EDITOR’S NOTE: Traveleater Ana Raicic – a Slovenian food expert from Izola, Slovenia – shares with us 12 dishes you need to try on your next visit to Ljubljana.
If you’re planning a visit to Slovenia, then you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the vast diversity of the country. In spite of covering an area of only about 20,000 square kilometers, Slovenia boasts a wonderful variety of climates and landscapes that resonates in Slovenian cuisine.
You’re most likely to find traditional Slovenian food in Slovenian restaurants called gostilna. These restaurants focus on traditional, fuss-free Slovenian dishes and are scattered all over the country.
SLOVENIAN FOOD QUICK LINKS
If you’re visiting Slovenia and want to learn more about Slovenian food, then you may be interested in joining a food tour.
Slovenian Food/Drinking Tours: Food and Drinking Tours in Slovenia
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WHAT IS TRADITIONAL SLOVENIAN CUISINE?
Slovenia’s history is closely intertwined with that of the Austrian Empire and the same goes for Slovenian food. The influences of the Balkans, Italy, Austria, and Hungary are felt everywhere, but most distinctly in the regional cooking differences.
Sometimes, these regional differences are manifested simply as different names for the same dish. Other times, it could be different fillings or a difference in preparation for the same dish.
Slovenian food is heavily focused on staples like meat, humble vegetables like turnips, cabbage, potatoes, and beans, as well as grains, like buckwheat. It’s also heavily seasonal, with produce like mushrooms, chestnuts, asparagus, and dandelion featuring prominently when they’re in season.
Dandelion, in particular, is a prized seasonal ingredient in Slovenian cuisine. It’s been gathered for centuries in spring and is commonly used as a salad ingredient, one of the most popular being dandelion and potato salad.
In desserts, Slovenian cuisine boasts a number of traditional pastries made out of enriched dough. At one time, they were strictly festive dishes but they’ve since become more available in everyday life.
For dessert fillings, the most commonly used ingredients are walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, quark cheese, apples, and wild berries.
MUST-TRY SLOVENIAN DISHES
1. Idrijski Žlikrofi
Idrijski žlikrofi are regional dumplings made with a potato filling. They’re an EU-protected Slovenian dish that originates from the mining town of Idrija and its surroundings. The dumplings can be an appetizer or a main dish (or part of).
The size of an authentic žlikrof is fixed at 3 cm in length and 2 cm (1.2″ x 0.8″) in height. Žlikrofi are made of simple pasta dough that’s rolled out and filled with a cooked and seasoned potato filling mixed with sauteed onions. The dumplings are then molded into the traditional hat shape and cooked in boiling water.
Extremely tasty by themselves, you can normally get them in a meat or vegetarian version with lamb and/or vegetable sauce in most restaurants in the Idrija area.
Photo by mathes
2. Ajdovi Žganci
Ajdovi žganci (buckwheat spoon bread) is widely considered to be a national dish in Slovenian cuisine. Aside from buckwheat flour, this Slovenian spoon bread can be made with potato or wheat flour as well.
This quick dish is made by dry-frying buckwheat flour for a couple of minutes. The fried flour is then added to boiling salted water and left to cook for a couple more minutes. The cooked sticky dough is then brought out of the pot and shredded into smaller pieces with a fork, giving the dish its traditional žganci appearance.
There are some regional differences among žganci in Slovenia. For example, in the northern Gorenjska region, they are drier and almost breadcrumb-like, while in the Štajerska region, they more closely resemble dumplings or spoon bread.
You’ll most likely find žganci in traditional Slovenian restaurants around the Gorenjska and Štajerska regions and in mountain huts as a topping for hearty mushroom soup or as a standalone dish with sour milk. Humble in origin, žganci are a wonderful vegetarian staple.
Photo by photodesign
Obara is a hearty meat and vegetable soup originating in the Štajerska region of Slovenia. It differs from other Slovenian stews like barley stew, goulash, and yota stew because it includes a variety of vegetables and different meats.
The stew usually takes the name of whatever meat was used to prepare it, the most common types being chicken obara and beef obara. The most common vegetables include carrots, turnips, green beans, peas, and onions.
Traditionally, obara was served as a festive meal on Sundays and on Slovenian holidays but today, it’s increasingly prepared as an everyday dish. In a traditional Slovenian gostilna, you’ll typically find it served with buckwheat or potato žganci to make the dish heartier.
Obara is another traditional Slovenian dish that’s best enjoyed on a cold winter’s day. Check out our Obara recipe if you’d like to make this hearty one-pot stew yourself.
4. Pohorski Pisker
Pohorski pisker is a meaty stew from the region of Pohorje in Styria in the northeastern part of Slovenia. Born in the hills of Rogla, the stew is a combination of at least three types of meat, mushrooms, barley, and potatoes.
It wouldn’t be a Slovenian dish if varieties didn’t exist. With pohorski pisker, it’s mostly in the types of meat and vegetables used in its preparation.
It’s said that authentic pohorski pisker needs to be cooked over an open flame and with continuous stirring, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. If you’re looking to try the most authentic version, then try heading to the festival dedicated to this traditional dish that’s held in Pohorje every summer.
Photo by photodesign
Golaž or goulash is a Slovenian meat stew with Hungarian and Austrian origins. It’s made with equal parts diced onions and beef flank chunks, with tomato paste and paprika added for color and taste.
The onions get sauteed over a low flame until they’re nice and soft before the goulash spices are added. Most commonly, these spices include marjoram, caraway seed, sweet and sharp paprika, and a couple of bay leaves. The bay leaf is the most important as it wouldn’t be goulash without it.
After frying the spices, the beef chunks are then added and braised in tomato sauce and red wine. The longer you braise the stew, the tastier and thicker it becomes. It’s said that goulash is always better the day after.
Traditionally, goulash is served with a bread roll or with a side of polenta, bread dumplings, pasta, potato salad (or puree), or spoon bread.
One of the most popular meat dishes in Slovenia and other European countries like Czechia, Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia, this hearty dish can be found on the menu of most traditional Slovenian restaurants and in many mountain huts. It’s best enjoyed after a long day of work or a long hike.
Photo by photodesign
6. Kranjska Klobasa
Kranjska klobasa is a traditional Slovenian sausage that boasts EU protection. This protected Slovenian food carries the name of the largest historical Slovenian region of Kranjska or Carniola. It’s a lightly smoked, semi-cured sausage that needs to be cooked before eating.
Historically, kranjska klobasa was made at the time of pig slaughter in late October or November. It’s specifically made with 75-80% pork meat and 25-20% cured bacon. The sausages are then lightly smoked with beech wood.
Traditionally, the sausage is eaten warm with a side of sauerkraut or sour turnips, or cooked and then cooled down with grated horseradish, mustard, and a bread roll. Today, they’re often added to barley stews or hearty soups.
You’re most likely to come across kranjska klobasa on the menus of traditional Slovenian restaurants scattered around the Gorenjska and Štajerska regions. Like goulash, kranjska klobasa is a hearty dish that’s best enjoyed on a cold winter day or in a mountain hut after a long day of hiking.
Photo by fotovincek
Ocvirki is the Slovenian name for pork cracklings. The making of pork crackling is a part of a wider tradition called Koline.
Koline refers to the time when farmers would slaughter pigs before winter. In an effort to use all parts of the pig, pork rinds and fat would be used to make pork cracklings.
Pork cracklings are a byproduct of rendering the lard. The process involves boiling the rind and fatty parts to render down the fat and preserve it for cooking. Meanwhile, the skin and bits of meat would fry in the boiling fat and become deliciously crunchy.
Today, cracklings are often served as a topping for žganci. They can be enjoyed warm with meat or eaten cold as a snack. Most often, you’ll be able to taste them in mountain huts and in traditional Slovenian restaurants in autumn.
Photo by Boris15
No list of popular Slovenian food can ever be complete without potica. Perhaps the most well-known of Slovenian dishes and desserts, it’s made out of enriched leavened dough that’s flattened and filled before being rolled into a log and baked, either in a round mold or in logs.
Potica comes with a variety of fillings, the most traditional being ground walnuts. Aside from walnuts, other traditional fillings include sweet tarragon, poppy seeds, and hazelnuts. These days, Nutella and coconut are also commonly used.
Like most Slovenian dishes, potica also has regional variations. You can enjoy a traditional luštrkajca from Idrija made with lovage filling or a savory variety filled with chives or pork cracklings. In the Goriška Brda region, you can try a regional version made with a filling of walnuts, pine nuts, and raisins.
Even today, potica brings an air of festivity to a Slovenian table and is a staple at any kind of celebration.
Photo by vision.si
9. Prekmurska Gibanica
Prekmurska gibanica is a traditional Slovenian layer cake that’s protected by the EU. Because of that, there’s a very strict set of rules on the fillings and how they should be arranged, even coming down to the height of the cake.
The cake is made up of a base layer of shortcrust dough, followed by a layer of filo pastry. Then it’s time for the fillings which are layered in this exact order – poppy seeds, cottage cheese, walnuts, and then apples.
For it to be a true Prekmurska gibanica, it needs to have eight layers of filling, with two layers of every filling.
Photo by fiorellamacor
10. Kremna Rezina
Kremna rezina is a typical Slovenian dessert that was popularized in Bled in 1953, in a hotel at one of the most well-known Slovenian landmarks – Lake Bled. It was first made at the Park Hotel, where you can taste the original to this day while taking in the view of the wonderful lake.
The name translates to “cream slice”, to describe a layer of pastry cream and a layer of whipped cream sandwiched between two layers of crisp puff pastry. The slice is topped off with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar.
Kremna rezina is extremely common and you can taste it at almost any pastry cafe in Slovenia, so be sure to grab yourself a slice. If you visit Lake Bled, then stop at the Park Hotel to try the original. You can decide for yourself if it’s better than the imitations you get around the country.
Aside from Slovenia, kremna rezina is popular in many other European countries as well, where it goes by different names like kremowka papieska (Poland), cremeschnitte (Germany), krémes (Hungary), and kremšnite (Croatia).
Photo by NedoB
Štruklji can be loosely described as a dish made out of dough and filling.
They are one of the few Slovenian traditional dishes that appear in all Slovenian regions. It used to be mainly a festive dish, one that was on the table only during holidays or important celebrations. It’s difficult to define because a štrukelj takes as many shapes as there are Slovenian regions.
Štruklji is made with a special filo dough that’s thicker than baklava dough, leavened dough, or even pasta dough. The fillings can be sweet or savory so štruklji can be enjoyed as a main meal, a side dish, or for dessert.
The most common fillings include all the most common Slovenian fillings like apples, cottage cheese, walnuts, and tarragon. The štruklji dough is most commonly made out of wheat or buckwheat flour, with the third most common variety being potato. A traditional savory combination is buckwheat dough with a cottage cheese filling – a classic side to the Sunday roast.
Any variety of dough and filling can be cooked, baked, or even fried. Most commonly, the dough for štruklji will be rolled out, then a filling will be spread over it. Then, it will be rolled into a log and cooked or baked like that. After cooking and resting, the log will be cut into slices and topped with ingredients like sour cream and cottage cheese.
Some interesting regional varieties you should try are dumplings like kobariški štruklji – a ravioli-like dumpling filled with a rich mix of ground walnuts. It’s seasoned with spices and lemon zest before being cooked in boiling water.
Photo by [email protected]
Krofi are a sweet fried dough treat and a type of filled doughnut. It’s basically the Slovenian version of the Austrian krapfen, German berliner, Portuguese bola de berlim, or Bosnian krofne. They are made out of enriched leavened dough that’s rolled out into a slab, cut into rounds, and then fried and filled.
The most traditional krofi are filled with apricot jam but today, you can find them stuffed with many fillings like pastry cream, chocolate, and a variety of jams. Most Slovenians enjoy them as a sweet treat with a cup of coffee or tea.
Krofi are especially popular at the time of the Carnival in February or March and are the unofficial holiday treat. At that time, the streets of larger cities will be filled with stalls selling freshly made krofi from local bakeries. More often than not, the housewives will also be frying their own at home to give to family and friends when they visit.
Slovenians consider krofi from Trojane to be the best of all and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Slovenian that doesn’t stop there when driving past. Their krofi are larger than usual and the addition of lemon peel in the dough gives them a special flavor.
Photo by tanyki88
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL SLOVENIAN FOOD
Slovenian cuisine is a melting pot of diversity with influences of Croatian, Hungarian, Austrian, and Italian cooking. Mostly humble in origin, the dishes attest to Slovenia’s rich cultural diversity and strong regional affiliations.
At one time, many Slovenian dishes were enjoyed only during holidays and big celebrations, but you can taste most of them every day now. So whenever you visit Slovenia, take the opportunity to try the wide array of delicious Slovenian food you can get your hands on.
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Cover photo by vision.si. Stock images via Depositphotos.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was verified by Lazar Ioana Alis, a writer and Romanian food expert based in Tecuci, Romania.
When doing research for this article on Romanian food, I often came across this Romanian cookbook and food blog – From Dill to Dracula (Amazon affiliate link). The book’s title was telling because for many non-Romanians, the story of Count Dracula is still the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Romania.
The legend of Vlad Dracula is the most famous but there are so many compelling reasons to visit this lesser known gem in southeastern Europe. Romania’s medieval castles and painted monasteries are must-visits while its Carpathian Mountains and pastoral countryside offer much to adventure seekers and nature lovers.
If you thrive in big cities, then you’ll want to spend a good chunk of your time in Bucharest. Once nicknamed “Little Paris” and now touted as the “new Berlin”, Romania’s capital buzzes with excitement and is perhaps one of the most underrated cities in Europe.
And then there’s the food.
If you travel to eat like we do, then mouthwatering dishes like mititei, ciorbă, pasca, and sarmale will give you even more reasons to visit Bucharest and Romania. In fact, this Romanian food guide will give you forty! Poftă bună!
ROMANIAN FOOD QUICK LINKS
If you’re planning a trip to Romania and want to really dive into the cuisine, then you may be interested in joining a food tour or taking a cooking class.
Romanian Food Tours: Food and Wine/Drinking Tours in Romania
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WHAT IS TRADITIONAL ROMANIAN FOOD?
Romanian food is a mix of local Dacian traditions and foreign influences, mostly from ancient Roman, Turkish, Hungarian, and Balkan cuisines.
Ancient Dacians existed on a diet consisting mostly of roasted meats, fruits, honey, and aromatic wines. They excelled at breeding cattle and growing crops but they weren’t as skilled at preparing dairy products. They drank raw sheep’s and cow’s milk and ate their vegetables boiled.
Because of the country’s prime geographic location, ancient Romanians were always under the threat of invasion so they learned to eat on the move. They became accustomed to eating raw herbs and salad vegetables and dry curing raw meat.
The Roman occupation brought with it dishes and culinary techniques like pastries (plăcintă, pască), soups, breads, and cold-pressed olive oil. This was followed centuries later by the Ottoman influence and the introduction of now common dishes like meatballs, kebabs, sour soups (borș or ciorbă), stuffed peppers (ardei umpluţi), cabbage rolls (sarmale), and Turkish delight.
From the 1700s onwards, Romanian food started to become more westernized and modernized with Austro-Hungarian, Russian, French, Greek, and Italian influences making their way into different parts of the country.
Sadly, with the arrival of communism in 1947, Romanian gastronomy took a step back with the censorship and elimination of western influences. Even after it ended, this difficult period left a lasting imprint on the culinary sensibilities of Romanians. Many craved the novelty and slick branding of international fast food at the expense of classic Romanian cuisine.
THE BEST TRADITIONAL ROMANIAN DISHES
This article on traditional Romanian food has been organized by category to make it easier to digest. Click on a link to jump to any section of the guide.
Starters / Salads / Sides / Snacks
Soups / Stews
Meat / Poultry
Ignat Day Foods
Desserts / Drinks
Romanian Food Tours
STARTERS / SALADS / SIDES / SNACKS
1. Ardei Umpluţi
If you enjoy Balkan food, then this first Romanian dish will be familiar to you. Ardei umpluţi means “stuffed pepper” in Romanian and refers to the local version of dolma, a popular dish consisting of hollowed-out peppers stuffed with ground meat and rice.
Stuffed peppers are popular in many countries throughout the Balkans and beyond like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Georgia, and Armenia. They can be made with any type of vegetable but in Romania, ardei umpluţi refers specifically to bell peppers – mostly yellow, but also red and kapia peppers – stuffed with a filling of ground pork, white rice, herbs, onion, garlic, and spices.
Depending on the cook and the region in Romania, it can be stuffed with different spices and herbs and other ingredients like mushrooms, cheese, carrots, and tomatoes. After stuffing, the peppers are traditionally boiled in a tomato sauce with bay leaves and seasonings before being served with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
Photo by fanfon
2. Salată de Boeuf
Salată de boeuf literally means “beef salad” and refers to the Romanian equivalent of olivye salad, more commonly known as Russian salad. It’s a type of potato salad that was invented and popularized by Chef Lucien Olivier, a Russian chef of Belgian and French descent who offered the salad at his Hermitage restaurant in Moscow in the 1860s.
As its name suggests, salată de boeuf was traditionally made with beef but these days, it can be made with other proteins like chicken, turkey, and occasionally pork. They’re mixed with finely diced potatoes, root vegetables, and murături (Romanian pickled vegetables) before being smothered in mayonnaise and garnished with bits of vegetables and hard-boiled eggs. In some parts of Romania, sweet mustard may be mixed in as well.
Like sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), salată de boeuf is typically a holiday dish in Romania. It’s often prepared to celebrate the Christmas, New Year, and Easter seasons.
Photo by fanfon
3. Salată de Vinete
Salată de vinete is a popular Romanian eggplant salad or dip made with roasted and puréed aubergine mixed with sunflower oil, lemon juice, and salt. It’s very similar to Lebanese baba ghanoush except it isn’t made with any tahini (toasted sesame seed paste).
Salată de vinete typically contains just four ingredients – eggplant, lemon juice, sunflower oil, and salt – but it can be made with additional ingredients as well like garlic, onions, and homemade mayonnaise. It’s typically enjoyed in the summer with crusty bread and slices of fresh tomatoes.
Photo by fanfon
4. Ardei Copți
Ardei copți refers to a type of Romanian roasted pepper salad. It’s a simple side dish or spread made with roasted bell peppers seasoned with salt and doused in a mixture of vinegar and olive oil. Optionally, it can be topped with slices of garlic before serving.
Ardei copți pairs well with salată de vinete. It’s often eaten with Romanian meat dishes and as a spread on crusty bread.
Photo by SingerGM
5. Varză Călită
Varză călită literally means “stewed cabbage” and refers to a type of braised sauerkraut served at many Romanian restaurants. It’s a simple side dish consists of fresh cabbage slowly simmered with tomato paste, onions, sweet peppers, carrots, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and fresh dill.
Varză călită can be served cold or hot, often with smoked pork and paired with mămăligă.
