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Contrary to what most any Jimmy Buffet song would lead you to believe, there's more to Riviera Maya cuisine than endless tacos and margaritas. Try the five best food experiences chosen by Forbes Travel Guide editors to expand your Riviera Maya culinary horizons.
1. Cochinita Pibil. The regional culinary star is without a doubt cochinita pibil, a Yucatecan take on pulled pork that's seasoned with annatto seeds and roasted in a banana leaf. Yaxche, in Playa del Carmen, serves it regularly, but for a more authentic experience, follow your nose (or a local) to any of the towns’ central market areas. There, you’ll find small eateries serving home-cooked, incomparable variations of the dish, usually plated with beans, rice, fresh avocado slices and a whopping stack of warm corn tortillas.
2. Pavo en Relleno Negro. Pulling in for a close second amongst locals is pavo en relleno negro, roasted stuffed turkey marinated in a paste made of charred chiles. It’s such a staple that you’re likely to find it on the menu at any local restaurant specializing in traditional Mexican dishes.
3. Yucatecan pudding tamales or tamales colados. Corn paste that’s packed around a savory filling and repackaged in the cob’s original husk, pudding tamales aren’t necessarily sweet; in fact, they come in all varieties, including pork, chicken, beef and cheese. The name refers to the unique straining process that gives the paste a pudding-like texture before being cooked. Second only to burritos as far as portability goes (and only because the tortilla essentially serves as an edible wrapper as far as burritos are concerned), tamales are usually sold and consumed while on the go. Keep your eyes peeled for posterboard signs tacked up outside homes or stands while roaming around town or out on the road.
4. The Cancun Wine and Food Festival. This international event happens annually in March, bringing together star chefs from near and far for three days of foodie hobnobbing. It’s a fun happening that gourmet cuisine and cabernet lovers shouldn’t miss.
5. Street sweets. If you save room for anything, make it dessert from a street vendor in Parque de Las Palapas, whether it’s deep-fried bananas, caramel-filled churros or marquesitas, a cross between a crepe and a flauta that's filled with your choice of cheese, caramel, peanut butter (or Nutella) and bananas.