At taquerias throughout the Riviera Maya – located just south of Cancun along Mexico’s only Caribbean coast – lines form daily as people come to dine on cochinita pibil, a sweet and savory Mayan version of slow-roasted pulled pork that is flavored with cinnamon, cloves and a hunger-inducing blend of other local spices.
“Cochinita pibil is the most famous dish of the Yucatan,the southeast region that includes Tulum,Cancun and Merida, as well as the Mayan Chichen-Itza ruins and the long coastal region down to Belize,” writes Jemima Sissons for the Wall Street Journal. “It consists of pork that’s been marinated in a special blend of spices and the bitter juices of Seville oranges, wrapped in banana leaves (to keep it moist) and then buried in the earth in a fire pit to slow cook overnight.”
A longtime favorite of locals,expats,hungry workers and post-party revelers at the crack of dawn,cochinita pibil is quickly gaining in popularity among the growing number of international travelers who are coming to Cancun and the Riviera Maya region. At a point in history when pork literally seems to be popping up everywhere (bacon-infused brownies and bacon-topped doughnuts, anyone??), it seems to be the perfect time for cochinita pibil to make its mark upon foodies worldwide, considering it’s a dish that has already been served in Mexico for hundreds – if not thousands – of years.
“Although we don’t really have exact recipes, a variation of cochinita pibil dates back to prehistory,” says David Sterling, author of “Yucatan: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition.”
Click here to read more about the ancient Mayan cuisine of Mexico’s Riviera Maya!
With origins that are believed to be a blend of Mayan and European influences,the most important part of a cochinita pibil marinade is reportedly the achiote (also known as annatto) paste,which is made from seeds that are found on these hardy trees of the same name throughout the Amazon basin, mixed with a variety of other spices to make a rich orange paste.
“I first got hooked on the dish during a holiday in Mexico, where I spent my days equally feasting on street food and soaking in sunshine,” writes Sissons. “After trying – and failing – to perfect my own cochinita pibil recipe back home in the U.K.,I jumped at the chance to go back to the source,tasting as many authentic versions as possible and learning from the pros while on vacation along the Yucatan coast.”
So,where is the best cochinita pibil in the Riviera Maya region? Sissons had a hard time choosing just one, so here are brief descriptions of her top two choices, which are both found in Tulum:
Dubbed “The Local Favorite” by Sissons,this roadside stand is always packed with everyone from local workers to hungry travelers who are “in the know” lining up for a bite. The tortillas here are made to order and there are a wide range of different salsas to choose from. The cochinita pibil is prepared in the nearby jungle by the owner, Honorio Chay Cavich, while his sons squeeze oranges each day for the marinade. Open from 6 a.m. to lunchtime. Be sure to get here early to ensure availability! Located at the intersection of Avenida Tulum and Satelite Sur at Calle Sol, across the street from La Parilla de Chava.
Taqueria Don Beto
Found just outside of Tulum proper and dubbed “The Road Stop” by Sissons, this family-run establishment deftly churns out fresh tortillas and flavorful onion salsa, along with “what is possibly the most succulent cochinita in Tulum.” Located just off Highway 307 near the exit for the Tulum Ruins.
Although it’s certainly not a fancy dish, cochinita pibil is the perfect introduction to Mayan cuisine and offers an ideal melt-in-your-mouth main course for informal dinner parties, which makes it a mainstay in many local homes, especially for Sunday feasts.
Have you been to the Riviera Maya or other parts of Mexico? Share your favorite dish from Mexico with other readers in the comments section below!