Photo by fanfon
If salată de vinete and ardei copți sound appealing to you, then you’ll definitely want to try this next Romanian dish. Zacuscă is a traditional Romanian vegetable spread made with roasted eggplant and red peppers as its main ingredients. You can think of it as the Romanian version of ajvar.
Romanian recipes for this popular condiment vary but it’s typically made with roasted eggplant, tomato paste, sautéed onions, and gogoșari, a type of Romanian sweet red pepper. It’s usually seasoned with bay leaves, salt, pepper, and olive oil and can be made with additional ingredients like carrots, celery, zucchini, parsley, and mushrooms.
Like ajvar, zacuscă is typically made in large batches in autumn – when eggplant and gogoșari are in season – and then stored in jars for consumption through the winter. It’s usually enjoyed as a spread with bread, often on a platter with different types of Romanian cheese, cold cuts, and slices of red onion.
Photo by kitzzeh
Like sarmale, mămăligă is one of the most important dishes in traditional Romanian cuisine and considered by many to be a national dish. Similar to polenta, it refers to a type of traditional Romanian porridge made from boiled cornmeal, water, salt, and butter (or sunflower oil).
Mămăligă is traditionally cooked in a round-bottomed cast iron pot known as a ceaun or tuci. After it cools down and hardens, the porridge is sliced with a piece of string and served with sour cream, herbs, and fresh Romanian cheese. It can also be crushed and served in a bowl of milk, grilled, or pan-fried in oil or lard.
Mămăligă is a humble Romanian dish that was cooked mostly by peasants as a substitute for bread. Today, it’s consumed throughout the country, even at upscale restaurants, and is considered a staple food in Romania.
Photo by [email protected]
Mămăligă is a versatile ingredient that can be used to make other Romanian dishes. Pictured below is bulz, a traditional Romanian food consisting of mămăligă shaped into balls or patties and stuffed with a creamy filling. The balls can be grilled, baked, or pan-fried until a crunchy crust forms on the outside.
Bulz can be made in different ways but the most popular stuffing is a mixture of butter and brânză de burduf – a soft Romanian sheep’s cheese – along with bacon or ham. After grilling, it’s usually served with sour cream and butter and topped with a fried egg.
Depending on its size, bulz can be enjoyed for breakfast, as a snack, or as a side dish to larger meals.
Photo by johny007pandp
Covrig refers to a type of Romanian pretzel. It’s made with leavened dough that’s twisted and baked before being sprinkled with large salt granules and some type of seed, commonly poppy, sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds.
Covrigi are among the most popular street foods in Romania. They’re available at Romanian pretzel shops called covrigarie or simigerie and can be enjoyed plain or with a variety of fillings like sausage, cheese, fruit, and chocolate.
Photo by CristiCroitoru
Plăcintă is a classic Romanian pastry that’s also popular in Moldovan and Ukrainian cuisine. It consists of a thin and round piece of dough that can be filled with various ingredients. Depending on its filling, it can be enjoyed as an appetizer or for dessert.
Plăcintă is traditionally made with a yeasted dough though it can be made with puff pastry, filo, or shortcrust pastry as well. They can be baked or fried and filled with savory or sweet ingredients like brânză de burduf (Romanian sheep’s cheese), urdă (soft whey cheese), telemea (brined cheese), mashed potatoes, apples, sour cherries, pumpkin, and different types of ground meat mixed with herbs, nuts, and spinach.
Photo by romeovip
Brânzoaice (or poale-n brâu moldovenești) is a type of baked patry popular in Moldovan-Romanian cuisine. Like plăcintă, it can be enjoyed as a savory snack or sweet dessert depending on how it’s made.
When made into a savory pastry, brânzoaice is typically filled with a salty Romanian cheese like telemea. If eaten for dessert, sweet fillings are added to the recipe like farmer’s cheese, sugar, raisins, and honey.
Photo by [email protected]
SOUPS / STEWS
Ciorbă refers to a family of traditional Romanian soups. They can be made with a variety of meat and vegetables and are known for their distinct acidic flavor derived from souring agents like borș, lemon, vinegar, lovage, or sauerkraut juice.
Pictured below is ciorbă de burta or Romanian beef tripe soup. It’s a popular type of ciorbă made with beef tripe, sour cream, garlic, pureed carrots and onions, eggs, and vinegar. Often served with hot chili peppers, sour cream, and/or vinegar, tripe soup is something you’d typically find at any Romanian restaurant in the country.
Photo by grafvision
Ciorbă de fasole refers to a Romanian bean soup that can be made with or without meat. Meatless versions are popular during times of fasting and typically consist of beans cooked with a variety of vegetables and herbs like carrots, celery, raw onions, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, lovage, and lobodă.
When made with beans and smoked meat, the soup becomes known as ciorbă de fasole cu afumătură. Originally from the western regions of Romania, this thick and hearty bean and smoked meat soup is especially popular in winter where it’s often served with hot chili peppers.
Photo by angeluisma
Ciorbă radauteana is a type of ciorbă made with chicken as its main ingredient. Often touted as a hangover cure or remedy for the common cold, it’s made with chicken and other ingredients like sweet red peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, parsley, sour cream, and lemon juice.
Photo by SingerGM
Ciorbă de perisoare refers to a type of Romanian meatball soup made with herbed pork, beef, chicken, or turkey meatballs cooked in a sour broth with tomato paste, vegetables, lovage, vegeta (all-purpose seasoning), and eggs.
Photo by [email protected]
Supă refers to another family of traditional Romanian soups, different from ciorbă. Supă is typically lighter, sweeter, and made with a clearer broth while ciorbă is generally thicker and flavored with a souring agent. Supă is usually served with carrots and onions (and sometimes noodles or dumplings) while a bowl of ciorbă contains meat and different vegetables.
Pictured below is a bowl of supă de pui cu tăiței, or Romanian chicken soup with noodles. When made with dumplings instead of noodles, the dish is known as supă de pui cu găluște.
Photo by [email protected]
Gulaș refers to the Romanian equivalent of goulash, a popular Hungarian beef stew seasoned with paprika and other spices. It initially took root in the Ardeal region of Romania before spreading to other parts of the country.
There are probably as many recipes for gulaș as there are Romanian cooks, but at its most basic, it’s made with meat (usually beef or pork), onions, and paprika. Other common ingredients include tomatoes, garlic, carrots, red peppers, parsley, bay leaves, and cumin.
A hearty and filling meal often served with mămăligă and garlic, Romanian gulaș is typically made with dumplings but it can be made with potatoes as well.
Photo by angeluisma
14. Fasole cu Ciolan Afumat
Fasole cu ciolan afumat refers to a classic Romanian pork and bean stew. It’s a hearty and comforting dish made with dried beans and smoked pork hocks stewed with onions, carrots, tomato paste, cumin, paprika, bay leaves, and seasonings.
Photo by conceptw
15. Ostropel de Pui
Ostropel de pui literally means “chicken stew” and refers to a traditional dish in Romanian cuisine consisting of chicken cooked in a thick tomato sauce flavored with garlic, spring onions, pepper, and different spices. It’s commonly made with chicken thighs or drumsticks but other proteins like pork, rabbit, or lamb can be used as well. Even the meat can be removed altogether and substituted with potatoes or similarly substantial vegetables.
To make ostropel de pui, chicken is fried and then added to a boiling mixture of water, oil, tomato purée, garlic, onions, and flour. The stew is cooked until the sauce thickens before being garnished with parsley and served with a side of mămăligă or boiled/mashed potatoes.
Photo by lenyvavsha
MEAT / POULTRY
No Romanian food guide worth its weight in mămăligă can ever be complete without mititei (or mici), a type of Romanian grilled meat roll or skinless sausage made with a mixture of beef, lamb, pork, garlic, and spices. It’s the local version of ćevapi and widely considered to be a Romanian national dish.
Mititei in Romanian means “little ones”. These popular grilled minced meat rolls are made with ground meat (beef, lamb, pork) seasoned with a host of herbs and spices like garlic, black pepper, anise, coriander, thyme, savory, and paprika. They’re typically grilled outdoors at Romanian barbecues and enjoyed with french fries, mustard, and pickled vegetables called murături. As you can imagine, they also go very well with beer.
Mititei are consumed throughout Romania but they’re believed to have been invented at a restaurant in Bucharest sometime in the late 19th century. According to legend, the cook ran out of sausage casings one day so he was forced to improvise and cook the skinless sausages directly on the grill.
The dish caught on and has since become one of the most popular Romanian dishes and a staple at every barbecue. They can be found everywhere – at Romanian restaurants, pubs, street food stalls, and picnics. They’ve become the go-to dish to celebrate International Workers’ Day where an estimated 30 million mititei are grilled and consumed on May 1st every year.
Photo by icefront
Slănină is the Romanian term for salo, a traditional dish consisting of cured slabs of pork fatback. It’s commonly eaten as a snack in many European countries like Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, and Czechia.
Salo can be prepared in different ways depending on where it’s from. It can be dry salted or brine cured and made with or without the skin. Unlike bacon, it contains little to no lean meat and can be smoked or flavored with paprika, garlic, salt, black pepper, and other seasonings.
In Romania, slănină is prepared by curing pork fat in brine for 2-3 weeks and then smoking it for several days. It can be eaten raw or cooked and used as an ingredient in Romanian cooking. When eaten as a snack, it can be grilled, fried, or enjoyed as is with bread, Romanian cheese, and red onions.
Photo by florin1961
Rasol refers to a traditional Romanian dish made with meat, potatoes, and various vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, and onions boiled together. Chicken and pork are the most common proteins though it can be made with different types of fresh meat and poultry like beef, duck, turkey, and goose.
Rasol is usually served on a plate with some stock and a side of horseradish, mujdei (mixture of minced garlic, sunflower oil, water, and spices), sour cream, and mămăligă.
Photo by fanfon
Ciulama refers to a traditional Romanian and Moldovan dish made with meat and/or mushrooms served in a white roux sauce. It’s commonly made with chicken (ciulama de pui), turkey (ciulama de curcan), or veal (ciulama de vițel) and served with a side of mămăligă or mujdei.
Photo by lenyvavsha
20. Drob de Miel
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Romania over Easter, then you may get a chance to try drob de miel, a traditional dish made with lamb offal. It’s also known as “lamb haggis” and is the star of every Easter table in Romania.
What’s great about drob de miel is that it’s made with the less glamorous but often more delicious parts of the lamb (at least in my opinion). The lamb’s liver, spleen, heart, lungs, and kidneys are boiled, minced, and then mixed with green onions, garlic, milk-soaked bread, parsley, dill, and raw eggs to form the dish’s filling. Traditionally, it’s made with lamb offal but it can be made with chicken liver as well.
Hard-boiled eggs are added to the mixture before the loaf is wrapped in the lamb’s caul (fatty membrane) and baked in an oven. When cooked, the dish is sliced and enjoyed like meatloaf.
Drob de miel is traditionally made with caul though more modern versions are frequently made with pasta sheets or puff pastry instead.
Photo by roxanabalint
21. Sarmale (Romanian Cabbage Rolls)
Similar to ardei umpluţi, sarmale is the Romanian version of a stuffed vegetable dish popular in many Balkan countries and beyond like Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Ukraine, and Lithuania. It refers to a sub-type of dolma consisting of cabbage or vine leaves stuffed with a minced pork and rice filling.
Like dolma, sarma can be made in different ways in different countries. In Romania, it typically consists of pickled cabbage leaves wrapped around a dolma-like filling of minced pork, rice, onions, and seasonings. The stuffed cabbage rolls are then simmered with smoked bacon, tomato juice, and thyme before being served with bread, mămăligă (Romanian polenta), and lots of sour cream.
Depending on the time of year, sarma in Romania can be made with just mushrooms and vegetables as well. Known as sarmale de post, they’re made without any type of meat filling.
Sarmale is so popular in Romania that it’s considered by many to be a national dish. It’s comforting and absolutely delicious. It can be enjoyed at any time of the year though it becomes especially popular around Christmas and Easter.
Photo by Lovelymama
22. Varză a la Cluj
If you like Romanian cabbage rolls, then you’ll probably enjoy varză a la cluj. It refers to a Transylvanian casserole made with cooked sour cabbage layered with seasoned minced meat, onions, rice, tomato sauce, and sour cream.
Varză a la Cluj is a specialty of Cluj-Napoca in northwestern Romania. It’s served at many restaurants throughout the city, often with a side of sour cream, hot peppers, and mămăligă.
Photo by NoirChocolate
IGNAT DAY FOODS
Ignat or St. Ignatius Day happens on December 20 and officially marks the start of the Christmas season in Romania. It’s become less popular among younger Romanians but it’s a tradition that’s still observed in many parts of the countryside.
Following this Romanian tradition, a pig is traditionally sacrificed on December 20 by rural families each year. The pork meat is then used to make a variety of Christmas dishes, many of which I’ll describe in this section.
Cârnați refers to garlicky Romanian pork sausages. They can be smoked or dry-cured and made with a variety of herbs and spices like garlic, paprika, thyme, chili flakes, black pepper, and salt.
Photo by florin1961
Jumări refers to the dried pork that’s left over after rendering the fat and flavoring it with various seasonings like garlic, onions, and salt. Typically enjoyed in winter as a snack, you can think of it as a type of Romanian pork rind or pork crackling.
Jumări is often added to other Romanian dishes to give them more flavor – varză cu jumări, fasole cu jumări, etc.
Photo by [email protected]
Piftie (or răcitură) is a traditional Romanian meat aspic made with boiled pig parts, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, and parsley. The cooked ingredients are placed in a bowl and filled with a meat broth before being refrigerated and allowed to congeal.
Piftie is typically made with the lesser parts of the pig like the ears, tail, and feet. It’s traditionally served as an appetizer over Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Easter.
Photo by fotosen
Tochitură is a delicious Romanian dish made with pork, smoked bacon, and smoked sausages. Similar to a stew but with very little sauce, it can be made in different ways depending on where it’s from. Pork is common though it can also be made with other types of meat like beef, lamb, chicken, and offal.
Recipes vary but there are generally two types of tochitură in Romania – ones made with tomato sauce and ones made without. The latter is more traditional but the former is more common and what you’d typically find at a Romanian restaurant. When using tomato sauce, the meats are left to cook in their own fat and juices first before a minimal amount of sauce (with minced garlic) is added at the end.
Like many dishes in this Romanian food guide, tochitură is often paired with mămăligă. It’s also common to serve it with a fried egg and a salty sheep cheese like telemea or brânză de burduf.
Photo by mirceadobre78
27. Pomana Porcului
Pomana porcului literally means “pig’s alms” and refers to the Romanian meal traditionally prepared for the men who took part in the pig’s slaughter. It’s a simple dish made with various cuts of pork, offal, and sausages fried in lard and served with mămăligă, mijdei, or onions.
Photo by lenyvavsha
Caș refers to a type of fresh Romanian cheese. It’s made by curdling sheep’s or cow’s milk with rennet, and then draining the whey. This produces a semi-soft white cheese that’s smooth in texture and fresh and slightly acidic in flavor.
Caș is typically unsalted (or just lightly salted) and often eaten for breakfast with eggs and different vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. It can also be incorporated into Romanian salads and pies and used as the base to make other Romanian cheeses like cașcaval, brânză de burduf, and telemea.
Photo by gerasimov
The term cașcaval refers to any number of hard and semi-hard yellow cheeses in Romania. It’s used to describe local cheeses like dobrogea (sheep’s milk), rucăr (cow’s milk), and penteleu (sheep’s and cow’s milk), but it can also be used to refer to non-Romanian cheeses like Swiss Emmental and Dutch gouda. Basically any semi-hard yellow cheese can be referred to as cașcaval in Romania.
Cașcaval is generally mild, salty, and slightly sharp in flavor. It’s often served raw as an appetizer and used as an ingredient in many Romanian dishes like cașcaval pane (fried cheese) and mămăligă. In the mountainous region of Vrancea, it’s often smoked (cașcaval afumat) to give it a more refined and complex taste.
Photo by gerasimov
30. Brânză de Burduf
Brânză de burduf is a saltier type of Romanian cheese made with sheep’s (and sometimes buffalo’s) milk. A bit soft in texture but intense in flavor, brânză de burduf is also referred to as brânză frământată which means “kneaded cheese”. This is in reference to how the cheese is made.
Brânză de burduf is produced by slicing, salting, and then hand-mixing caș in a bowl. The mixture is then stuffed in a sheep’s stomach or skin, or in a tube of pine bark (pictured below) to give it a distinct pine resin aroma. The cheese is typically aged for a few weeks to a few months to ripen and intensify its flavor.
Photo by [email protected]
Pictured below is brânză de burduf aged in tubes of pine bark and casings made from sheep stomach or skin.
Photo by [email protected]
Năsal refers to a unique and hyper-regional type of Romanian cheese produced in Țaga, Transylvania. It’s a smear-ripened cheese that’s aged in a natural cave in Țaga, imparting it with a deep and earthy flavor that’s impossible to replicate anywhere else.
According to legend, Țaga commune was once controlled by a cruel count who starved his people. To survive, they were forced to steal the count’s cheese which they hid in a cave. When they retrieved the cheese, it changed from white to reddish yellow and developed an odd odor. To their surprise, the cheese was also delicious.
When the count discovered what they had done, he seized the cave and used it to age his cheese. From that point, cheeses aged in that cave became known as Năsal, after the small village where the cave was located in Transylvania.
This origin story is merely a legend but the cave in Năsal is very real. It contains naturally-occurring Brevibacterium linens, the same type of odor-inducing bacteria found on human skin (think foot odor). Combined with a stable temperature and humidity, the bacteria or fungus growing on the rind is what gives năsal its robust flavor.
Thanks to the cave’s unique microbiological conditions, it’s virtually impossible to produce năsal anywhere else. It’s extremely limited in production and best paired with fruits, nuts, onions, and Romanian red wine.
Photo by gerasimov
Telemea is a type of Romanian cheese produced by storing caș in brine for several weeks or months. It’s traditionally made from sheep’s milk though it can be made from cow’s, goat’s, or buffalo’s milk as well.
Telemea is a soft or semi-soft white cheese with a creamy texture and a tangy aftertaste. Known for its salty flavor and high-fat content, it’s the most widely consumed cheese in Romania. It’s often enjoyed as a table cheese with snacks, as an ingredient in salads and other Romanian dishes, or as a simple meal with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and crusty bread.
Several varieties of telemea exist but the most well-known is telemea de ibăneşti. Produced in Romania’s Gurghiu Valley, it has the distinction of being just the second Romanian food product to be awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status.
Photo by czamfir
Urdă refers to a type of Romanian sweet cheese produced from the whey of sheep’s, cow’s, or goat’s milk. It’s made by heating whey until a silky, grainy, and sweet-tasting paste is produced. Known for its smooth, crumbly texture and sweet milky flavor, it’s used as an ingredient or filling in several Romanian pastries and desserts.
