactus pads) is similar to taste and texture to okra.
Chaya is a plant leaf found in the Yucatan that is used as a flavoring ingredient in soups, casseroles, deserts, and drinks.

Vegetables (Verduras)

Esquites are corn kernels served in a cup with mayonnaise and other toppings, like powdered chili.
Jícama is a tuber that tastes similar to water chestnut. It is often served with lime and powdered chili.
Chayote is a mirliton squash.