While familiar Mexican dishes such as ceviche and tacos feature on most restaurant menus, Yucatecan cuisine does have a few distinct dishes worth trying, if you can track them down outside the usual tourist-centric spots in Tulum.
One of the best things we did was take the 4-hr cooking class at Alta Mar, a hotel and restuarant in the middle of Tulum town. While most of it was observation (with many beers to hand while the cook whipped up many types of ceviche, lots of margaritas, and an interesting zucchini pasta with tomato sauce), we did get to make and cook our own tortillas for the fried fish tacos.
A popular Yucatecan snack, these are crispy refried, refried-bean stuffed corn tortillas topped with shredded chicken or pork (marinated and wrapped in banana leaves before baking in the ground), topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, lemon juice, sour orange juice-marinated red onions, and habanero sauce if you like it spicy. These are often washed down with a Coca Cola or other sweet soda.
Just like a panucho, except the tortilla dough is simple fried and topped (thus softer with no refried bean filling).
This is pork (or chicken or fish) slices marinated in sour orange juice then wood-charcoal-grilled, served with a tangy Chiltomate sauce (the ubiquitous chargrilled tomato garlic and habanero sauce) rice and chargrilled-then-marinated onions (cebollas asadas). The Mayan term "pook chuuk" translates roughly as roasted/grilled over wood coals. Before refrigeration was invented, the Mayans had a long-standing tradition of salting meats in order to preserve them; and then once they were ready to use, they would rinse and refresh them with an acidic solution like vinegar or sour orange (introduced by the Spanish).
Yucatecan egg enchiladas, these are corn tortillas dipped in pumpkin (or squash) seed and epazote (like tangy oregano) sauce, filled with chopped hardboiled eggs and topped with tomato sauce and cheese before being baked in the oven.
Pork and black bean stew (frijol con puerco)
A popular dish often eaten on Mondays in the Yucatan, this rich, slow-cooked pork and black bean stew is flavored with chorizo, cumin and the Yucatecan herb epazote.
Named after a small Yucatan town called Motul, it's a hearty breakfast dish made of day-old corn tortillas spread with refried beans, topped with fried eggs, tomato sauce, ham, peas and cheese.
Most popular are the fried fish and fried shrimp varieties, served on top of a corn tortilla and topped with fresh cabbage onoin and tomatoa dn usually some type of hot sauce.
Our favorite thing to eat in the hot weather, this is basically raw fish "cooked" in lime juice tossed with lots of fresh tomatoes, onion and jalapenos. Variations include using blanched shrimp or adding diced mangoes.
Farmed shrimp from neighboring Campeche is big business and features heavily on the menus here. From what I've read, these are more environmentally and cleanly farmed than those in Southeast Asia.
Pollo (chicken) or cochinita (suckling pig) pibil
This is chicken or pork marinated in achiote (annatto), orange juice, garlic and cumin wrapped in banana leaves and baked until tender.
And to drink...
A welcome far cry from those awful sugar-laden slurpee mixtures out of the machine, the margaritas we drank down here were a refreshingly tart 2:1:2 ratio (tequila: triple sec: lime juice), with optional simple syrup to sweeten to taste.
While many versions I've had States-side include some form of tomato juice (earning the nickname "bloody beer"), in Mexico it's often just beer with lime juice and various seasonings: tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Maggi and black pepper. The chelada is simple beer, lime juice and salt.
What to Eat: Tulum
Many of the star ingredients for Mexican cuisine
Fried fish tacos
Our cooking class feast