Photo by [email protected]
DESSERTS / DRINKS
Cozonac is a traditional Romanian sweet bread associated with Easter and Christmas. It’s popular in Romania and in other parts of southeastern Europe like Bulgaria (kozunak), Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece.
Visually, cozonac looks like a loaf of bread but because of its sweetness, it’s considered to be more of a cake in Romania. Recipes vary but it’s typically made with a basic dough consisting of flour, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, and salt. Depending on the region, the dough can be enriched with additional ingredients like raisins, lokum (Turkish delight), lemon or orange zest, walnuts, hazelnuts, vanilla, and rum.
Cozonac can be rectangular or round, simple of braided, and is usually made with a sweet walnut paste filling mixed with poppy seeds, cocoa powder, rum, or raisins. The filling takes the form of swirls which add to the characteristic look of the cake.
Cozonac is typically enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee or tea or a glass of milk. It’s such an important Romanian tradition that no Easter or Christmas celebration can ever be complete without it.
Photo by [email protected]
Like cozonac, pasca is a traditional Romanian dessert bread that’s always baked for Easter. It starts with a dough similar to cozonac except it’s made with a sweet cheese filling studded with raisins. Bready on the outside but rich and creamy in the middle, you can think of it as a cross between a soft panettone and a cheesecake.
Together with drob de miel and cozonac, pasca forms an important part of the Romanian Easter tradition. It was traditionally brought to church the night before Easter to be blessed before consumption.
As with most Easter breads, pasca carries certain religious meanings. The white cheese filling added to the cozonac dough (usually Romanian cow’s cheese, farmer’s cheese, or cottage cheese) is said to symbolize the risen Christ as well as the Holy Spirit.
Photo by ncristian
Gogoși (or pancove, pampuște) are Romanian fried pastries similar to doughnuts. Unlike American-style doughnuts, they’re made without a hole and often filled with a variety of ingredients like jam, chocolate, sweet cream cheese, or feta cheese.
Photo by pfongabe33
Mucenici is a traditional dessert that’s made just once a year in Romania. It refers to a honey and walnut pastry that’s traditionally prepared on March 9th to celebrate a Christian feast of the same name – Mucenici or Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The feast coincides with the start of the agricultural year so Romanians would bake these pastries to honor the event.
Mucenici are known for their distinctive shape that resembles the figure “8”. They exist in two versions. In the Moldova region, the dough is baked and then soaked in syrup before being glazed with honey and dusted with walnuts and sugar.
Photo by [email protected]
In the Mutenia region, the figure 8s are much smaller. Instead of being baked, they’re boiled in water with sugar and then served with cinnamon and crushed nuts, like a sweet soup.
The feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste is celebrated in honor of Roman soldiers who were sentenced to die for not wanting to give up their Christian faith. There are several variations to the story but according to one account, the martyrs were drowned in a lake. After they drowned, flowers rose to the surface which is why this traditional dessert is shaped like an 8, to resemble garlands.
Photo by tcostachioiu
Cornulețe refers to Romanian and Moldovan crescent cookies traditionally baked for holidays and other special occasions. It’s made with a dough enriched with vanilla, rum, and citrus zest and filled with various dessert ingredients like chocolate, jam, walnuts, farmer’s cheese, raisins, and Turkish delight.
Photo by pfongabe33
39. Găluște cu Prune
Găluște cu prune literally means “plum dumplings” and refers to a Romanian dessert made with plums wrapped in potato dough. It’s a popular dessert in many Central and Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czechia, and Slovakia.
To make these delicious dumplings, a potato dough similar to gnocchi is wrapped around sweet plums. The plum-filled dumplings are then boiled in water before being rolled in a sweet and buttery bread crumb mixture. After cooling, they’re traditionally served with a dollop of sour cream.
Photo by pfongabe33
If găluște cu prune looks appealing to you, then you may enjoy ţuică, a signature Romanian liquor made from plums. Romania produces over 300,000 plums each year so if it doesn’t wind up in a dumpling, then it’ll probably end up in a glass of this traditional plum brandy.
Served cold in summer and hot in winter, ţuică is a source of national pride in Romania. It’s used for toasting at social gatherings like weddings and baptisms, and is often taken as an aperitif before a meal. When guests arrive in a new home, they’re often offered a glass of ţuică.
Țuică is traditionally prepared from early October until early December. The plums are fermented for about 6-8 weeks before being distilled and left to age in oak barrels for up to ten years.
Depending on how it’s made, a bottle of ţuică will typically contain about 20-60% alcohol. When it’s double-distilled, it can be referred to as pălincă, fățată, horincă, or întoarsă, depending on the region.
Photo by photonxt
ROMANIAN FOOD TOURS
There’s much to learn about Romanian food and one of the best ways to do that is to go on a food tour. Simply put, no one knows Romanian cuisine better than a local. Not only will a knowledgeable guide lead you to the city’s best restaurants and markets, but they’ll be able to explain all the dishes to you in more detail. Check out Get Your Guide for a list of Romanian food tours in Bucharest and in other destinations throughout the country.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL ROMANIAN FOOD
Thanks to popular culture, Dracula is foremost on many people’s minds when it comes to Romania. But as this article on Romanian cuisine illustrates, it’s hardly the only thing of interest in this lesser known southeastern European country.
If you don’t have a taste for blood (or exaggerated legend stories), then I hope this Romanian food guide gives you something more delicious to look forward to on your next trip to Romania.
Some of the links in this article on Romanian food are affiliate links. If you make a booking, then we’ll earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, we only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as it helps us make more of these free travel and food guides. Thank you!
Cover photo by ciaobucarest. Stock images via Depositphotos.
By the end of our first day, one thing was clear – Essaouira was our favorite city in Morocco. This tiny port town along Morocco’s Atlantic coast charmed us with its well-preserved medina, windy ocean views, and easygoing small-town vibe. It reminded us in many ways of Marrakesh and Tangier, but smaller and more intimate.
Being so close to Marrakech, Essaouira is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Morocco. For such a small town, it’s home to a surprisingly large concentration of restaurants serving a wide variety of food. You’ll find restaurants serving traditional Moroccan food, fresh seafood, and international fare like Italian and Asian food. We even found a place that serves Japanese takoyaki!
Personally, we gravitate towards traditional food and healthier eating options so that’s exactly what you’ll find in this food guide – fifteen of the best restaurants in Essaouira serving wholesome fare and the tastiest Moroccan food.
ESSAOUIRA RESTAURANTS QUICK LINKS
To help with your Essaouira trip planning, we’ve put together links to top-rated hotels, tours, and other travel-related services here.
Recommended hotels in the medina, the best area to stay for first-time travelers to Essaouira.
Luxury: Riad Chbanate
Midrange: Riad Dar Awil
Budget: Riad Dar Latifa
Sightseeing Tour: Half-Day Old Town Guided Tour
Watersports: 2-Hour Surf Lesson
Cooking Class: Traditional Family Style Moroccan Cooking Class
Travel Insurance (with COVID cover)
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MUST-VISIT RESTAURANTS IN ESSAOUIRA
There are so many restaurants to choose from in Essaouira. I’ve divided this guide into two sections – traditional Moroccan restaurants and healthier plant-focused eateries that serve salads and vegetarian/vegan food.
You can click on the links to jump to either section of this Essaouira food guide.
TRADITIONAL MOROCCAN RESTAURANTS
1. Blue Mogador
Blue Mogador is one of about a dozen restaurants in a square just off one of the main avenues (Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah) in Essaouira’s medina. It’s a lovely restaurant that serves many traditional Moroccan dishes like couscous, tagine, pastilla, and grilled fish and seafood.
Before they serve your appetizers and entrees, they’ll start you off with some brined olives and fresh bread (like most restaurants in Morocco).
If you enjoy fresh vegetables with your meal, then there’s no better dish to start with than Moroccan salad. It’s a simple but delicious salad made with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and herbs in a light vinaigrette dressing.
If you like eggplant, then you’ll definitely want to try the zaalouk as well. It’s a delicious Moroccan side dish or salad made with cooked eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, spices, and olive oil. It’s great with fresh bread and something we enjoyed making ourselves in this Marrakech cooking class.
Being a coastal city, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood in Essaouira. Virtually every traditional restaurant serves sardines, fish, and other types of seafood.
Pictured below is our tasty octopus tagine served in a delicious tomato-based sauce with herbs amd green olives.
Here’s a better look at the octopus. Instead of serving the tentacles whole, they cut them up into these bite-sized pieces.
Fresh fish is abundant in Essaouira but sardines are clearly the most popular. In fact, sardines make up around 62% of Morocco’s fish catch. Morocco processes around 600,000 tonnes of sardines each year, making it the largest exporter of canned sardines in the world.
Fresh sardines are sold at the fish market daily so you’ll find many restaurants in Essaouira serving plates of grilled sardines. Personally, if I could eat just one dish in Essaouira, then it would definitely be grilled sardines. They’re cheap, healthy, plentiful, and just delicious.
We ate at many of the restaurants in this square and Blue Mogador was one of the prettiest. Aside from serving consistently good food, every restaurant offers al fresco dining like this which is one of the reasons why we enjoyed this square so much.
It was hard to get a good picture of the square but this is basically what it looks like. There are a little over a dozen restaurants here, many of which are featured in this Essaouira food guide. We enjoyed this square so much that we wound up visiting half of its restaurants in two weeks.
You can refer to the location map at the bottom of this article to navigate to the square.
Address: 75 Derb Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech 40000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-11PM, daily What They Offer: Traditional Moroccan dishes, seafood
2. Restaurant Zaytouna
Zaytouna is another traditional Moroccan restaurant located in the same square as Blue Mogador. They have similar offerings like tagine and couscous but what drew us to this place were their set menus. They offer around six 3-course set menus at different price points, some with exclusively vegetarian options.
I went with the first vegetarian option which came with either tomato or vegetable soup as its first course.
For my second course, I had a choice between vegetarian couscous or vegetable tagine. I went with the latter.
I didn’t have a choice for my third course, which is just fine because these orange slices dusted with cinnamon were the perfect end to my simple but delicious vegetarian Moroccan meal.
At the time of our visit in July 2023, this vegetarian set meal cost just MAD 65.
For my wife’s MAD 80 set meal, she had a choice between Moroccan salad or zaalouk for her first dish. Tough decision but she ultimately went with the former.
This sardine ball tagine was the reason she chose this set menu. Rolled into two-bite balls and served in a bubbling tomato-based sauce, it’s delicious and another great way to enjoy sardines in Morocco.
If sardine tagine isn’t your thing, then you can choose couscous with chicken and vegetables or chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon as well.
For her third course, she was given the choice between the same orange slices I had or Moroccan mint tea. There’s no better way to end a Moroccan meal than with a warming pot of mint tea!
Zaytouna is located across the courtyard from Blue Mogador.
Address: Place Chrib Atay, 16, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 11AM-10:30PM, daily What They Offer: Traditional Moroccan food, set menus
3. La Rose du Sud
La Rose du Sud is the restaurant located right next to Zaytouna. After lunch at Zaytouna, we took a look at their menu and told the owner that we’d be back the next day. Like its neighbor, they offer traditional Moroccan food, seafood, and a few set menus as well.
La Rose du Sud offers around five permanent set menus. On the day of our visit, they were also offering a special set menu that featured whole grilled sea bream. I chose Moroccan salad for my starter.
Here’s a look at my beautifully charred sea bream. As described, locally caught seafood is abundant in Essaouira so you’ll often find whole grilled fish like this one on many restaurant menus.
I was served this bowl of fresh fruit salad for dessert. This set meal was a little more expensive at MAD 85, but absolutely worth it.
My better half went with one of their permanent set menus featuring this beautiful plate of couscous with meat and vegetables. She had Moroccan salad and fruit salad for her first and final courses as well.
La Rose du Sud is a very similar restaurant to Zaytouna so you can choose one or the other if you like. We enjoyed both equally.
La Rose du Sud
Address: G67H+JMC, Essaouira, Morocco Operating Hours: 9AM-10PM, daily What They Offer: Moroccan dishes, set menus
4. Chaabi Chic
Chaabi Chic was one of our favorite restaurants in Essaouira. It’s a hidden gem with a great rooftop terrace, not too far from Essaouira’s ramparts and that famous Game of Thrones filming location. We went here a couple of times to enjoy their food and drink Moroccan tea.
We started lunch here one day with (you guessed it) our favorite salad in Morocco – Moroccan salad! Looking back at these pictures, we must have ordered this at least once every other day.
Can you tell by now what this next dish is? It’s another favorite of ours – zaalouk. We enjoyed zaalouk almost as often as Moroccan salad and this version at Chaabi Chic was one of the most delicious we’ve had so far.
For her entree, my better half had this lovely salad nicoise. It was tasty but for some reason, it wasn’t made with any tuna. Boo!
Grilled chicken brochettes are a common dish in Morocco. On some occasions, you’ll find restaurants serving grilled turkey skewers as well. You don’t see them that often so I always order a plate whenever I spot it on a restaurant’s menu.
Served with some herbed rice and grilled vegetables, these turkey brochettes from Chaabi Chic were tender and super delicious.
You can’t see the ocean from here but the views you get from Chaabi Chic’s rooftop are among the most enjoyable we found in Essaouira. You can see the tops of people’s houses and the seagulls hovering above them. It’s a great place to unwind and enjoy a pot of Moroccan tea.
Chaabi Chic is tucked away in a corner in a not-so-busy part of the medina so it can be easy to miss. They serve great food at affordable prices so it’s definitely worth seeking out.
Here’s another look at Chaabi Chic’s terrace. Aside from indoor seating on the second floor, you can choose to sit at one of these clusters of tables on the rooftop. Just be sure to dress warmly because it can get pretty cold and windy up here.
Address: Rue Boutouil, Essaouira, Morocco Operating Hours: 9AM-10PM, daily What They Offer: Turkey brochettes, tagine, couscous
5. Restaurant Sayef
Sayef is another hidden gem and in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in Essaouira. It’s located in a small alley just off the main street so hundreds of people probably walk by without even realizing that it’s there.
Unlike the usual brined olives most restaurants in Essaouira serve you, Sayef starts you off with a tasty olive tapenade that you can enjoy with toasted bread.
Because it gets so windy in Essaouira, I warmed myself with this hearty bowl of harira. It’s a zesty lentil and chickpea soup made with tomatoes, onions, eggs, rice, herbs, and spices. Compared to their other dishes, this was average and probably not something I’d order here again.
Like my wife, I should have stuck with the Moroccan salad! It’s an ever-reliable dish that’s good no matter where you have it.
The harira may have been average but these monkfish brochettes certainly weren’t. Served with grilled potatoes and vegetables, these were tender, flakey, and oh-so delicious.
Fish kebabs are common in Morocco but I haven’t seen them made with monkfish all that often. If you like fish skewers, then you should definitely try this.
Another dish that we didn’t see as often in Essaouira is squid tagine. Perfectly cooked and served with a medley of vegetables and olives, you may want to try this as well if you’re as big a fan of cephalopods as we are.
Essaouira’s main street is always busy but Restaurant Sayef is located through this small alley which is why it’s easy to miss. With all the sights and sounds competing for your attention in Essaouira, many people probably wouldn’t think of walking through here.
Go through the rabbit hole and you’ll find one of the best restaurants in Essaouira waiting for you on the other side.
Here’s a shot of the restaurant’s interior. It’s simple but cozy.
Address: 12 Rue d’Agadir, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 12NN-10PM, Sat-Thurs / 1:30-10PM, Friday What They Offer: Monkfish kebabs, tagine, couscous
6. Chez Zak
If you get a hankering for lobster in Essaouira, then Chez Zak is a great place to visit. It’s a small restaurant that specializes in spiny lobster and other seafood dishes like squid, prawn, and fish.
Here’s our delicious grilled lobster served with sauteed vegetables and a lemon butter sauce. At the time of our visit (July 2023), lobsters were priced at MAD 150 per 300 g. Not one of the cheaper meals you’ll have in Essaouira but hey, it’s lobster. Treat yourself!
Chez Zak offers a few fresh fruit juices as well like this refreshing glass of beetroot and orange juice.
There’s Zak himself waiting for us to take our pictures so he could grill up our lobster!
Like many restaurants in Essaouira, Chez Zak offers multiple levels of seating. We always go up to the rooftop if seating is available. At Chez Zak, there’s only one table on the rooftop so arrive early if you can.
This is the view you’ll get if you’re lucky enough to snag the rooftop terrace. It looks like a painting!
Address: 56 rue elkhabbazine, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 9AM-10PM, Sat-Wed / 12NN-10:30PM What They Offer: Lobster, seafood
7. Restaurant Baghdad
A lobster meal doesn’t come cheap but eating at Restaurant Baghdad is a great way to balance your restaurant budget in Essaouira. They serve good food at some of the best prices we’ve seen thus far in Essaouira. The entire meal pictured below, with bottled water, set us back just MAD 91!
Isn’t this salad gorgeous? They call it salade riche (rich salad) and make it with fresh green figs. Baghdad was the only restaurant we found that offered a salad made with figs.
You can’t visit Essaouira without enjoying a grilled sardine feast at least once during your stay. Such a simple but satisfying Mediterranean meal!
Our tasty vegetable tagine to round out a healthy and delicious lunch in Essaouira. Aside from tagines and grilled seafood, Restaurant Baghdad offers Moroccan tacos, brochettes, couscous dishes, and pastillas as well.
Restaurant Baghdad is another gem located just off the main street. It’s situated closer to Bab Doukkala, a more local part of the medina that not as many tourists visit.
This is what Restaurant Baghdad’s interior looks like. We arrived early but the place filled up pretty quickly for lunch. Not surprising considering their excellent food and unbeatable prices.
Address: Rue Baghdad n7, 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 11AM-11PM, daily What They Offer: Grilled seafood, salad, tagine, couscous
8. Restaurant Safran Citron
We prefer traditional restaurants and comfort food to five-star dining but Safran Citron was probably the closest we came to a fine dining experience in Essaouira. It isn’t a fine dining restaurant per se, but they do serve excellent, more well-put-together food in a lovely restaurant setting.
We started our meal at Safran Citron with this bubbling lentil and vegetable tagine. Served in a rich tomato-based sauce, we had lentil dishes often in Morocco but never quite like this. It was delicious and very comforting.
Here’s a look at my beautifully charred sea bream. As described, locally caught seafood is abundant in Essaouira so you’ll often find whole grilled fish like this one on restaurant menus.
This plate of grilled octopus has to be one of the tastiest dishes we’ve enjoyed in Essaouira and Morocco thus far. Perfectly cooked and redolent with the flavors of paprika and garlic, it was sensational and one of the best octopus dishes I’ve had anywhere.
Like every restaurant we visited in Essaouira, all the fish and seafood served at Safran Citron are as fresh as can be.
There was a mix-up with our order so the owner was kind enough to serve us a complimentary pot of tea and these tasty Moroccan pastries. Unless I’m mistaken, the biscotti-like cookie is called fekkas while the ring-shaped pastry is known as kaak d’Essaouira. Merci!
