As evidenced by the recent success of the second annual Cancun-Riviera Maya Food & Wine Festival,this gem of a destination lies along Mexico’s Caribbean Sea and is quickly establishing its place on the list next to some of the world’s finest culinary traditions.
“On this gorgeous stretch of Caribbean coastline,gastronomy is generating as much buzz as the breathtaking,white-sand beaches,with creative dining initiatives by hotels,new restaurants by established gourmands,and an ever-growing emphasis on local traditions and ingredients,” writes Fodor’s. “The Riviera Maya is still cooking with opportunities for immersion in Maya culture and cuisine.”
In fact,this trend has given rise to the inclusion of authentic Mayan meals,beauty treatments and dance at many of the most popular hotels and resorts found throughout Riviera Maya. The menus are inspired by a variety of ancient Mayan traditions,such as their belief in the four basic elements of earth,air,fire and water,which were deemed to be the four main building blocks of the universe. By serving traditional items such as black beans and tamales served in clay pots,or items that are prepared over an open flame,some of the world’s greatest culinary masters have created enchanting flavor combinations that are sure to please and surprise even the most sophisticated palates.
Another increasingly popular,although somewhat newer tradition involves feasting on dishes prepared using lionfish,a predatory,non-native species that has already done significant damage to the region’s barrier reef,which is the second largest in the world. Fortunately,the “flavorful sweet white meat” of the lionfish is quickly becoming a delicacy and is perfect for use in ceviche and tacos prepared by chefs throughout the Riviera Maya.
“Some conservationist groups are soliciting do-good diners to help solve the problem,” writes Fodor’s. “By encouraging local chefs to incorporate the pez leon into their menus,activists are hoping to create enough demand for the predatory fish,whose venomous spikes are neutralized in the cooking process,to help control its population numbers.”
There are also a variety of Italian restaurants along Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) that are worth experiencing,as well as establishments that create their own interpretations of Mexican seafood classics,Yucatan cooking traditions and local flavors. In addition,the ancient Maya also happen to be one of the earliest cultivators of chewing gum,thanks to the large amount of cicozapote trees that can be found in the region.