Mayan food refers to the food prepared by the Maya people, Mesoamerican Indians, who live in places such as Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. The present-day Maya cuisine is very similar to that of the ancient Maya people, who lived several thousand years ago. Mayan food consists of a variety of flavorful dishes made from a harmonious blend of vegetables, meat, and sauces.
Mayan Food - History
The Maya people have been around since 1500 BC. They were one of the important ethnic groups in South East Mexico and Central America, until the Spanish conquered Mexico. Their primary crops were maize, beans, and squash. They consumed maize in various forms such as gruel, tortilla, and tamale. Records suggest that meat from turkey, iguana, tapir, and armadillo were eaten. Seafood was common in coastal areas. The meat and vegetables were used to prepare stews. As the ancient Mayans were involved in beekeeping, honey was used as a sweetener. On special occasions, the ancient people roasted meat and drank a beverage made from cocoa.
The common ingredients of the present-day Maya remain the same as their ancestors. Maize is still their important crop, along with beans and squash. Vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, habanero peppers, and chili peppers are used extensively. Fruits include bananas, avocados, papaya, mango, pineapple, and oranges. Beef, pork, turkey, and seafood are some of the commonly used meat varieties.
The contemporary Mayans use almost the same ingredients as their ancestors, and some of the current Yucatan recipes are similar to those followed thousands of years ago. For example, the pollo pibil, a chicken dish is similar to the Cochinita pibil of ancient days. The marinated cochinita was wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit. This type of pit cooking is still in existence in the Yucatan peninsula, where a part of the Mayan population lives.
Everyday Mayan Food
Soups, tortillas, tamales, tacos, burgers, fajitas, burritos, and ubiquitous frijole are some of the everyday foods of present-day Mayans. Ubiquitous frijole is mashed beans, while tortillas are similar to pancakes made of corn. Tamale is a dish made of masa dough, which is then wrapped in a leaf and steamed. These can be filled with meat, fruits, or vegetables. A folded tortilla with meat or vegetable filling is called taco. A burrito is a tortilla made of wheat with a meat filling. Apart from these dishes, each region has a locally popular sauce, such as the habanero pepper sauce, which is used as a side dish or topping.
Traditional and Festival Food
The following are some of the traditional foods and desserts made by contemporary Mayans:
· Xni Pec – This is a traditional salsa made using tomatoes, habanero chiles, and onions.
· Poc Chuc – This dish consists of roasted pork fillets with tomato and onion sauce.
· Keh Chuuc – Seasoned venison roasted in underground pit.
· Pibikutz – This is a type of tamale, which is made during festivals. This was traditionally made using a pit, but is now baked in the oven. Corn dough is stuffed with turkey meat, broth, and seasonings and then baked.
· Caballeros Pobres – This is a dessert made with fried bread slices, which is smothered with a sweet and spicy syrup.
· Mayan Hot Chocolate – This traditional chocolate drink is made with unsweetened chocolate, honey, peanuts, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks. Hot water is used instead of milk in this Mayan recipe.
The Mayan food is generally healthy in many ways. Maize, which is their staple food, helps lower high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. Beans are rich in proteins and antioxidants, which protect the body's cells from getting damaged. The Mayan cuisine also includes a variety of other vegetables and fruits, which are rich in vitamins and minerals. The different types of meat and seafood take care of the protein requirement. The traditional way of roasting meat in underground pit is a healthier way to cook, without the use of any oil. Thus, the Mayan food seems to be a well-balanced one.