Safran Citron is located just outside the square of restaurants featured many times in this guide.
Isn’t the restaurant’s interior lovely? Safran Citron was hands down the prettiest and most atmospheric traditional restaurant we visited in Essaouira. When I think of Moroccan restaurants, this is exactly what I see!
Restaurant Safran Citron
Address: 12 Rue Laalouj, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 11:30AM-10:30PM, daily What They Offer: Grilled seafood, tagine, couscous, brochette
As much as we love meat tagines and Moroccan tacos, we’re middle-aged travelers so eating healthy has become more of a priority for us. Thankfully, people looking for healthier options and plant-based restaurants have lots to look forward to in Essaouira.
9. Mandala Society
There’s no better way to start the healthy eating section of this Essaouira restaurant guide than with Mandala Society, arguably the most popular health-focused restaurant in the city. It’s a modern restaurant that serves an appetizing menu of brunch dishes, salads, and veggie burger options.
How delicious does this vegan buddha bowl look? It’s made with a medley of oven-roasted vegetables served with steamed quinoa, homemade hummus, pumpkin seeds, and argan oil.
Equally delicious was this aubergine mosaic – a tasty dish of oven-baked eggplant slices served with baby onions, garlic confit, homemade cheese, local root vegetables, herbs, and sweet paprika aioli.
Mandala Society offers a few homemade cakes and pastries as well. If you enjoy the sweeter things in life, then you may want to try this guilt-free vegan brownie cake.
Aside from their healthier food options, another thing we loved about Mandala Society was their collection of herbal teas. They have about nine or ten different blends to choose from, like this “Immune System” infusion made with ginger, chamomile, turmeric, and green cardamom.
Mandala Society is located in a prime spot along the main street in Essaouira’s medina. It’s almost always packed at peak meal times so may you may want to go at slightly off-peak hours.
Mandala Society has a restaurant in Marrakech as well, which we’ll be visiting very soon!
Address: Av. de l’Istiqlal, Essaouira, Morocco Operating Hours: 9:30AM-10:30PM, daily What They Offer: Vegan/vegetarian dishes, healthy food
10. Retro Corner
Retro Corner is one of our favourite restaurants in Essaouira. Like Mandala Society, it’s a cute and modern restaurant that serves a variety of healthy and modern Moroccan classics in a prime spot in Essaouira’s medina.
Pictured below is our favorite Moroccan salad plated in a more elegant and striking way.
This is Retro Corner’s version of our favourite Moroccan eggplant dip – zaalouk.
Yes, this quinoa avocado salad was every bit as healthy and delicious as it was beautiful.
Sardine chermoula is one of my wife’s favorite Moroccan street food dishes. We’ve had it many times throughout Morocco but this version at Retro Corner was the best we’ve had thus far. Wow was this good!
Not to be outdone by the sardines, I had the grilled sea bream which was the most delicious preparation of this fish I’ve had anywhere in Morocco. Served with two whole fillets seasoned with a homemade spicy sauce, I’m salivating just looking at this picture right now!
Retro Corner is located just off Av. Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah. It’s a colorful and modern restaurant that’s sure to catch your eye when you pass by. They offer an extensive menu of breakfast platter sets, Moroccan dishes, and comfort food options like burgers, pizza, pasta dishes, and crepes.
Before we were served our food, I found their prices to be a bit on the expensive side. However, they do serve you big portions so you do get what you pay for. Highly recommended!
An inside look at Retro Corner’s cute and colorful interior.
If they’re available, then you may want to sit on one of these counter seats facing the street. Retro Corner is on a busy street so it’s fun to do a little people-watching while enjoying one of your best meals in Essaouira.
Address: N, 05 rue abdelaziz Al fachtali, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-10PM, Mon-Wed / 9:30AM-10PM, Thurs-Sat (closed Sundays) What They Offer: Breakfast sets, Morrocan dishes, healthy food, comfort food
11. Azouka Eatery
Azouka Eatery is another restaurant located in that same square previously mentioned in this Essaouira food guide. It’s owned and operated by a lovely young couple who offer brunch dishes and small, healthy tapas-like bites of food.
Pictured below is Azouka’s version of herb tabbouleh, but instead of bulgur, it’s made with broccoli instead. It’s topped with dukkah (nut and spice mixture) and a few slices of nectarine.
You’re probably well-acquianted with this next dish by now. It’s their take on eggplant zaalouk enhanced with garlic oil and black lime. Delicious!
No respectable zaalouk should ever be eaten on its own, so we paired it with a couple of thick slices of their homebaked sourdough rye focaccia.
Azouka Eatery is located on the second floor of the square. If you’re looking for light snacks that are actually good for you, then Azouka Eatery is a great restaurant to visit in Essaouira.
The restaurant has a small shop as well that plays great music and sells a few knick-knacks like ceramics, clothing, and organic food products.
Address: 75 Derb Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech 40000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-4PM, Tue-Sat (closed Sun-Mon) What They Offer: Healthy brunch and lunch dishes
12. Le Corail at Latifa
If you’re a vegan, then you have two great restaurants to choose from in that same square as Azouka Eatery and some of the other restaurants on this list. The first is Le Corail Vegan Food, a small restaurant that offers a wealth of fresh juices and Moroccan vegan dishes like veggie burgers, spring rolls, and vegetable tagines.
Unlike the usual brined olives served at almost every Moroccan restaurant, we were given a small plate of sliced bananas dusted with cinnamon.
We shared a plate of our favorite Moroccan salad to kickstart today’s healthy meal.
For my main course, I had this bountiful chickpea and vegetable tagine. Moroccan tagines can sometimes be oily but this one was made with just the right amount of oilve oil. Very healthy indeed!
My better half was craving for food that reminded her of home so she went with this plate of spring rolls stuffed with chickpeas, spinach, and mushroom. It was served with a side of delicious pasta, which was a bonus.
Here’s a sneak peak inside the spring rolls.
We didn’t expect to find vegan food in a small city like Essaouira so Le Corail was a pleasant discovery. They have so many vegetable tagine dishes on their menu! Do pay them a visit if you’re in the mood for something simple and healthy but delicious.
Le Corail at Latifa
Address: BP423 Place Al Khaima, Heb, 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 9AM-10PM, daily What They Offer: Vegetable tagines, spring rolls, veggie burgers
13. Shyadma’s Vegan Food
Shyadma’s is located just a stone’s throw from Le Corail and offers similar vegan dishes like salads, soups, vegan tagines, and vegetable couscous. It’s run by a lovely Moroccan family where the mother (presumably Syadma) does all the cooking while her young children help with serving the customers.
Similar to Le Corail, they started us off with an appetizer of bananas, apples, and olives.
It was especially windy in Essaouira that day so I wanted to warm up with a bowl of lentil soup. Made from scratch, this was one of the tastiest and most lovingly made bowls of lentil soup I’ve had in Morocco thus far.
Shyadma calls this a warm vegetable salad. It’s basically boiled potatoes served with green bean salad and a zaalouk-like eggplant puree. Simple but hearty and delicious.
Shyadma doesn’t offer nearly as many vegetable tagines as Le Corail but what she does make tastes 100% homemade. What you’re looking at below is her tagine of French green beans with olives and preserved lemons.
When you enjoy a meal at Shyadma’s, it really does feel like you’re sitting down to a homecooked meal in someone’s home. So comforting and delicious, and cheap too. Today’s meal set us back just MAD 80!
Do you see why we enjoyed this square so much? So many tasty restaurants somewhat tucked away and hidden from the most touristy parts of Essaouira.
Shyadma’s Vegan Food
Address: Place El Khayma, Rue Laalouj, Essaouira, Morocco Operating Hours: 11AM-10:30PM, daily What They Offer: Vegan tagines
14. Picknick Cafe
Picknick Cafe was also one of our favorite restaurants in Essaouira. Similar to Mandala Society or Retro Corner, it’s a cute, well-designed cafe that offers a focused menu of brunch dishes, healthier food options, specialty coffee, juices, and smoothies.
What you’re looking at below is their salmon bowl. It’s a beautiful salad made with a generous amount of grilled salmon, avocado, cucumber, and tomato.
Equally delicious (and Instagram-worthy) was this gorgeous grilled chicken bowl made with marinated chicken breast, grilled vegetables, and tortilla chips.
Picknick Cafe offers water flavored with lemon, mint, and other ingredients as well. This one was infused with the throat-soothing qualities of ginger.
Picknick Cafe is hidden in plain sight, just a few minutes walk from Bab El Mechouar. Soon as you enter the gate, start looking for it on your right side.
Picknick Cafe has a small but lovely and well-put-together interior. If I remember correctly, the description on their menu mentioned that the cafe actually started in Germany before opening this branch in Essaouira.
Here’s my equally lovely and well-put-together wife showing me what she thinks of me on this fine Sunday.
Address: 22 Rue Youssef El Fassi, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 9:30AM-9PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) What They Offer: Brunch dishes, salad bowls
I’ve recommended a few hidden gems in this restaurant guide, but Koozina is probably the best-kept secret in Essaouira.
Koozina isn’t tucked away in some obscure corner in the medina. On the contrary, it’s located in plain sight. It’s situated just outside the medina’s walls, not too far from Bab Marrakech Tower, in an area where many tourists probably wouldn’t go to look for food. You’ll see what I mean later.
Aside from its location, what makes Koozina interesting is that the restaurant doesn’t have a permanent menu. Instead, the lovely owner and chef writes the menu on a chalkboard based on what fresh ingredients are available at the market on that day.
On the day of our visit, we were treated to this earthy and delicious squash and tahini puree.
For our second starter, we went with this bright and sunny cold octopus salad.
I love Moroccan chicken brochettes but this version at Koozina was different from any other I had enjoyed before. They were slathered with a dark, deeply flavorful sauce and served with a side of maaqouda (Maghrebi fritters) and the chef’s very own creation – tomato crumble. Everything on this plate was fantastic.
Note the heart shapes on the chicken skewers. Aren’t they cute?
For our second entree, we went with the stuffed aubergine. They were filled with a tasty mixture of eggplant, ground meat, and spices before being topped with microgreens and served with a side salad and that delicious tomato crumble.
You can refer to our location map to navigate to Koozina, but if you walk outside the medina’s perimeter, then you’ll inevitably reach this structure. Koozina is located through here.
Here’s Koozina’s lovely outdoor seating area. Beautiful right? This is easily one of the most pleasant places to enjoy a meal in Essaouira.
This is the chalk menuboard I was telling you about earlier. We arrived early so we got to see the chef write out the day’s offerings.
Address: 44000, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-8PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) What They Offer: Farm-to-table daily specials
BONUS: Cafe l’Esprit
As far as I could tell, outside of their specialty coffees, teas, and pastries, this place only offers avocado toast on their menu. They aren’t really a restaurant but Cafe l’Esprit is such a cute cafe that I had to add it to this list.
Located within earshot of the ramparts and ocean, Cafe l’Esprit offers one of the loveliest cafe settings we experienced in Essaouira. We sat outside for some French apple pie and pots of tea while enjoying Essaouira’s famous ocean breeze.
Cafe l’Esprit is a tiny cafe with one or two tables indoors, but the best place to sit is outside against that wall. Some tourists pass here to get to the ramparts so it’s a nice place to sit and people-watch while sipping on hot cups of herbal tea.
Here’s my lovely wife blending in with the patterns and enjoying our last day in Essaouira.
Address: In front of Zaouia Sidna Blal, 32 Rue Touahen, Essaouira 44000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-7PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) What They Offer: Avocado toast, pastries, specialty coffee and tea
To help you navigate to these Essaouira restaurants, I’ve pinned them all on the map below. Click on the link for a live version of the map.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN ESSAOUIRA
We focused on traditional Moroccan restaurants and healthy food options in this guide, but if you’re in the mood for delicious pasta and pizza, then you’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from in Essaouira.
One highly recommended Italian restaurant is Gusto Italia. They’re located near the beach, around a 20-minute walk south of the medina. Its TripAdvisor and Google reviews are gushing so it may be worth the trek just to get a change of scenery from the ancient medina.
As you can see from this list, Essaouira may be small but you won’t have any trouble finding delicious food – both local and international – in this exceedingly charming city.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful time in Morocco’s “windy city” – Essaouira!
This article on the best restaurants in Essaouira includes affiliate links. What that means is that we’ll earn a small commission if you make a booking or reservation at no additional cost to you. We really appreciate your support as it helps us make more of these free travel and food guides. Merci!
I’ll be honest – Casablanca isn’t our favorite city in Morocco. Unlike Marrakech, Fes, or Essaouira, it’s a big modern metropolis that doesn’t have much in the way of tourist attractions. Aside from the Hassan II Mosque, there isn’t as much to see and do there.
But Casablanca’s size does promise one thing – delicious food. We stayed for two weeks on our last trip and found Casablanca to be a sprawling city with pockets of interesting neighborhoods and restaurants offering traditional Moroccan food, international fare, and healthy eating options.
If you’ll be spending a few days in this Moroccan city made famous by its movie namesake, then here are eight restaurants in Casablanca that you may want to check out.
MOROCCAN FOOD QUICK LINKS
To help with your Casablanca trip-planning, we’ve put together links to recommended hotels, tours, and other travel services here.
Top-rated accommodations in and around Gauthier, one of our favorite neighborhoods in Casablanca.
Idou Anfa Hôtel & Spa
Yto boutique Hotel
StayHere Casablanca Ghautier Apartments
Sightseeing Tour: Casablanca City Tour
Food Tour: Central Market Food Tour with Tastings and Lunch
Day Trip: Chefchaouen Day Trip with Lunch
Cooking Classes: Casablanca Cooking Classes
Travel Insurance (with COVID cover)
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MUST-VISIT RESTAURANTS IN CASABLANCA
We love authentic Moroccan food but being middle-aged travelers, healthy eating has become increasingly important to us as well. This Casablanca restaurant guide will give you a good mix of both.
TRADITIONAL MOROCCAN RESTAURANTS
If finding places that serve authentic Moroccan food is important to you, then you may want to check out any of these first four restaurants.
1. Saveurs du Palais
This was one of our favorite restaurants in Casablanca. It’s a traditional Moroccan restaurant that serves authentic and tasty food. From their many Moroccan salads to their wide variety of tagines and traditional Moroccan pastries, everything we had at this restaurant was delicious.
Pictured below is one of our favorite starters – Moroccan salad. It’s a simple and refreshing salad made with chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and herbs.
We had fish or seafood tagine many times in Marrakech and Tangier but we never got to try sardine ball tagine. Thank goodness we got to try it in Casablanca because it’s seriously delicious!
Tagine made with any type of meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetable is one of the tastiest and most traditional Moroccan dishes you can find in this country. We’ve enjoyed every type of tagine thus far but fish ball tagine – especially the ones made with sardine – may be our favorite.
Equally delicious was this tagine chevreau messlala or goat tagine. If you prefer meat to seafood, then you may want to order this.
We’ve eaten at many traditional restaurants in Morocco but Saveurs du Palais offers one of the widest and most interesting selections of tagines we’ve seen so far. They also offer tagines made with beef, beef liver, tripe, beef tongue, pigeon, rabbit, and more.
Tagine is something you definitely need to try at least once in Morocco. In Casablanca, Saveurs du Palais is one of the best places to have it.
We sat at a regular table but if you’d like to have a more Moroccan experience, then perhaps you’d like to sit at one of these couch tables instead.
Saveurs du Palais
Address: 28 Rue Jalal Eddine Sayouti, Casablanca 20250, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-10:30PM, daily What to Order: Tagine
2. Chez Michel et Hafida (Tasty Fresh Seafood!)
If you’re in the mood for inexpensive but fresh seafood, then this humble restaurant is one of the best places you can go to. It’s located at the central market (marche central) – a cluster of two dozen or so produce shops and restaurants serving fresh fish and other types of seafood.
Sardines are a staple fish in the Moroccan diet and fried or grilled stuffed sardines are among our favorite iterations. They’re typically stuffed with chermoula – a type of North African marinade made with garlic, fresh herbs, spices, olive oil, and lemon juice. It’s delicious and equally popular in the cuisines of neighboring countries like Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.
Many seafood dishes at Chez Michel et Hafida are served with grilled vegetables, potatoes, and a sharp and spicy harissa-based sauce.
If you like mussels, then you definitely need to try this mkela de moules. It’s basically a type of mussel tomato stew served in a shallow pan or pot also known as a mkela (or mkila, mqila). Paired with khobz, it’s absolutely delicious.
No, these aren’t undercooked french fries. What you’re looking at is the most ridiculously tender platter of grilled squid served with roasted vegetables.
Chef Michel et Hafida is one of many seafood restaurants at the central market. Many places here are known for serving delicious food but we chose this place based on the strength of its reviews.
Chez Michel et Hafida
Address: Stall 192, Marche Central, Bd Mohammed V, Casablanca 20000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-9:30PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) What to Order: Seafood dishes
As described, Hassan II Mosque is the top tourist attraction in Casablanca. You’ll probably find yourself there at some point so it’s good to know which restaurant to visit. Most restaurants in the area weren’t to our liking but thankfully, we found Solamo’s.
Solamo’s is one of those restaurants that serves everything. From breakfast sets to comfort food like Moroccan tacos and traditional dishes like tagine and couscous, they’ll probably have it here.
Brochette is something you’ll find on the menu of many traditional Moroccan restaurants. They make them with different types of meat, poultry, and seafood but if you’re unsure what to get, then you may want to try this brochette mixte. It comes with minced meat, merguez sausage, chicken, and steak along with a side of grilled vegetables and pasta.
I wanted to eat a little healthier today so I went with this tasty plate of grilled salmon with roasted vegetables and herbed rice.
With their diverse menu, Solamo’s isn’t the most traditional restaurant on this list but they do serve good food at affordable prices. Do check them out after visiting Hassan II Mosque.
Address: Bd d’El Hank, Casablanca 20250, Morocco Operating Hours: 6AM-12MN, daily What to Order: Breakfast, Moroccan dishes, comfort food
4. Dalia Ricks
Like Solamo’s, Dalia Ricks is another Moroccan restaurant that serves a little bit of everything. You can get breakfast sets and traditional Moroccan dishes like brochette and pastilla but you can also go for comfort food like Moroccan tacos, pizza, and sandwiches.
Many dishes looked appealing to us but because of our gregarious and very persuasive server, we went for the menu of the day which started with these hefty bowls of Moroccan salad.
And the daily special? Fish ball tagine!
Unlike the sardine balls at Saveurs du Palais, I believe these were made with merlan or whiting. They were made with rice and had a softer, fluffier texture than the sardine balls.
Dalia Ricks is located near Beth-El Temple, a Jewish synagogue just off Bd d’Anfa.
