When I found out that Eat Mexico had started doing walking food tours of Cancun, I jumped at the chance to work with them again. I had done their walking food tour of Mexico City last year and knew I was in for a good time.
One of the reasons I most wanted to do this tour was to see a different side of Cancun. I’ve been to Cancun several times but only doing the touristic things. Nearly six million international tourists visit Cancun per year, most of them never leaving the hotel zone. Many of them don’t even leave their resorts. I feel like it’s difficult to find authentic experiences in Cancun. This tour would be a way to experience a part of Cancun that many tourists never see.
We started the tour at an authentic market located near the central bus terminal in town. The market was filled with locals going about their shopping, picking out fruits, vegetables and fresh meats from the many vendors.
We wouldn’t have to wait long for our first stop as it was very near. The firs stop also happened to be one of our favorites — fish tacos for breakfast!
These tacos are thought to have originated in the area Ensenada, in the state of Baja California. Fish tacos are not considered very “Mexican” but have come to be emblematic of Mexico. The tacos were born out of vendor trying to find a way to sell a type of “trash fish” He decided to fry the fish to disguise it.
The tacos are served plainly- just fried fish on tortillas with a couple of sliced limes and a bit of lettuce.
Being Mexico, you of course customize your tacos with salsa, onions and cilantro.
Photo Credit: Ana Tello
We legitimately loved these and my sister, who joined me for this tour, said it was one of the best fish tacos she’s ever had!
As we made our way to the next stop our guide Adrian gave us a bit of history about Cancun. He explained that during the Cold War Americans stopped going to Cuba, which had been a popular tourist destination. Americans were looking for an alternative beach destination. The Mexican government realized Cancun’s potential and began developing the area. Cancun looks wildly different than how it did when development began- in fact, sand had to be brought in to help develop the beaches!
Most Mexican cities were built by Spaniards in the 15th century. However, Cancun was built by Mexicans in the 20th century- making it an open city built with modern ideas. Cancun is considered a cultural melting pot- there are more than 300 religions registered in Cancun.
But how does that affect the food scene in Cancun?
We learned that there’s no such thing as local “Cancun food” — it’s a mix of cultures and cooking techniques from all over Mexico as workers were brought in from across the country to develop the area. Everyone brought with them their recipes and cooking techniques from all of Mexico and blended them together.
We quickly found our next stop- tamales cooked in a pib (underground) with a local bean. These are good but quite filling because of the heavy masa (corn) dough they are prepared with. I’m used to food cooked underground from my time in Merida, where many Mayan dishes are prepared this way.
Our third stop was at a vendor with a small shop to try local fruits, several of which were new to me. As we looked over the selection we learned about different peppers of the region. Did you know that habaneros are the only pepper in Mexico that have a denomination of origin- similar to tequila or champagne?
We walked along to our next stop, passing many similar looking places along the way. We asked how you would best choose one from the other, how you go about finding the best street food in a new city. Adrian told us “If you see policeman, firemen and prostitutes eating together in the same place, try that place”. It’s good advice I’ll use next time I explore a city for the first time!
Next we found a small shop selling authentic, homemade tortillas. In fact, this place is one of only two places our guide knows of in all of Cancun that do the entire process start to finish in house.
We learned that corn was developed by Mexicans 9000 years ago and that Mexico has the most varieties of corn in the world, all being native to Mexico. Corn is the biggest crop grown in the entire world. And, as popular as flour tortillas are back home in the states, corn tortillas are about 6000 years old while flour tortillas are only about 500 years old.
Masa (corn) is the cornerstone of the Mexican diet. It plays such an important role that the Mayan Book of Creation says men & women were made of masa.
Next up we say down for panuchos, a dish I’m familiar with and knew I was going to love. Panuchos are corn tortillas that are stuffed with refried black beans and tossed in hot oil to crisp up. Next, they’re topped with your choice of toppings, usually pork or turkey. Today we had two of my favorites- conchinita pibil (slow roasted marinated pork cooked underground) and relleno negro (done in a black chili sauce and topped with hard boiled egg). I loved both of these as much as I thought I would.
Next we made a stop that was a bit unusual for me- for cheese. Cheese isn’t something you think of as traditionally Mexican but this shop is unique. In fact, the shop we stopped at is as old as Cancun itself.
We learned it used to be forbidden to make cheese in Mexico. When the Spanish came the crown forbid cheese being made here so they could leverage taxes on it. Cheeses were made illegally so they were making fresh cheese, not aged. We tried several different kinds of local cheeses and several were seriously impressive while others I loved less.
In the same market we found a vendor selling castacan – crispy fatty pork belly. I love castacan so much but it’s such a guilty pleasure. If it weren’t so bad for me I would likely put it on nearly everything. This vendor sold a perfectly prepared version- crispy, salty and chewy. I had to stop myself from buying a bag to take with me on the way out!
Photo Credit: Ana Tello
Our eighth and last official stop was for pozol- an ancient pre-Hispanic drink made of chocolate and fermented corn dough.
Pozol dates back at least 5000 years old and was at one point used as both a medicine and in religious ceremonies. While I can’t say this is a favorite of mine, I am happy to say I tried it.
We ended the tour full and with a better understanding of not only Mexican dishes but the history of Cancun. I highly recommend this tour for anyone that wants to get to know a different side of the city, away from the typical tourist traps.
Would you take a walking food tour of Cancun? Which dish looked the best to you? Let me know in the comments section below!
Practical Information: To book this tour for yourself visit Eat Mexico’s website. Be sure to tell them I sent you!
Disclaimer: I would like to thank Eat Mexico for hosting both me and my sister on this tour. All opinions remain my own, as usual.