The Mayan Food & The Ancient Secrets of its Gastronomy

Do you want to know about Mexican traditional food?
Do you want to know more about the Mayan culture?
Are you looking for the ingredients the prehispanic cultures used to cook with?

Keep reading and you will discover all of this and more stories about the Mayan heritage in the Mexican food.


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Mariana

Welcome to our Mayan food post, here you can have some information about the Maya and their delicious traditional food. Here are the main topics:

Legends, history, and Mexican traditions are waiting for you to discover them. Are you ready to get immersed in a mystical and enchanting world? Let’s get started!

The Maya Influence on Mexico and Central America

As you can imagine, the Maya people are very representative of Mexican culture. Therefore, knowing about their history is to know everything about different flavors, tasty food, mythology, and culture.

Indeed, the prehispanic roots of Mexican culture are the cornerstones of Mexican gastronomy as we mentioned in other articles.

Mexico Yucatán, Cancun & Riviera Maya Adventure Trip

For instance, tamales (corn) and guacamole are many of the favorite dishes of Mexicans. It is worth mentioning that these delicacies were very important in the diet of the Maya people. Nature and the area where they used to live, favored their gastronomy. Therefore, this style of eating marked and influenced food from all over Mexico and Central America, where they lived too.

Places where the Mayas lived:

Who Were The Mayas?

The Maya civilization or culture was one of the main civilizations that developed in ancient Mesoamerica. It was a very outstanding culture for its elaborate writing and numerical systems and for the use of the calendar, as well as for its impressive art and architecture.

The word Maya was created after the arrival of the Spanish based on the Yucatec city of Mayapan. Nevertheless, scholars collectively refer to these ethnic groups as Maya because they speak similar languages and share certain cultural and artistic traditions.

mayan food (ritual)

Furthermore, the Mayan food is pretty important to explain the gastronomic culture that this civilization created. They were incredible hunters and farmers. In fact, according to the Maya legend, they were men of the corn because the gods used corn to model the first man’s body.

Five basic elements were important for Mayan food: grains, corn, cocoa, squash, and peppers. Maya people hunted from birds to deer or even monkeys and fish.

Movies you can watch related to the Maya:

  • Rompiendo el código Maya (Breaking the Mayan code) (2008)
  • The Fountain (2006)
  • The Curse of the Mayas/ Xibalba (2017)
  • The Ruins (2008)
  • Ixcanul (2015)
  • Even the Rain (2011)
  • Kings of the Sun (1963)

Secrets of a warrior’s food: What did the Maya eat?

There are thousands of crazy theories about the Maya. Most of them are that they disappeared, that they were ruthless and they might be aliens, etc… One of the most accurate things that have a register is their diet and food.

Mayan food (ancient stone)

Guacamole

Firstly, we have guacamole. At the Superbowl, everyone loves it and eats it. The Maya civilization treasured this food due to its smooth texture and delicious flavor. Nowadays, with the syncretism between Spanish ingredients and current Mexican food, you can have amazing dishes that convey the power of this civilization.

Dishes in which you can eat guacamole:

  • Tostadas (toasts)
  • Tacos dorados (fried tacos)
  • Nachos
  • Potatoes
  • Hamburgers
  • Tortillas
  • Quesadillas

Check out our post: Traditional Food of Mexico (Top 20 Dishes)

Cocoa

Secondly, we have cocoa. Cocoa has a millenary tradition in Mexico, and the Maya were the first to have contact with this delicacy.
The cacao tree is native to the areas where the Maya civilization once ruled. In the religious context, cocoa has always had a strong meaning. It was used in rituals and was also seen as a currency.

 Maya food cocoa

When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, they tasted this drink and fell in love with its magical essence. They added to this beverage milk and sugar, and as a result, this tasty drink is a delight to all who try it.

Which beverages contain cocoa?

  • Tejate
  • Pozol
  • Chocolate with pepper
  • Champurrado atole
  • Altlaquetzali
  • Tlaxcalate

Beans and Corn

Finally, we have beans and corn. Handmade corn tortillas were very important to the indigenous Maya, as all corn was the basis for their food. Corn is the secret of all Mexican gastronomy, and that is why it makes it unique since Ancient times. Since then, Mexico has had these rich options for those who don’t like meat very much.

Nowadays, in Mexico, there is never a lack of ‘tortillas’ and beans in homemade food. You can try it in a ‘fondita‘ (a place where you can eat local food) or in a house that has that traditional homemade touch that distinguishes Mexico.

Dishes in which you can eat beans and corn together:

  • Sopes
  • Huaraches
  • Tlacoyos
  • Tlayuda
  • Tacos de guisado (stew tacos)
  • Tacos dorados (fried tacos)

Secrets About Maya People’s Strength

It is pretty common to see different theories of what meat they ate. Some of these ingredients are still very popular and eaten in Mexico. Insects were also part of the protein food that the Maya loved. Chaya, Atol, and Pozol were also part of their diet.