Address: Ibnou Hayane, 61 Rue jaber, Bd d’Anfa, Casablanca 20000, Morocco Operating Hours: 7AM-11PM, daily What to Order: Traditional Moroccan food, comfort food
As described, eating healthier has become a priority for us. Thankfully, we found a few delicious health-oriented and plant-based restaurants in Casablanca.
5. Organic Kitchen
Organic Kitchen is one of the best and most popular healthy restaurants you can visit in Casablanca. They offer an extensive and creative menu of healthy dishes in a refined space in the swanky Anfa neighborhood.
Organic Kitchen offers a good selection of vegetarian dishes but they do offer sandwiches, tartines, and salads made with healthier proteins like salmon, white fish, and chicken breast as well.
Pictured below is my incredibly delicious chicken shawarma. It’s made with marinated chicken breast, fresh vegetables, and pumpkin seeds served in an herbed pita wrap. Isn’t it gorgeous?
The chicken shawarma is served with yogurt sauce and a side of vegetables and fries.
I didn’t want the fries so they were kind enough to replace them with more fresh veggies. Merci!
My better half went with the buddha bowl which was made with the tastiest Asian-inspired marinated chicken served with quinoa, beetroot hummus, guacamole, leafy greens, and vegetables. An Organic Kitchen bestseller, the chicken in this salad was amazingly delicious and reminded us of Filipino adobo.
Without question, Organic Kitchen is one of the best restaurants in Casablanca for healthier eating. It’s pricier than some of the other restaurants on this list – around MAD 100-200 per dish – but it’s worth it. We’ll definitely come back on every return trip to Casablanca.
Like their dishes, the restaurant itself is lovely. It just feels good to be here.
Address: 6-8 Rue Ahmed El Mokri, Casablanca 20000, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-10:30PM, Mon-Fri (closed Sat-Sun) What to Order: Healthy dishes
If you’re a vegan, then you need to make your way to Niya, a terrific plant-based restaurant in the trendy Gauthier neighborhood of Casablanca. They offer a seasonal menu of creative and delicious vegan dishes in what could well be one of the cutest restaurant spaces in Casablanca.
What you’re looking at below is the salade de kale d’été or summer kale salad. It’s made with kale, marinated chickpeas, nectarine and avocado slices, green beans, red onions, and almonds served with an earthy argan ginger miso sauce.
This fantastic dish is Niya’s version of paella, everyone’s favorite Spanish dish. They call it low-carb paella because it’s made with iodized saffron cauliflower rice instead of Bomba or Calasparra rice. This was my first time trying cauliflower rice and I can proudly call myself a believer! My god was this good.
Aside from cauliflower, this low-carb paella also had peas, broccoli, green beans, roasted red peppers, crispy “chorizo”, and herbed aioli. Delicious!
If you’re in the mood for healthier pasta dishes, then you may want to try this equally delicious pasta alla norma. It’s made with a hefty portion of whole-grain organic penne topped with homemade basil tomato sauce, fried eggplant, and almond ricotta.
Who needs meat when you have healthier alternatives that taste as good as this?
Niya is set in an intimate space that was designed to look like someone’s living room or private library. If I understand correctly, they change their dishes every season so you may want to check out their menu for the latest offerings.
Isn’t the restaurant cute? It felt so cozy in here.
Address: 34 Rue Sebou, Casablanca 20100, Morocco Operating Hours: 10AM-9:30PM, Tue-Sat / 10AM-5PM, Sun (closed Mondays) What to Order: Vegan food
If you’re in the mood for great salads and fresh juices, then head on over to Khos – a salad and juice bar that offers healthier sandwiches and desserts as well.
Like any salad bar, you can build your own salad by ingredient but we decided to go with their salad suggestions, starting with this vitaminé e. Hefty and delicious, it’s made with turkey, quinoa, hummus, avocado, broccoli, and cabbage dressed in a pesto parmesan sauce.
They call this one Scandinave. It’s made with smoked salmon, quinoa, arugula, avocado, cucumber, and carrot topped with a creamy yogurt-based dressing.
The glass of juice behind the salad is called antioxydant. It’s a delicious and refreshing blend of beetroot, banana, and orange.
Khos is located in a quiet neighborhood about a 10-15 minute walk east of Arab League Park. It seems to be popular with office workers in the area so you may want to go at slightly off-peak lunch hours to avoid the crowd.
The restaurant’s interior is as clean and appealing as the food they serve.
The Khos maestros adeptly putting our salads together. On our next visit, we’ll try building our salads from scratch.
Address: 44 Rue Annoussour, Casablanca 20140, Morocco Operating Hours: 9AM-5PM, Sun-Fri (closed Saturdays) What to Order: Salads, sandwiches, fresh juices
8. Holy Brunch
As their name suggests, this popular restaurant in Gauthier is known for their brunches. It isn’t exactly a health restaurant like the previous three but they do offer a few dishes for people looking to enjoy a healthier meal in Casablanca.
This bright and sunny bowl is called sunny chicken. It’s made with grilled chicken served with brown rice, red cabbage, raisins, pistachios, peanuts, herbs, and fresh vegetables tossed in a Thai citrus sauce.
My better half wanted to go with something a little more indulgent so she went with this trio de tacos. It consists of three pancake tacos stuffed with different fillings like whipped cream, mangoes, apples, bananas, ricotta, walnuts, and speculoos.
We visited Holy Brunch on a Sunday and it was easily the most popular restaurant we went to in Casablanca. Located in trendy Gauthier, it’s a fun restaurant with many sweet and savory options so it wasn’t hard to understand why!
If you’d rather not wait for a table, then you may want to try going on a weekday or at off-peak hours.
Address: Angle rue Theophile Gauthier et, Rue Al Bouhtouri, Casablanca 20012, Morocco Operating Hours: 8AM-7PM, Mon-Fri / 9:30AM-7PM, Sat-Sun What to Order: Brunch-style dishes
To help guide you to these restaurants in Casablanca, I’ve pinned them all on the map below. Click on the link for a live version of the map.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BEST CASABLANCA RESTAURANTS
I haven’t seen it but many people from around the world have heard of Casablanca from the Academy-award-winning movie. It’s about an American expat who owns a nightclub and restaurant in Casablanca called “Rick’s Cafe”.
From what I understand, no parts of the movie were actually filmed in Casablanca but there’s a well-known restaurant in the city that’s said to mimic the restaurant from the film. Also called Rick’s Cafe, it isn’t the type of restaurant we look for on trips but fans of the movie may want to check it out.
One restaurant we did want to go to but unfortunately couldn’t – because it was closed for Eid al-Adha –was Asie’tte. It’s primarily a Japanese restaurant but they do serve food from other Asian cuisines like Thai and Chinese. The restaurant has stellar reviews so you may want to check them out if you come down with a craving for Japanese and Asian food.
In any case, that’s about it for our list of some of the best restaurants in Casablanca. If you have anything to add, then please do let us know in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading and have a delicious time in Casablanca! “Here’s looking at you, kid!”
This article on the best restaurants in Casablanca contains affiliate links, meaning we’ll earn a small commission if you make a booking or purchase at no additional cost to you. We really appreciate your support as it helps us make more of these free travel and food guides. Merci!
Even if you have limited experience with Indonesian food, there’s a chance you’ve at least heard of sate and nasi goreng. If you’ve been to Bali, then you’ve probably had your fair share of babi guling. But how many Indonesian desserts can you actually name?
Before spending time in Java and Bali, I could name one – cendol. Listed by CNN as one of the most delicious drinks in the world (though it’s really a dessert), this refreshing iced treat remains my favorite Indonesian dessert. But as you’ll soon see in this guide, it’s hardly the only sweet treat to look for in Indonesia.
From colorful kue to ginger-infused sweet soups like ronde, people with a sweet tooth will have lots to look forward to on their next trip to Indonesia.
INDONESIAN DESSERT QUICK LINKS
If you’re traveling to Indonesia and want to really dive into Indonesian cuisine, then you may be interested in joining a food tour or taking a cooking class.
Food Tours: Food Tours in Indonesia
Cooking Classes: Cooking Classes in Indonesia
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MUST-TRY TRADITIONAL INDONESIAN DESSERTS
Cendol isn’t just one of my favorite Indonesian desserts, it’s one of my favorite desserts period. Like nuoc mia in Vietnam, it’s something I look forward to on every return trip to Indonesia.
This traditional Indonesian dessert is made with strands of green rice flour jelly, palm sugar syrup, coconut milk, and shaved ice. The word cendol refers to the curious-looking strands of green rice flour jelly but it can be made with additional ingredients like sliced jackfruit, durian, black grass jelly, and sweetened condensed milk.
On a hot day in Indonesia, nothing compares to a glass or bowl of cendol. Earthy and almost caramel-ly in sweetness thanks to the palm sugar syrup, it’s delicious and incredibly refreshing.
If you’re a fan of Filipino halo-halo like I am, then I’ve got a good feeling you’ll enjoy cendol too.
Photo by E Dewi Ambarwati
2. Kolak Pisang Ubi
Dessert soups are common throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia is no exception. In the Philippines, you’ll find ginataan while in Vietnam, you can enjoy che.
Kolak refers to a family of traditional Indonesian dessert soups made with a base of coconut milk and pandan leaves sweetened with either palm sugar or coconut sugar. Depending on the cook, it can be made with a variety of ingredients like bananas, jackfruit, cassava, rice balls, and sweet potatoes.
Pisang means “banana” while ubi translates to “sweet potato”, so kolak pisang ubi refers to a delicious type of kolak made with bananas and sweet potatoes.
Photo by Ika Rahma H
If you aren’t used to the flavor of ginger, especially in a dessert, then the taste of this next Indonesian dessert soup may come as a shock to you.
Ronde is the Indonesian version of tangyuan, a traditional Chinese dessert made with glutinous rice balls served in a hot broth or syrup. It’s especially popular in Java where it’s consumed as a drink to warm you up during the colder winter months.
Indonesian ronde is made with rice balls of different colors and sizes served in a ginger- and pandan-infused syrup. The smaller balls are typically unfilled while the larger balls are made with a stuffing of ground peanuts and sugar.
Drinking the ginger syrup will make your throat feel warm and zingy. If you aren’t used to the taste of ginger, then it can be an odd sensation at first but it really does a good job of warming you up.
4. Pai Susu Bali
If you’ve been to the Island of the Gods, then you may be familiar with these tasty milk pies known as pai susu bali. Like pineapple cakes from Taiwan, it’s a popular snack that’s often brought home as a souvenir dessert from Bali.
Pai susu literally means “milk pie” and refers to an Indonesian custard tart that originated in Bali. Reminiscent of a Portuguese pastel de nata, it consists of a shortcrust pastry filled with a thin layer of egg custard and condensed milk.
Photo by Joseagush, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
5. Pisang Goreng
Fried bananas are a popular dessert or snack in the Philippines so we were naturally drawn to this Indonesian fried banana dessert called pisang goreng.
Pisang goreng literally means “fried bananas” and refers to a simple but delicious Indonesian dessert made with batter-coated bananas deep-fried in hot oil. It can be made with different types of bananas like pisang raja, pisang saba, or plantains.
Photo by kalkasandi.gmail.com
6. Kue Lapis Legit
In Indonesia, you’ll find a wide variety of dessert delicacies called kue (kuih in Malaysia). It’s a broad term that covers a spectrum of snacks that include bite-sized cakes, cookies, pies, fritters, and pastries. Like wagashi in Japan, I don’t completely understand what qualifies as kue because you’ll find so many of these small colorful snacks in Indonesia!
Based on what I’ve read, Indonesian kue is traditionally made with rice flour and coconut milk but these days, they’re often made with wheat flour and other dairy products as well. They can be sweet or savory; steamed, baked, or fried; and made with a wide variety of different ingredients. You see why it’s so confusing??
You’ll find a seemingly endless variety of kue in Indonesia but one of the most eye-catching is kue lapis legit. Also known as spekkoek, it refers to a Dutch-Indonesian layer cake made with flour, eggs, butter (or margarine), sugar, and spices. It’s a pretty but labor-intensive cake that typically contains over eighteen layers.
It’s worth noting that kue lapis legit is different from the similarly named kue lapis. The former is a baked layered cake while the latter is a steamed layered rice and coconut pudding made with glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and food coloring.
Photo by Kristina Ismulyani
7. Bika Ambon
If you visit Medan in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, then one dessert that you definitely need to try is bika ambon. It’s an interesting type of Indonesian honeycomb cake made with tapioca flour, coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and yeast.
Bika ambon is known for its distinctive cavities formed by yeast in the dough. As the cake bakes, the yeast creates bubbles that give bika ambon its unique sponge-like texture.
Traditionally, bika ambon is flavored with banana or pandan leaves but they’re now enhanced with other flavorings as well like mandarin orange, vanilla, chocolate, and durian.
Photo by Ariyani Tedjo
8. Kue Wajik
Sweet with a sticky palm sugar glaze, wajik is a popular type of kue made with glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar. Its name literally means “diamond cake” thanks to its parallelogram- or rhombus-like shape. This sweet and sticky rice dessert is traditionally cut into diamond shapes before serving, though it can be made into other shapes as well.
Known as pulut manis in some parts of Indonesia, wajik is often wrapped in banana leaves or dried corn husks and eaten as an afternoon snack. It’s also a common sight at Indonesian weddings because the sticky rice is meant to symbolize a “sticky” or lasting marriage.
Photo by Ika Rahma H
9. Kue Dadar Gulung
Desserts made with pandan leaves never fail to catch my eye (or nose). Fragrant and verdant, kue dadar gulung refers to a traditional Indonesian dessert made with thin rolled-up rice flour pancakes filled with grated coconut and palm sugar.
At first glance, you’d think these coconut pancakes get their bright green color from artificial food coloring, but they don’t. They get their coloration and aroma from pandan leaves which are often used as an aromatic ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. Aren’t they pretty?
Photo by tehcheesiong
10. Kue Ongol Ongol
Ongol ongol refers to a type of kue originally from West Java. Soft and bouncy in texture, you can think of it as an Indonesian version of mochi made with palm sugar, grated coconut, and starch.
Depending on the type of starch it’s made with, ongol ongol can take on slightly different names like ongol ongol hunkwe (mung bean flour), ongol ongol singkong (grated cassava root), and ongol ongol kanji (tapioca starch).
Photo by Eva Hidayah
11. Bingka Telur Pandan
As its name and color suggest, bingka telur pandan is one of many Indonesian desserts on this list made with pandan leaves. It’s a more colorful variation of bingka telur – a simple Indonesian cake made with flour, eggs, coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla.
Bingka telur is delicious enough on its own but it becomes even better when enriched with the flavor and aroma of pandan.
Photo by Cholifahcho2
12. Kue Nagasari
Nagasari refers to a type of banana-stuffed Javanese steamed cake. A local favorite, it’s made by stuffing ripe banana slices into a rice flour and coconut milk batter, wrapping it in banana leaves, and then steaming.
The version of nagasari pictured below is colored white but this popular Indonesian dessert takes on a green color when made with pandan leaves.
Photo by Yun Octavia
13. Kue Putu
If you’re familiar with Filipino puto bumbong, then this next Indonesian dessert will sound familiar to you. Kue putu is made with pandan-infused rice flour that’s filled with palm sugar and then steamed in bamboo tubes. Like the Filipino version, it’s traditionally eaten with desiccated or grated coconut.
Kue putu is especially popular in Java where it’s known as, get this, putu bumbung. I can’t say for sure who influenced who but there’s clearly a connection. Finding these cultural connections through food is one of the things I enjoy most about travel.
Photo by Herman Suparman
These dessert bombs called klepon (or kelepon) are Indonesian sweet rice cakes filled with palm sugar and coated in grated coconut. I call them “dessert bombs” because they aren’t filled with just palm sugar – they’re filled with molten palm sugar! Biting into these delicious Indonesian desserts really does feel like an explosion of earthy sweetness in your mouth.
To prepare, small pieces of solid palm sugar are stuffed into a dough made with glutinous rice flour and pandan leaves. The dough balls are then boiled which melts the palm sugar and creates a molten core.
I’ll never forget the first time I tasted klepon. It was at a restaurant in Bali. Served warm, I didn’t know what to expect so I was pleasantly surprised when my mouth was filled with an earthy sweet liquid after taking a bite. This sweet rice cake is absolutely delicious and easily one of my favorite Indonesian desserts.
15. Kue Bugis
Kue bugis looks similar to klepon except it isn’t made with a molten palm sugar core. It consists of a dough made with sticky rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and pandan extract. The dough is filled with a coconut sugar mixture before being wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed.
Photo by Rani Restu Irianti
16. Bola-Bola Ubi
Bola-bola ubi literally means “sweet potato balls”. It’s a traditional Indonesian street food snack or dessert consisting of deep-fried dough balls made with sweet potatoes, flour, and sugar.
Photo by Hanifah Kurniati
17. Putu Ayu
Putu ayu is another Indonesian dessert that originated in Java. It’s basically a steamed pandan cake made with flour, eggs, coconut milk, pandan leaves, sugar, and grated coconut.
If you look at the picture below, you’ll notice that the grated coconut isn’t sprinkled on top of the cake. What makes putu ayu interesting is that it consists of two layers – a green pandan layer at the bottom and a white top consisting of grated coconut.
Typically steamed in mini bundt cake or flower-shaped molds, ayu means “pretty” in Indonesian, which is a good way of describing this eye-catching two-tone Indonesian cake.
Photo by Rizvisual
Martabak manis is one of my favorite Indonesian desserts. It’s known as martabak in Indonesia but murtabak refers to a family of sweet and savory stuffed pancake dishes common throughout Southeast Asia and the Arabian peninsula.
In Indonesia, the savory version is known as martabak telur while the sweet dessert is called martabak manis. The latter consists of a thick sweet pancake topped with a wide variety of ingredients like chocolate, condensed milk, durian spread, bananas, matcha, and cream cheese. The martabak can be served as is or folded in half for easier eating.
This traditional Indonesian snack is one of the most popular street foods in the country. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding martabak no matter where you are in Indonesia.
Surabi (or serabi) is a traditional Javanese-Balinese snack or dessert similar to a pancake. Made from a batter of rice flour and coconut milk, it can be enjoyed in sweet and savory versions, much like martabak.
Sweet surabi is traditionally eaten with kinca – a coconut sugar topping made from grated coconut and liquid palm sugar. However, more modern versions are now made with a variety of different ingredients like jackfruit, durian, cream cheese, and chocolate sprinkles.
Last but not least is colenak, a simple but delicious Indonesian dessert hailing from the province of West Java. Like ronde, it’s something you should look for when you visit the provincial capital of Bandung.
The main ingredient in colenak is peuyeum or fermented cassava. The fermented cassava is roasted on charcoal before being served with kinca.
If you’re drawn to uncommon ingredients, then you should definitely try colenak. Interestingly, the name colenak is a portmanteau word for dicocol enak, which translates to “delicious dip”.
Photo by Sassi Photoworks
FINAL THOUGHTS ON INDONESIAN DESSERTS
To be honest, I prefer savory over sweet. Delicious Indonesian dishes like sate and babe guling will always be my jam but it’s nice to have refreshing desserts like cendol and klepon to enjoy right after.
With so many islands and provinces to visit, you certainly won’t run out of tasty desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth in Indonesia!
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Cover photo by Ariyani Tedjo. Stock images via Shutterstock.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Traveleater and Latvian food expert Kārlis Šulcs from Riga shares with us 15 traditional dishes you need to try on your next trip to Latvia.
It’s been said that God created the world in seven days, but not everyone knows that he didn’t mention a few details. At one time, God’s toes touched the shores of a white sand beach with pine trees in the distance. He knew what to call that land – Latvia.
Latvia is the beating heart of northeastern Europe. It’s situated on the shores of the Baltic sea, which provides Latvia with its pulsating vein of life – the river Daugava. The people living on these shores are called Latvians, and our ancestors loved this land dearly. The lakes, evergreen trees, fields of grain in summer, and golden leaves during autumn…it was something dear to hold on to.
They worried that such a wondrous land would be desirable to many strangers. “They’d surely love to put their feet up on our tables”, they thought. So, they asked God for advice, and he gave them hearty food to fill those tables. They thanked him because they knew that their bellies needed to be full to protect their precious home.
Nowadays, we love sharing those meals, whether it be with family, friends, guests, or strangers. Perhaps, you’re a stranger for now, but I hope you’ll be a friend after I share our cuisine’s stories.
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WHAT IS TRADITIONAL LATVIAN CUISINE?
All right, I admit it. I made that tale up. That’s just how I like to imagine it. But every tale has a part of truth to it. We truly think our land is so beautiful and generous that it could’ve been made only by God himself.
Latvians are creative, sturdy, and hearty people, and we love what our land can gift to us. We dance until we drop, we love until we’re dizzy, and we sure like to eat well.
Our creativity transcends into cooking too. It’s no accident that potatoes are called “second bread” in Latvia, as we know how to make many dishes from just a few things. The same goes for many other Latvian dishes, as you’ll see further on.
We love pork, fish, dairy, vegetables, berries, and anything made of flour. I could talk about the variety of Latvian cuisine for days, but I’d rather share our most beloved dishes first. Just imagining the scent of freshly-baked rye bread will make you bedazzled, and the relief of having cold soup on a hot summer’s day will make you forget about other refreshments.
I didn’t mention a tiny detail about the tale. God was actually so spellbound by the beauty of our land that he forgot to give us any recipes. So, we came up with a few ourselves!
MUST-TRY LATVIAN DISHES
1. Rupjmaize (Rye Bread)
A friend once jokingly told me – “What is it with Latvians eating rye bread? The Second World War is over! You can eat white bread now”. He had a point, though.
We’ve had some tough times in the past. Culturally, dark rye bread was a savior for our ancestors as it was fairly easy to make and very nutritious. I didn’t mention to my friend at the time that there was an irony to that statement. We love our rye bread so much that we would wage war if someone tried to take it away!
Rupjmaize or Latvian rye bread is a simplistic beauty that can be used in diverse ways. Take some rye flour, yeast, water, sugar, salt, and caraway seeds, and you’re ready to bake your own loaf.
But be wary! You’ll need a pair of strong hands to knead the dough. You wouldn’t want to arm wrestle Latvian women of the past, that’s for certain. But you’d surely love to try what we can make out of rye bread.
Photo by Fanfo
2. Maizes Zupa
If you too wondered why we love dark rye bread so much, bread soup is one of the answers. It’s a marvelous Latvian dessert that isn’t too sweet and won’t leave you with a toothache.
Latvian moms in the past had to make sure of that because there weren’t many dentists in the countryside. However, they loved their kids too much and still wanted to make them a treat after dinner.
What they came up with is maizes supa or Latvian rye bread soup (or is it rye bread pudding?) We love gathering berries and drying fruits for recipes just like this one. So, we decided to mix things and see what our taste buds say!
You’ll need soggy rye bread, sugar, water, cranberries, dried fruits, cinnamon, and whipped cream. If it seems these things don’t go together, let me tell you…there was nothing tastier during childhood summers in Latvia after playing outside with friends.
Photo by Elena Pyatkova
3. Aukstā Zupa
Summers…aren’t they getting hotter? Some Latvians think that we implemented a bottle deposit system embarrassingly late.
I think there are two good reasons why we don’t need to worry about contributing to climate change. Firstly, we have plenty of forests. Secondly, we don’t like air conditioning – we eat cold soup instead. Literally meaning “cold soup”, aukstā zupa has been the number one refreshment for Latvians for a long time, and it won’t change anytime soon.
Our mind is built in a way that when the temperature goes above 25° C, we miraculously find ourselves in the store looking for ingredients. Marinated or fresh beetroot, kefir, cucumbers, boiled eggs and potatoes, dill, spring onions, and horseradish. Sausage is optional.
The heat you feel from the boiling process will be immediately relieved after you put everything together and eat the soup in a bowl. Why shouldn’t we enjoy soup in the summer?
Photo by timolina via Depositphotos
4. Frikadeļu Zupa
Got through summer in a breeze? Then autumn and winter must be approaching. We don’t worry about that too much, though. Latvians love soups, and meatball soup is one of them.
Grandmothers watched their grandchildren building snowmen and didn’t worry about them getting blue lips from the cold. They just made meatball soup! It’s the Latvian way of feeling hot in the winter.
Frikadeļu zupa or Latvian meatball soup is made with minced meat, potatoes, vegetables, and spices. During childhood, I had to quickly fish out the meatballs from the mix of potatoes and carrots. It’s a shame to admit, but I came to appreciate soups a lot more during adulthood only.
Maybe you’d like to correct my foolishness and make a bowl right now? Latvian meatball soup is delicious on its own, but it’s truly best when enjoyed with some dark rye bread and a dollop of sour cream.
Photo by Timolina
5. Skābeņu Zupa
Don’t we all judge by looks? The pinnacle of shame of my culinary experience during childhood was skābeņu zupa or sorrel soup. Yes, Latvians have those.
Over time, I found myself putting sorrel soup in my top five favorite Latvian dishes. How can something so visually bizarre be so marvelously delicious? That’s beyond me, but as we know, Latvians know how to be versatile in the kitchen arts.
This delightful dish is made from Latvian-beloved smoked pork ribs, potatoes, eggs, spices, and sorrel. In the end, you’ll end up with a lovely bowl of bog green that tastes like a spoonful of heaven!
Try this dish and you’ll surely eat it to the last drop. Unlike me, who went to bed with a scolding, a full bowl, and an empty stomach.
Photo by MarinaMos
This is the reason why no child in Latvia was afraid to go to bed with an empty stomach after a scolding. This traditional Livonian dish has been the cornerstone of a proper breakfast for hundreds of years.
Sometimes, I suspect that I got it served so much because my grandma wanted me to have extra energy for countryside chores. And that I did have!
Bukstin porridge is made from barley groats, potatoes, onions, bacon, dill, and a dash of sour cream. If that doesn’t sound like a combination that will give you all the calories for the day, then I don’t know what does.
Photo by Fanfo
7. Kartupeļu Pankūkas
Remember when I said potatoes are called “second bread” in Latvia? These potato pancakes are one of the reasons for that noble title.
Culturally, Latvians grew and stored potatoes in basements for hundreds of years because you could make anything from them. Mashed potatoes? Sure! Need to make a salad? Potato. Soup? Potato, potato, potato.
Kartupelu pankukas or Latvian potato pancakes are something that comes like a storm from a blue sky. At first, they’re so light, and you can eat them without noticing. Probably due to the crunchy taste!
But be aware not to eat too many. Served with sour cream, they’re very nutritious, and you’ll end up not being able to move and help out with preparing Christmas dinner.
Photo by Timolina
8. Pelēkie Zirņi ar Speķi
This wonderful Christmas season… so peaceful, so quiet, and rife with seasonal Latvian food. You can almost hear the grey peas soaking in water overnight!
In the past, when Latvians couldn’t afford fancy Christmas dinners, grey peas with bacon were the traditional dish. And then, we realized that there’s nothing fancier and tastier, and that’s why it’s a traditional Christmas food to this day.
Pelēkie zirņi ar speķi is easy to make, and it only takes patience to watch the peas soak. Grey peas, bacon, fried onions, oil, spices, and a truckload of patience.
But that patience will pay off, especially if you’re a superstitious person! In Latvia, we believe you need to empty your plate to not shed a single tear in the upcoming year.
Photo by Mariia_A
9. Štovēti Kāposti
Do you still have some space in your belly? Štovēti kāposti or Latvian stewed sauerkraut is another magnificent Christmas dish. The table would seem empty without it, no matter how full it was.
This recipe has been handed down from generation to generation and is sure to make every Latvian remember their childhood and time spent with their family. Every self-respecting Latvian has their own twist on stewed cabbage too.
Sauerkraut, pig fat, and sugar don’t encompass the whole essence of this Christmas dish. It’s something that everyone should try at least once.
However, it would be quite sly to give one extra shot of Riga Black Balsam to the Latvian granny who’s making stewed sauerkraut for you. Those kitchen secrets are nothing to sneeze at.
Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
By now, your belly should already be full of Christmas delight. But you can’t just sip on Riga Black Balsam without having a light snack on top, trust me!
Latvian speck or lard patties is another Christmas dish made for snacking. It’s one of the lightest and puffiest pastries you’ll ever enjoy and one of the nine mandatory Christmas dishes.
Dough, lard, onion, sour cream, speck, and seasonings are all the ingredients you need to make your home smell like Christmas. However, I suggest not waiting until a holiday to try them. We make them throughout the year.
After all, Latvians traditionally owned livestock. What else are we supposed to make from the meat of a whole pig?
Photo by Karlis Dambrans
11. Karbonāde ar Kaulu
Latvians have always known how not to let any food go to waste. And since we’ve always grown livestock, we had to make sure that we learned how to cook every part of an animal. Bone-in pork chops are one of the finest meats you can try, and they were reserved for the top guests alongside pork loin.
To make this Latvian food favorite, you’ll need spices, butter, water, bullion, and bone-in pork chops. After a portion of these – often with a side of boiled potatoes – I never needed to wash my hands because I always licked my fingers clean. I suspect that you’ll do the same.
Photo by Chatham172
You didn’t think I was kidding when I said we were efficient, did you?
A Latvian dish that might seem controversial, asinsdesa is a type of blood sausage that’s been a delicacy since ancient Latgalian times. It’s nothing fancy since blood isn’t the finest part of a pig, but if you can get over the name and the ingredients, you’ll never forget its excellent taste.
Made from barley groats, lard, lingonberries, pig intestines, and blood, this Latvian sausage sounds like something out of a horror movie. Throw in the fact that we love to eat it with sugarless lingonberry jam, and you’ll think that we’ve lost our minds. Especially since we have a seashore for endless fishing!
Photo by SHARKY PHOTOGRAPHY
13. Smoked Fish
“God save us from the plague, fire, and the Curonians.”
It’s an inscription found written inside a Danish church circa the 11th century. Thankfully, Curonians stopped being the scourge of the seas because the region of Courland started to raise more fishermen than fighters.
Of course, that influx of fish needed proper fish preparation methods. Smoked fish has been eaten in Latvia for centuries, and it’s still a beloved dish today.
There is no singular recipe for smoked fish that can be put above another, but my favorite would be smoked lamprey. If you ever come across a fishing village on the shores of Courland, then it’s a must-have.
Photo by AJSTUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY
14. Rupjmaizes Kārtojums
We’ve come full circle, dear reader. It’s difficult to make a top 15 list of Latvian dishes without mentioning rye bread at least several times.
A dessert so well-known it has its own Wikipedia page, rupjmaizes kārtojums or layered rye bread is every child’s dream dessert. Unlike rye bread soup, the ingredients aren’t mixed but layered. After a spoonful, you’ll experience a rainbow of flavors on your taste buds!
Rye breadcrumbs, jam, whipped cream, and cinnamon are all that you need to make this classic Latvian dessert. But don’t think it can’t be even more diverse. You can use many types of jam or even sprinkle chocolate on top instead of cinnamon.
Photo by EllyGri
We’ve talked about Christmas, but what about other holidays? On the summer solstice, Latvians celebrate “Jāņi”. It’s a magical holiday when Latvians jump over bonfires, drink beer, and look for the fern flower.
As a child, I wanted to look like the adults drinking beer, but I wasn’t allowed to, of course. So, while the adults were drinking beer, I drank kvass!
Kvass is made from malt extract, water, sugar, yeast, and – you guessed it – rye bread crusts. During childhood, Latvian kids knew it had a tiny bit of alcohol content, so we loved to pretend to be adults while drinking it.
Nowadays, you can buy kvass in the store, but would it be the real taste of Latvia?
Mr.Icon (Mricon), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL LATVIAN FOOD
By now, you’ve probably noticed a trend. There aren’t too many ingredients, but there’s so much variety.
Our Latvian ancestors have been through thick and thin in the past, and sometimes, food was scarce. Latvia is small but it has a fiercely beating heart, and that fire is still present in today’s Latvians. Resilience, patience, and the love of our mothers and grandmothers are the essence of our cuisine.
No matter if you take a bite of a potato pancake or have a sip of kvass, it’s not just the food you’re tasting. You’re also feeling the spirit of Latvia. Latvians feel it in their hearts! Hopefully, you’ll feel it too.
And no matter under which sky we may be, we never forget where we came from. So while gazing up into the sky and tasting our traditional dishes, put your ear to the ground and listen. Can you hear the thumping? It’s Latvia’s heartbeat calling for you.
Cover photo by Karlis Dambrans. Stock images via Shutterstock.
I plan almost every detail of our trips but sometimes, it’s best to go into a new city blind. Aside from being a popular Caribbean destination, we knew next to nothing about Cartagena, but a few minutes in the historic center (and one meal) was all it took to make us fall in love with the city.
To be honest, we’ve always appreciated Colombian food but it’s never been one of our favorites. Cartagena may have changed all that. Seriously, wow.
I don’t want to hype up the food in Cartagena too much because I want you to be pleasantly surprised like we were. But if you’re spending a few days in this charming Caribbean town, then here are 23 Cartagena restaurants, street food stalls, bars, and cafes that really turned us on to Colombian Caribbean food.
CARTAGENA RESTAURANTS QUICK LINKS
To help you plan your trip to Cartagena, we’ve put together links to top-rated hotels, tours, and other travel-related services here.
Top-rated hotels in the San Diego neighborhood, one of the best areas to stay for first-time visitors to Cartagena.
Luxury: Hotel Casa Quero
Midrange: Hotel Cartagena Royal Inn
Budget: Casa de la Cruz
Sightseeing Tour: Walled City and Getsemani Shared Walking Tour
Food Tour: Best Street Food with Local Chef
Day Trip: Totumo Mud Volcano Experience
Cooking Classes: Cartagena Cooking Classes
Travel Insurance (with COVID cover)
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WHAT IS THE MOST POPULAR FOOD IN CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA?
You can find great food anywhere in Colombia but in Caribbean coastal cities like Cartagena, it seems to be a given. Not only is Cartagena rich in seafood dishes, but its food seems so much more redolent with flavor thanks to the African and Arab cooking traditions that have influenced costeño cuisine.
There are many delicious Caribbean dishes to try in Cartagena but in my opinion, these are the five that you absolutely cannot miss.
Cazuela de Mariscos
Cazuela de mariscos is my favorite Cartagena dish. It refers to a popular Caribbean stew made with different types of seafood cooked in coconut milk. The types of seafood used can vary per cook but it’s typically made with any combination of shrimp, squid, octopus, mussels, fish, crab, and lobster.
When made well, cazuela de mariscos is incredibly delicious and pretty much sums up what the food in this Caribbean city is all about. Do not leave Cartagena without trying it at least once (or twice).
Fresh Whole Fish
Being a coastal city, it’s no surprise that fish is a staple on restaurant menus in Cartagena. Every seafood restaurant serves some type of fish dish – whether grilled, fried, or cooked in curry or coconut milk.
Commonly served species of fish include mojarra, pargo (snapper), sierra, and robalo (snook). They’re usually served whole with a side of coconut rice and patacones (fried green plantain).
Posta negra cartagenera refers to a traditional Cartagena dish consisting of seared sirloin steak coated in a savory-sweet sauce made from panela (unrefined cane sugar), Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes Coca-Cola. It’s a popular Caribbean dish that’s typically reserved for special occasions like New Year’s Eve.
Mote de Queso
Mote de queso refers to a popular Caribbean soup made with yams, costeño cheese, chicharron, and lime juice. Like many Caribbean dishes, it’s typically served with a side of coconut rice and patacones.
Arepa de Huevo
Arepas are a staple food in Colombia but in Caribbean cities like Cartagena, a version filled with egg is popular. It’s commonly sold as street food, either filled with ground meat and egg or just egg (solo huevo).
If you were to have just one street food dish in Cartagena, then it should probably be arepa de huevo.
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN CARTAGENA
To help organize this list of the best Cartagena restaurants, I’ve arranged them by category. All the restaurants recommended in this guide are located in the walled city and Getsemani. Click on a link to jump to any section of the guide.
Cafes / Dessert Shops
Street Food Stalls
This was the meal I was talking about at the start of this article. We had our very first meal in Cartagena at Atahualpa and it completely blew us away. Being a seafood lover, I knew the food in Cartagena would be good but I wasn’t expecting this.
The very first dish I wanted to try in Cartagena was cazuela de mariscos. We had it several times in Cartagena and this version at Atahualpa was my favorite.
Depending on the chef, cazuela de mariscos can vary greatly between restaurants. Some are more seafood-y while others, like this one, are redolent with coconut flavor. The lobster pictured below grabs your attention but the real star of this bowl was the broth. It’s delicious.
If I remember correctly, Atahualpa’s cazuela de mariscos also contains shrimp, squid, mussels, and chunks of fish. It’s served with a side of coconut rice and fried yuca (cassava).
If you were to have just one dish in Colombia, then it should probably be bandeja paisa. It refers to an overflowing platter of rice, beans, chicharron, sausages, avocados, plantains, and more. Originally from the Paisa region, it’s become popular throughout the country and is considered by many to be a national dish of Colombia.
No offense to our friends in Medellin, but the best bandeja paisa I’ve had so far was right here at Atahualpa. Well-seasoned and redolent with flavor, it had rice, red beans, chicharron, chorizo, carne molida (ground meat), avocado, and arepa.
We enjoyed Atahualpa so much that we wound up eating here again, specifically to try these next two dishes.
What you’re looking at below is their bandeja caribeña, a Caribbean version of bandeja paisa. It’s made with a whole fried fish served with patacones, coconut rice, and salad.
After spending a few days in Cartagena, one of the things you’ll notice is that the chefs here cook almost everything perfectly. Soft, succulent, and juicy, this fried mojarra could not have been cooked any better. They offer other preparations of fish as well, including grilled fish, fish curry, and fish cooked with garlic (al ajillo).