Mel Gibson in the Apocalypto film, mixed different pre-Hispanic cultures and it was pretty confusing to know which one he was referring to the human sacrifice, but don’t worry, nowadays in classic Maya Mexican food, there are no such things.

Sahagun (catholic fray from the New Spain Era) in Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España (book) shows that for the ancient Mexicans, food had a sacred character since it gave man his being: “Because it is our existence because it is our life because it walks because it moves because it is happy because it laughs because it lives: food”.

And further on: “Food keeps living things on earth; by it, the world is alive, [by it] we are filling the world. Our total hope is food” (Florentine Codex, lib. VI, ch. XVII, ff. 72r-73r).

mayan food

Mythology and The Maya Food

The Maya believed that the gods sent cacao to the earth as an enormous blessing for humanity, as was the fire that Prometheus stole from Zeus and gave to humans.

Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan for the Maya people according to different expert researchers on the subject), taught humans to cultivate corn, while other gods such as Opochtli (a relevant god in Mexica mythology) taught them the art of fishing.

Unlike the god Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl was not a fan of human sacrifice. Therefore, Tezcatlipoca became angry and descended from heaven to earth using a spider’s web to destroy the work of Quetzalcoatl, to whom he appeared in the guise of an old man who offered him the brew of immortality, but this was a maddening drink (Pulque).

Afterward, Quetzalcoatl made a mess of his drunkenness and when people reproached him, he decided to go into self-exile. However, he promised that he would return someday.

After a long time, the legend says that he ended up in the Yucatan peninsula where the Maya lay. Consequently, the Maya people started their veneration of Kukulcan. Years later, it is said that the Mexica (called Aztecs in traditional historiography) mistook Hernan Cortes (Mexico’s Conqueror) for Quetzalcoatl, who had sworn to return someday.

Check out our related post about A Quick Guide to Mexican Aztec Pyramids’ History

The rest is simply history…

Another story told in the Popol-Vuh (ancient book) is that the twin brothers Hunahpu and Ixbalnque played a ball game just above where the lords of the Maya Underworld (Xibalba) were.

Consequently, the lords of the Underworld invited them to the underground to play and to pass different dangerous tests. Finally, the demons did not know how to kill them, so they threw them into the fire and their bones into the sea. However, they did not expect that the twins would appear reincarnated as fish and then transform into men who performed miracles and resurrections.

As revenge, the twins killed the lords of the Underworld. Then, they recovered the remains of their father, (killed by the demons also), and brought him back to life. They turned him into the young god of corn and resurfaced through a crack in the ground. This myth symbolizes corn, which must first travel to the Underworld, that is, bury itself in the earth, to then generate life, germinate and grow as a plant.

As you can see, the mythological and religious vision still lives in Mexican gastronomy. Maybe when you eat corn, you will be reborn as a Maya God or warrior, you should come and try it, don’t you think?

Check out our post about Mayan Pyramids in Mexico (& where to see them)

The Great Heritage of Mayan Food to Mexico and to The World

Diego de Landa (fray) showed in his book Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán a vision of how important corn was for the ancient Mexicans. In addition, part of the writings he left helped Yuri Knorozov (linguistic) to decipher the writing system of the Maya culture. Mayan food means a special connection with the food of gods.

Indeed, as time goes by and the pre-Hispanic roots that characterize Mexico are still essential for its wonderful and unique gastronomy. Today, in the Maya jungle, there are still people who are direct descendants of the Maya people, who prepare their food just as their ancestors did. In fact, a popular dish that has an incredible history is the cochinita pibil. Check out more info of this exquisite traditional dish here!

Check out our tour Cancun Jungle Tour (ATV’s, Snorkel & Spa / Private / 10h)

Maya food

Mayan cuisine is also a sustainable living option for everyone. Its ingredients and preparation methods consist of showing a healthy life, just as they lived in pre-Hispanic times. From small villas in Quintana Roo, with humble facades open to Mother Nature, to luxurious restaurants.

This is a combination of modern Yucatan food, better known as the original Mayan food. In the South of Mexico, past and present collide with one of the most beautiful things the country has: its magical food. Taste the flavors of the Maya history and culture and feel part of a journey through time.

Check out our tour Merida Cooking Class & Market Visit: Secrets of Yucatan’s Culinary Heritage

Informative video

Have you ever traveled to Yucatan and eaten an Onskibil bu’ul yéetel makal (Pipián de frijol con ñame)? Well, maybe you have warrior blood running through your veins now, ready to check it out?

The Mayan food is waiting for you, tell us in the comment section if you fancy some delicious dishes straight from the god’s world.

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