If you love octopus dishes like we do, then you’re going to love Cartagena. Virtually every seafood restaurant we visited served some type of octopus dish, and for a good price too.
This one is called pulpo encocado. As its name suggests, it’s served in a savory-sweet coconut sauce with a side of coconut rice and patacones.
We found Atahualpa through our own research but it was also highly recommended to us by our Airbnb host. According to him, it’s one of the best restaurants in Cartagena for traditional dishes.
If local flavors are what you’re after, then look no further than Atahualpa. Not only was it one of our favorite Cartagena restaurants, it was also one of the most fairly priced.
Address: Cra. 7, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 8AM-11:30PM, daily What to Order: Cazuela de mariscos, bandeja paisa
2. Buena Vida Marisqueria
Being a coastal city, fresh fish and other tasty seafood dishes aren’t hard to find in Cartagena. There are many restaurants you can visit to get fresh seafood in the walled city, but one of the best is Buena Vida Marisqueria. This terrific seafood restaurant was also recommended to us by our Airbnb host.
Pictured below is an appetizer of empanadas costeras. Ground meat empanadas are among the most popular street foods in Colombia but these were filled with something even better – cazuela de mariscos.
Meat-filled empanadas are common but if you want an empanada that represents local Cartagena cuisine, then I highly recommend trying this one. It’s delicious.
You can’t visit Cartagena without having some type of fish dish at least once. We had many grilled or fried fish dishes in Cartagena but few were as beautifully presented as this one. Called parrillado abierto con mojo de cilantro, it’s a whole grilled fish made with two fillets served over yucca puree, fried garlic, cherry tomatoes, and a creamy cilantro sauce.
If you’re unsure how to eat grilled or fried fish that’s served whole, then this is a good dish to try. Most of the work has already been done for you.
Buena Vida Marisqueria is a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice recipient located in the heart of the walled city. By many accounts, it’s one of the best restaurants in Cartagena for seafood so it’s definitely worthy of a spot on your itinerary.
Here’s a look at the first floor dining room. Cartagena receives many international tourists so most restaurants in the walled city and Getsemani are as polished as this one. Buena Vida has rooftop seating as well.
Buena Vida Marisqueria
Address: Centro histórico, Cl. del Porvenir #Esquina, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 8AM-11:30PM, Fri-Mon / 11:30AM-11:30PM, Tue-Thurs What to Order: Seafood
3. La Mulata
We found La Mulata on our own, but it was also suggested to us by our Airbnb host. On top of that, it was recommended to us by an Instagram follower as well. With so many endorsements, a good meal at La Mulata was pretty much guaranteed.
La Mulata is another great seafood restaurant that offers fresh fish, ceviche, and other dishes. I went with the daily special – arroz de mariscos – and it came with this tasty bowl of sancocho de pescado. Sancocho is a popular Colombian soup made with vegetables, tubers, and different types of meat or fish.
This was the arroz de mariscos. Arroz de camaron is a permanent item on their menu but when you’re presented with a similar dish made with more seafood, then you go for that one. Spritzed with lime juice, it was delicious.
La Mulata specializes in seafood but they do offer a handful of other dishes as well, most notably this posta negra cartagenera. As described, it’s a local Cartagena dish made with seared sirloin steak coated in a rich savory-sweet sauce.
I prefer the seafood dishes in Cartagena but posta negra is something you should try as well, to get a well-rounded taste of the local cuisine.
La Mulata is located in a quieter part of the walled city.
La Mulata has a focused menu and a lovely Caribbean-style interior.
Address: Cl. del Quero #9 58, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 11:30AM-10PM, Tue-Sat / 11:30AM-6PM, Sun (closed Mondays) What to Order: Seafood, posta negra cartagenera
4. Restaurante Espiritu Santo
If you were to create a list of the best restaurants in Cartagena based purely on local popularity, then Restaurante Espiritu Santo has to be tops on that list. It’s a large restaurant that’s packed at almost any time of the day, mostly with locals.
Pictured below is a hearty bowl of mote de queso. It may look bland and boring but this dull-looking soup is loaded with flavor, especially when served with chicharron.
We enjoyed the sancocho de pescado at La Mulata so we wanted a full order this time. At Espiritu Santo, you get it with plantains, patacones, coconut rice, and a chunk of fried fish that you eat in the soup. Delicious!
We arrived early, right before they opened, so we were seated right away. Open only for lunch, Restaurante Espiritu Santo is very popular so you may have to wait a bit at peak lunch times. We went to their restaurant in the walled city but they do have another branch in Getsemani.
As described, Espiritu Santo has a huge dining room that’s almost always packed with locals. If you’re looking for cheap eats and local flavors, then this restaurant is one of the best places you can visit in Cartagena.
Restaurante Espiritu Santo
Address: Cl. 35 #6-69, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 11:30AM-3:30PM, daily What to Order: Sancocho, mote de queso
5. Tomillo Cevicheria y Mar
Tomillo Cevicheria y Mar is perhaps one of the best restaurants in Cartagena you’ve never heard of. Tucked away in an alley just off Plaza de San Diego, it’s another great place to enjoy a fresh seafood meal in Cartagena.
Fans of octopus dishes may want to try the pulpo a la parrilla. It consists of grilled octopus tentacles served with potatoes, chimichurri, and corozo sauce. Corozo is a type of berry that’s grown in the Caribbean region of Colombia.
Cazuela de mariscos became my favorite Colombian costeña dish so I made sure to have it for my final meal in Cartagena. Tomillo’s isn’t as creamy and coconut-y as Atahualpa’s version but it’s just as delicious. It’s redolent with seafood flavor, which other people may prefer.
Speaking of corozo berries, we had been looking for corozo juice so we were happy to find it here. There’s no shortage of fresh fruit juices in Cartagena but if you want one that’s unique to the region, then I suggest trying this.
Tomillo Cevichera y Mar is located along Calle Cochera del Hobo, just off Plaza de San Diego. It’s a tiny restaurant that’s easy to miss.
Here’s a look at Tomillo’s tiny dining room. This is pretty much the entire restaurant. I wouldn’t call it a fine dining restaurant but it’s a great place to have an intimate romantic meal in Cartagena.
Tomillo specializes in ceviches and seafood but they do offer other Colombian dishes like empanadas, arepas de huevo, and posta cartagenera as well.
Tomillo Cevicheria y Mar
Address: Cra. 8 #38 – 26, San Diego, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia What to Order: Cazuela de mariscos, pulpo a la parrilla
6. Arrabal Gastrobar
There are many great Cartagena restaurants, but Arrabal Gastrobar may have been our favorite. This hidden gem in Getsemani wowed us with their food, starting with this fantastic pulpo a la brasa. It consists of grilled octopus served in a creamy sauce made from potatoes, toasted macadamias, candied portobello mushrooms, and chimichurri.
We were spoiled rotten with terrific octopus dishes in Cartagena but this one may have been the best. It was different and amazingly delicious.
Arrabal offers two seafood rice dishes on their menu – arroz con tinta de calamar and arroz a la palenquera. Both are flavored with squid ink but the latter is cheaper and may be the more interesting of the two.
Unlike the arroz con tinta de calamar which is made with just squid, this arroz a la palenquera contains a variety of seafood like shrimp, mussels, octopus, and squid. It’s made with so much seafood that it’s impossible to grab a spoonful without biting into a chunk of squid or shrimp! Good seafood is a given in Cartagena but this may have been the best seafood dish from our trip.
It looks delicious in this picture but it looked even better when it first arrived at our table. I couldn’t take a picture before our server mixed all the ingredients together but the dish arrived with a cup of black rice in the middle and the seafood all around it.
Arrabal Gastrobar is tucked away along Calle de San Juan in Getsemani. Like Tomillo, it’s easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it.
There is so much great food to be had in this city but I highly recommend making time for this amazing Cartagena restaurant.
We were the only people there for lunch but I believe Arrabal gets busier at night. There’s a small stage for live music on the second floor.
Address: Cl. de San Juan #25-56, Getsemaní, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 12NN-10PM, Tue-Thurs / 12NN-10:30PM, Fri-Sat (closed Sun-Mon) What to Order: Pulpo a la brasa, arroz a la palenquera
7. Sierpe Cocina Caribe
Arrabal Gastrobar may have been our favorite seafood restaurant in Cartagena, but Sierpe Cocina Caribe wasn’t far behind. Great seafood isn’t hard to find in Cartagena but coincidentally, two of our best seafood meals came from restaurants in Getsemani.
Everything we ordered at Sierpe was fantastic, starting with this dip de cangrejo. It’s a crab and gratinated cheese dip served with corn tortillas.
Personally, this pulpo achiotado was my favorite octopus dish in Cartagena. It wasn’t as unique or well-presented as the octopus dish at Arrabal but it tasted incredible. This is the one dish that really turned me on to Colombian Caribbean cuisine.
I’m a big fan of crab dishes and this arroz de jaiba did not disappoint. As delicious as it is pretty, it consists of blue crab (jaiba) and vegetables served with coconut rice.
Sierpe Cocina Caribe is a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice awardee located along a street of the same name in Getsemani – Calle de la Sierpe.
Like many of the best restaurants in Cartagena, Sierpe Cocina Caribe has a simple but well-designed interior.
Sierpe Cocina Caribe
Address: Cl. de la Sierpe # 29 -09, Getsemaní, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 12:30-3PM, 6-10PM, Mon-Thurs / 12:30-11PM, Fri-Sun What to Order: Pulpo achiotado, dip de cangrejo, arroz de jaiba
8. Restaurante 1595
Restaurante Espiritu Santo is a great Cartagena restaurant to visit for traditional flavors at affordable prices. Restaurante 1595 is another. Like Espiritu Santo, it’s located in the walled city and is frequented mostly by locals.
Every entree at Restaurante 1595 comes with a bowl of soup. Today, it was sopa de res or beef soup.
Pictured below is the Filete 1595. It’s a tasty fish dish served in a creamy seafood sauce with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and rice. This plate of food, with the bowl of soup, cost us just COP 15,500 (roughly USD 3.16).
A few dishes like the Filete 1595 are available everyday but the restaurant offers two or three daily specials as well. We had lunch there on a Tuesday so I had what they call the Inquisidor. It consists of a beef roll coated in gratinated cheese and served with vegetables, rice, and mashed potatoes.
Even cheaper than the Filete 1595, this plate of food, with a bowl of soup, went for just COP 13,500. At today’s exchange rate, that’s just USD 2.76!
Can you spot the restaurant? Hidden in plain sight, Restaurante 1595 is through that first door on the left. You’d probably walk right past it if you weren’t looking for it.
Like Restaurante Espiritu Santo, Restaurante 1595 is open only for lunch. It doesn’t offer much in the way of ambiance but it does offer great food at cheap prices.
Address: Cl. 36 #7-122, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 11:30AM-3PM, Mon-Sat (closed Sundays) What to Order: Filete 1595, daily specials
9. Capitan Submarino Ostreria y Bar
Do you like oysters? If you do, then you need to have a drink with a platter of oysters at Capitan Submarino. It’s an ostreria and bar that offers inventive cocktails and oysters on the half shell, along with other dishes like ceviches, empanadas, burgers, and Cuban sandwiches.
The oysters at Capitan Submarino aren’t the biggest but who cares? They cost just COP 39,000 per dozen (roughly USD 7.96) and they taste great.
Capitan Submarino is located in one of the busiest parts of the walled city, just off Fernandez Madrid Park.
I loved the interior of Capitan Submarino. Inviting and unintimidating, it’s conducive to enjoying a few cocktails or beers and a platter (or two) of fresh oysters.
Address: Cra. 7 #3655, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 12NN-3PM, 6-10PM, Mon-Thurs / 12:30-11PM, Fri-Sat / 2-10PM, Sunday What to Order: Oysters
10. Quero Arepa
Arepa is an important dish in Colombian cuisine. It’s essentially a type of bread made with ground maize dough. Like tortillas to Mexico or rice to most Asian countries, it’s a staple dish that’s often eaten as a snack or side dish to larger Colombian meals.
We’ll get to it later but arepas de huevo (with egg) are especially popular along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Quero Arepa offers many Colombian dishes but as their name suggests, they specialize in sandwiches made with arepas. They offer almost two dozen arepa sandwiches filled with a variety of different ingredients, including vegetarian options.
Pictured below is the Sirena. It’s generously filled with shrimp smothered in a housemade sauce with garlic and vegetables.
They call this one Toto la Momposina. It’s filled with Colombian chorizo sausages and cheese.
Tucked away in Barrio San Diego, Quero Arepa is a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice recipient with a near-perfect 4.5 star rating.
Address: Calle Quero Calle 37 ##9130, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 11AM-9:30PM, daily What to Order: Arepa sandwiches
11. La Estrella
La Estrella was one of our favorite places in Cartagena, not necessarily because of the food, but because of its fun atmosphere. Located in the walled city and frequented mostly by locals, La Estrella is a restaurant/bar that serves inexpensive Colombian food and drinks.
La Estrella is open from early in the morning until late at night but they only serve food until 3:30PM. I went with a fish dish that came with this starter of sopa de res. Just look at that hefty chunk of beef bone!
For just COP 29,000 (roughly USD 5.92), my mojarra rojo en sumo coco (red mojarra in coconut milk) came with a whole mojarra fish, a bowl of beef bone soup, patacones, rice, and a side salad. Talk about a great deal!
As described, mojarra is one of the most common types of fresh fish you’ll find in Cartagena and something you should try at least once.
This wasn’t the best bowl of cazuela de maricos we had in Cartagena but it was one of the least expensive, not to mention the most overflowing. The seafood was practically spilling out of the bowl.
The food is decent at La Estrella but what we really liked about this restaurant is its relaxed local vibe and cheap beers. Colombian Aguila beers went for just COP 5,000-6,000 a bottle, which was one of the cheapest we found in Cartagena.
If you visit La Estrella after 3:30PM, then you can have beers, shots of hard liquor, and snacks.
Address: 152 Cra. 6 #36 Cartagena, Bolivar Colombia Calle de la Universidad; esquina con calle del Sargento Mayor, Cartagena Colombia What to Order: Colombian seafood and meat dishes, alcoholic drinks
CAFES / DESSERT SHOPS
12. La Esquina del Pandebono
Located in an often-treaded part of the walled city, I’m sure you’ll walk by this local bakery and cafe often during your stay in Cartagena. Popular with both locals and tourists alike, I dare you to walk by and not pick up a few of their breads and pastries.
As their name suggests, their bread and butter is pandebono but they offer many other types of bread and pastries as well like almojabana, pandeyuca, and pasteles.
We made many stops at La Esquina del Pandebono, including a to-go bag before going to the airport. The salchiqueso was a standout as was the pastel de carne. For truly local flavors, you may want to try the pastel de ajiaco or pastel de posta cartagenera.
Everything we had at La Esquina del Pandebono was delicious so I’m not surprised why this bakery is so popular. Whatever you get, do enjoy it with some hot chocolate or coffee.
The pasteles are delicious but my favorites are the breads. What you’re looking at below is the almojabana or Colombian cheese bread made with cornmeal and cuajada cheese. Cheesy and bouncy in texture, it’s absolutely delicious, especially when paired with their hot chocolate.
Pandebono is another type of Colombian cheese bread, but this time made with cassava starch. It has a similar texture and is just as delicious as the almojabana.
Of the three types of Colombian bread pictured here, this pandeyuca may be the most interesting. It’s an extremely airy bread (almost hollow) that’s also made with cassava starch and cheese.
La Esquina del Pandebono is located on the corner opposite Buena Vida Marisqueria. Esquina in Spanish means “corner.”
La Esquina del Pandebono
Address: Calle San Agustin #35 – 78, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 6AM-9PM, daily What to Order: Colombian bread, pastries
13. Mila Pasteleria
Our Airbnb host recommended many restaurants, bars, and cafes to us. Based on the way he described them, you could tell what his favorite places were and he couldn’t have been more glowing in his endorsement of Mila Pasteleria. According to him, it’s a local institution and a must-visit in Cartagena.
Mila offers an extensive menu of breakfast dishes, Colombian soups, snacks, and entrees but we were here for their coffee and desserts. We spied this exquisite-looking strawberry and blueberry cake at the next table so we asked for the same.
Our host was right. The cakes and pastries here are delicious.
The strawberry cake was pretty but this milhoja de arequipe airbrushed with gold is downright beautiful. Milhoja refers to mille-feuille while arequipe is the Colombian term for dulce de leche or cajeta.
What better way to wash down your cakes than Colombian coffee? To be honest, I didn’t think Colombian coffee would be significantly better but I was wrong. Coffee is amazing everywhere in Colombia.
We had every intention of going back to Mila Pasteleria for breakfast but unfortunately, we never made it. There’s just too much good food in this city that we couldn’t find the time.
Aside from being a local favorite, Mila Pasteleria is a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice awardee so you may want to have more than just dessert here.
Address: Cl. de la Iglesia #35-76, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 8AM-10PM, Mon-Sat / 9AM-9PM, Sun What to Order: Desserts, breakfast
14. Caffe Lunatico
If you want great coffee with a view, then you may want to visit Caffe Lunatico in Getsemani. It’s a popular restaurant cafe that makes it to almost every “where to eat” list in Cartagena.
We had just eaten lunch when we went to Caffe Lunatico so we only had coffee and this delicious creme brulee, but they are a Spanish tapas bar so you may want to come here for more than just dessert.
Caffe Lunatico is more than a restaurant. Aside from offering savory food, desserts, cocktails, and coffee, they also organize guided food tours and conduct cooking classes. On certain nights of the week, they even offer salsa dancing classes!
There’s a larger dining room at the end of this hallway but sitting here offers the best views.
You’ll have a view of the old city’s walls and Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in the distance. You can also see the Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa from here.
The kitchen where they conduct cooking classes is located in the room to the right, on one side of the hallway.
Address: Av. Pedregal#29-225, segundo piso, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 10AM-10:30PM, Mon-Sat / 9AM-10PM, Sun What to Order: Tapas and desserts
15. Golden Coffee
Like I said, the coffee is good everywhere in Colombia so it doesn’t really matter where you go. However, I do recommend buying a cup from this cute mobile coffee bar called Golden Coffee. It’s built into a red Willys jeep and can be found parked on the same spot along Carrera 7 in the walled city.
Manufactured by the US military in the 1940s, the Willys jeep has become an icon of Colombia.
I thought that the Golden Coffee jeep is permanently parked in the same spot but they actually drive it here every morning. It was here on most days but I did see it set up in other places once or twice during our stay.
It isn’t everyday you get to enjoy great Colombian coffee from the back of a shiny red jeep!
Address: Along Carrera 7 (near SV Hostal Badillo) Operating Hours: 8AM-11PM, daily What to Order: Coffee
We were lucky to have a Goyurt shop down the street from our Airbnb so we’d sometimes pick something up here before heading back to our place.
Goyurt is a popular frozen yogurt shop with branches throughout Colombia, including two within the walled city of Cartagena. They offer cups of frozen yogurt, popsicles, parfaits, and smoothies.
Goyurt offers many delicious popsicle flavors but if you want something local, then I suggest trying the arequipe.
Goyurt’s popsicles are delicious but we enjoyed their frozen yogurt even more. You can get them in four sizes with sauces and toppings of your choice. Nothing beats the Cartagena heat better than a cup of Goyurt frozen yogurt!
Goyurt has two branches in Cartagena – this one on the corner of Calle Cochera del Hobo and Calle 38 and another one along Calle 35.
Address: Corner of Calle Cochera del Hobo and Calle 38, San Diego, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 10AM-11:30PM, Sun-Thurs / 10AM-12:30AM, Fri-Sat What to Order: Frozen yogurt
17. Gelateria Tramonti
Do you know what else you can do to beat the heat in Cartagena? Indulge in a cup of gelato. You can do just that at Gelateria Tramonti, a terrific gelato shop located in the heart of the walled city.
Thick and oh so creamy, Tramonti offers many delicious flavors of Italian gelato. We went with the pistachio, Colombian coffee, and zarzamora con queso (blueberry cheesecake).
Gelateria Tramonti is located along Calle 35, near the corner of Carrera 5.
Address: Centro Histórico, Calle de Ayos # 4-50, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 9AM-1AM, Mon-Sat / 9AM-12MN, Sun What to Order: Gelato
STREET FOOD STALLS
18. Los Fritos de Dora
Anyone who knows me well knows that nothing excites me quite like good street food. Do a search for the best street food stalls in Cartagena and you’re likely to land on a page heaping praises on Los Fritos de Dora.
This humble street food stall at Plaza San Diego has been selling some of the best fritos (fritters) in Cartagena for almost sixty years now. From the moment they open at 4:30PM, the cart is swarmed by locals and tourists looking for good food at next-to-nothing prices.
We wanted to try everything at Los Fritos de Dora so we must have eaten here on four or five different occasions. We started off with the carimañolas which are football-shaped yuca fritters stuffed with either meat or cheese. I suggest trying both.
When a Colombian college friend of mine saw that we were in Cartagena, she excitedly messaged me and told me to try arepas de huevo. A popular street food in the Caribbean region of Colombia, it refers to a type of arepa stuffed with ground meat and eggs (or just eggs).
We tried arepas de huevo from many street vendors in Cartagena and Los Fritos de Dora was head and shoulders better than the rest. The texture of their arepas was just different.
You can get arepas de huevo with just eggs but I preferred the version with both eggs and meat. If I remember correctly, this tasty fried parcel set us back just COP 2,900 (around USD 0.59).
These papas con huevo y carne are fantastic as well. You seriously need to try everything from this stall.
Los Fritos de Dora
Address: Plaze de San Diego, Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar Operating Hours: 4:30PM-12MN, daily What to Order: Fritos
19. Fritos la Mona
Los Fritos de Dora may have been our favorite fritos stall in Cartagena but Fritos la Mona is no slouch either. Located in a more central part of the walled city, this humble street food stall has its own small army of fritos devotees.
Pictured below is their own tasty version of papas con huevo y carne.
Their arepas de huevo are delicious as well. Like Los Fritos de Dora, Fritos la Mona is popular so they’re constantly churning out a steady stream of fritos.
Fritos la Mona
Address: Cra. 7 #36-2 a 36-122, Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 4PM-12MN, daily What to Order: Fritos
20. Cocteleria El Buen Sabor
I’ve always had my doubts about seafood sold as street food but these cocteles made me a believer. Made with different types of seafood dressed with ketchup, mayonnaise, hot sauce, lime juice, onions, and cilantro, cocteles are a popular and shockingly delicious type of Cartagena street food.
Cocteles de camaron is the most common but you can get it with octopus, crab (jaiba), sea snails (caracoles) squid, and clams (chipi chipi) as well. We tried four different kinds and we enjoyed them all. They’re especially delicious when paired with saltine crackers.
On the way to Getsemani from the clock tower, you’ll walk by this cluster of four or five stands selling cocteles. It probably doesn’t matter where you go but we went to the stall called Cocteleria el Buen Sabor.
Cocteleria El Buen Sabor
Address: Av. Venezuela, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia What to Order: Cocteles What We Paid: COP 9,000-34,000, depending on the size of the cup
21. Portal del los Dulces
We recently spent almost a year in Mexico where we tried many different types of dulces tipicos (typical sweets), mainly from Puebla and Michoacan. As good as the sweets are in Mexico, Colombian dulces tipicos may be even better.
In Cartagena, the most famous area to buy dulces tipicos is Plaza de los Coches. Situated near the clock tower, it’s home to a row of candy stalls selling a variety of sweet treats like cocadas, alegrias, panderitos, and muñequitos de leche.
We bought a sampler pack because we wanted to try as many as we could. Everything was delicious but the clear winners were the cocadas or baked coconut candies.
Made with coconut shreds flavored with different ingredients, Colombian cocadas are absolutely delicious and something I ate almost everyday in Cartagena.
I didn’t taste a cocada I didn’t like in Cartagena but personally, my favorites were the ones flavored with panela and pineapple. They’re so good!
Portal del los Dulces
Address: Cra. 5 #33-15, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 11AM-8PM, daily What to Order: Dulces tipicos
22. Donde Fidel Salsa Bar
Our Airbnb host recommended a few of his favorite bars to us. In his words, Donde Fidel Salsa Bar is very touristy but a must-do for first-time visitors to Cartagena.
Touristy or not, Donde Fidel is loads of fun and a great place to grab a beer while listening to salsa music.
Donde Fidel Salsa Bar is located near the clock tower, at Plaza de los Coches. It may be touristy but it’s one of the most fun and vibrant areas of the walled city.
We went to Donde Fidel twice and we enjoyed sitting outside and drinking Aguila beers while watching people dance to salsa music. I don’t know if they ever play live music but that would be awesome.
Donde Fidel Salsa Bar
Address: Portal de los Dulces, Cra. 4, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 2PM-2AM, daily What to Order: Alcoholic drinks
23. Cafe del Mar
Cafe del Mar is another touristy bar that’s a must-do for first-time visitors to Cartagena. Open from 4:30PM, the bar is perched on the western end of the fortifying wall and offers spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea and sunset.
However, unlike Donde Fidel that offers reasonably priced Aguila beers at COP 8,000, the drinks at Cafe del Mar are decidedly more expensive. The same Aguila beer will run you COP 15,000 here.
The view from Cafe del Mar does come at a price, but there’s a much cheaper alternative. Keep scrolling to learn more.
Cafe del Mar
Address: Baluarte de Santo Domingo, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia Operating Hours: 4:30PM-2AM, daily What to Order: Alcoholic drinks
One of the many things we love about Cartagena is that you’re legally allowed to drink beer anywhere, not just at bars and restaurants. You can drink a beer while walking around town so you’ll find vendors at parks and street corners selling cold beers and other alcoholic drinks.
Take a stroll along the wall and you’ll find several vendors here selling beer for just COP 6,000 a can. Here’s me showing off a can of Aguila beer within shouting distance of Cafe del Mar. Same beer, same view, at less than half the price.
To help you navigate to these restaurants in Cartagena, I’ve pinned them all on the map below. Click on the link for a live version of the map.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
Our Airbnb host was invaluable in helping us put together this guide to the best restaurants in Cartagena. Finding the best local restaurants is what we try to do on every trip and his recommendations helped us do just that. ¡Muchisimas gracias!
We didn’t go but our host also recommended Carmen, a fine dining restaurant that makes it to virtually every article listing the best restaurants in Cartagena. They have an à la carte menu but they also offer a seven- and eleven-course tasting menu.
He also recommended Restaurante 1621, which in his words is “the most expensive and exquisite restaurant in Cartagena”. It’s located inside Hotel Sofitel so if you’re looking for a truly special meal in Cartagena, then you may want to make reservations there.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading this article on some of the best restaurants in Cartagena. If you have any questions, then please feel free to ask us in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading and have an amazing time eating your way through Cartagena. The food, like the city itself, will definitely win you over. ¡Provecho!
Some of the links in this article on the best Cartagena restaurants are affiliate links. What that means is that we’ll get a small commission if you make a booking at no additional cost to you. As always, we only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. ¡Muchas gracias!
My sister is married to a Kiwi. Each year, she and my brother-in-law would spend time at his family home in Christchurch. On some years, they’d rent a campervan and take to the road to explore the boundless natural beauty of New Zealand’s South Island.
Of all my sister’s stories, the one that resonates with me most has to do with salmon. On their drive down to Queenstown, they make it a point to stop at this one salmon farm that serves the freshest salmon sashimi. They enjoy it so much they wind up buying whole salmon to take with them on the trip. In my sister’s words, the salmon is so fresh it literally dissolves on your tongue like butter.
That, for me, is what New Zealand food is all about – the freshest food produced locally, prepared simply, and enjoyed in the most pristine settings. This is pretty much what you can expect from the food in New Zealand.
With the help of my brother-in-law Jeremy, I’ve compiled this list of fifteen dishes and drinks to look forward to on your next trip to New Zealand. Kia mākona!
FOOD IN NEW ZEALAND QUICK LINKS
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand and want to really learn about Kiwi cuisine, then you may be interested in joining a New Zealand food or wine tour.
New Zealand Food Tours: Food and Wine/Drinking Tours in New Zealand
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Photo by Anna_Shepulova
WHAT IS TRADITIONAL NEW ZEALAND CUISINE?
As an island nation in the South Pacific, traditional New Zealand cooking relies heavily on seasonal local produce. It’s primarily an agricultural economy that derives its food from both land and sea.
Similar to Australia, the food in New Zealand can be described as a British-based cuisine with Pacific Rim and Mediterranean influences. In particular, Māori traditions have played a significant role in shaping the New Zealand diet.
When indigenous Māori migrated to New Zealand, they brought with them food products and cooking techniques like kūmara (sweet potato), taro, hue (calabash), and hāngi (pit cooking). Many of these ingredients, most notably kūmara and hāngi, have become important parts of New Zealand food culture.
When the first Europeans arrived in the late 18th century, they in turn brought their own foods which were incorporated into the local cuisine. Pork and potatoes were well-received, as were mutton, pumpkin, wheat, sugar, and fruits.
But the biggest European influence on New Zealand food came by way of British settlers who arrived in New Zealand in the 19th century. Wanting a taste of home, they used local ingredients to replicate dishes from their homeland. To this day, British-based dishes like mince pie, colonial goose, and fish and chips remain important parts of the local cuisine.
MUST-TRY NEW ZEALAND FOODS
I thought I’d kick off this article on New Zealand foods with Marmite, arguably the most polarizing dish on this list. New Zealanders like my brother-in-law love it but to foreigners, it’s very much an acquired taste.
Similar to British Marmite and Australian Vegemite, Marmite is a branded, yeast-based food spread produced by the Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company in New Zealand. It’s a by-product of the beer brewing process that’s known for its intense salty-sour flavor. Some people have described its taste as being reminiscent of old engine oil and I can’t say I don’t understand them.
Like caviar, beer, or stinky tofu, Marmite may shock your senses when you first take a bite but eat it enough and you may develop a taste for it. My brother-in-law Jeremy can’t understand why some people don’t like it. Ha!
Photo by richardmlee
2. Mince Pie
As described, mince pie is one of the most popular examples of the British influence on New Zealand’s cuisine. Also known as a meat pie, it refers to a palm-sized pastry made with minced meat, gravy, and other ingredients like mushrooms, onions, cheese, and tomato sauce.
Mince pies are an iconic New Zealand dish that’s equally popular in Australia. It’s eaten primarily as a takeaway snack and considered by many to be a national dish of New Zealand.
Photo by agcreations
3. Fish and Chips
Like mince pie and Marmite, fish and chips is a clear example of the British influence on New Zealand food. It’s another popular takeaway food that’s made with battered and fried fresh fish – usually elephant fish, red cod, blue warehou, tarakihi, or hoki – served with chips (french fries).
You can have them with regular chips but fish and chip shops will sell them with kūmara or sweet potato chips as well.
Photo by lucidwaters
4. Whitebait Fritters
When I showed Jeremy my preliminary list of New Zealand foods, he told me: “You need to add whitebait fritters!” Considered a delicacy in New Zealand, the term “whitebait” refers to the immature fry of fish.
Whitebait can pertain to different species of fish but in New Zealand, it refers to the fry of freshwater galaxiid fish. They’re typically harvested when they’re about 15-22 weeks old and measure around 45-55 mm (1.7-2.2 in) in length. For sustainability reasons, whitebaiting in New Zealand is a seasonal activity with a legally fixed period.
As its name suggests, whitebait fritters are fried patties made with a mixture of whole whitebait and beaten eggs. You can often find them at the same shops that sell fish and chips.
Photo by Inanga at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
If you’re willing to splurge on seafood, then you’ll definitely want to try crayfish. Known locally as crays, crayfish or rock lobsters are similar to Maine lobsters except they lack the large pincers on their first pair of walking legs.
There are two species of rock lobster common along New Zealand’s coast and offshore islands – the red or spiny rock lobster and the packhorse rock lobster. Fully-grown specimens can fetch up to NZD 85 at New Zealand restaurants. Not exactly the cheapest dish but definitely one of the most decadent and delicious.
Photo by YAYImages
6. Green-Lipped Mussels
No discussion on the best New Zealand seafood can be complete without mentioning green-lipped mussels. Endemic to New Zealand, it’s a large mussel species that gets its common name from the tinge of green on the outer edge of its shell.
Green-lipped mussels have been a delicacy in New Zealand for hundreds of years. They’re abundant and cheap and typically served grilled or steamed. Green-lipped mussels can be found throughout New Zealand with some of the tastiest specimens coming from the Marlborough region of South Island.
Photo by PhaiApirom
You may have heard that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand. It’s true.
In 2019, it was estimated that sheep outnumbered people by about 5.6 to 1 in New Zealand. That statistic is surprising enough but it’s a far cry from the 22 to 1 figure recorded in 1982! Sheep farming is an important industry in New Zealand so it’s no surprise that lamb is frequently on the menu.
What makes sheep in New Zealand different is that they’re grass-fed throughout their lives. They’re also slaughtered at a younger age which makes them tastier and more tender than their grain-fed counterparts in other countries.
They can be cooked in a number of ways but roast lamb is the most popular. Pair roast leg of lamb with a bottle of good New Zealand wine and you’ve got the ultimate Kiwi favorite.
Photo by golubovystock
8. Māori Hāngi
There’s no better way to experience New Zealand food culture than with a hāngi. It refers to a traditional Māori method of cooking meat and vegetables in an earthen oven.
To prepare a hāngi, a pit is dug to a depth of about 50–100 cm (20–40 in) and lined with rocks heated to 600–700 °C (1,100–1,300 °F). Meat and vegetables are placed in separate wire baskets lined with banana leaves or aluminum foil. The meat basket is placed over the heated rocks first followed by the vegetables. The pit is then covered with earth, leaving the food to cook for about 3-4 hours.
This slow-cooking method results in smokey, earthy vegetables and fall-off-the-bone meats. It’s a Māori tradition that’s typically reserved for larger gatherings and special occasions.
Photo by lucidwaters
9. Anzac Biscuit
The Anzac biscuit is a type of sweet biscuit that’s equally popular in New Zealand and Australia. It’s made with rolled oats, flour, butter, golden syrup, sugar, and baking soda.
Interestingly, the Anzac biscuit gets its name from its association with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) established in World War I. According to the story, wives and women’s groups preferred sending Anzac biscuits to soldiers abroad because they were made with ingredients that kept well during naval transportation.
Photo by NoirChocolate
When I asked my sister to write this guest post about pavlova, it earned me bonus points with my brother-in-law. He was happy that I classified it correctly as a New Zealand dessert and not Australian. New Zealanders are so adamant about claiming pavlova as their own that they’ve declared it a New Zealand national dish.
Pavlova refers to a cake-like block of baked meringue topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream. It was invented sometime in the early 20th century and named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who toured New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s.
Photo by GreenArt_Photography
Like Anzac biscuits and pavlova, lamingtons are a popular dessert in both Australia and New Zealand. But unlike pavlova whose origins are often disputed (sorry Jeremy), lamingtons are definitively Australian in origin. They’re said to be named after Lord Lamington, the Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901.
Lamingtons are little cubes of butter or sponge cake coated in chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut. They can de made with or without a thin layer of cream or strawberry jam between the two lamington halves.
If you’re familiar with Croatian food, then you may recognize these as čupavci.
Photo by Dariozg
12. Hokey Pokey Ice Cream
Hokey pokey is the New Zealand term for honeycomb toffee and refers to an iconic flavor of Kiwi ice cream. It consists of creamy vanilla ice cream mixed in with small, solid lumps of toffee.
Interestingly, hokey pokey ice cream is often cited as an example of Kiwiana, a New Zealand term used to describe iconic and sometimes quirky objects that “contribute to a sense of nationhood”.
Photo by [email protected]
13. Golden Kiwi
We’re all familiar with the kiwi, an iconic fruit that’s often used as a nickname for New Zealanders. Most people know kiwis to have green flesh but did you know that yellow or golden kiwis are also common in New Zealand?
Ranging in color from a bright green to an intense yellow, golden kiwis are sweeter and more aromatic than their green cousins. They’re also known to have a softer texture with smoother, less rough skin.
Photo by bergamont
14. Mānuka Honey
When I think of interesting New Zealand foods, mānuka honey is one of the first things that comes to mind. It’s interesting because it looks, smells, and tastes different from golden honey. As you can see below, it looks more like dulce de leche than regular honey.
Mānuka honey is made from bees that pollinate the mānuka tree. It’s known for its strong aroma and flavor that’s been described as “florid, herbaceous, and earthy”. It’s more viscous than golden honey and is typically eaten raw to preserve its strong antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties.
Photo by Dpimborough
15. Lemon & Paeroa (L&P) Soda
Rounding out this list of New Zealand foods is Lemon & Paeroa (L&P) Soda, an iconic soft drink that’s been enjoyed in New Zealand since 1907. L&P is originally from the North Island town of Paeroa where it was made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water. Today, the brand is owned and manufactured by the Coca-Cola company.
Like hokey pokey ice cream, L&P is an example of Kiwiana. Its advertising slogan – “World famous in New Zealand” – has become a popular saying that’s often used to describe items that are famous in New Zealand but unknown to the rest of the world.
Photo by Kristoferb, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
NEW ZEALAND FOOD TOURS
At the risk of stating the obvious, no one knows the food in New Zealand better than a local. If you really want to learn about the local cuisine, then one of the best ways to do that is to join a food tour.
Not only will a knowledgeable guide take you to the city’s best restaurants and markets, but they’ll be able to explain all the dishes and wines to you in more detail. Check out Get Your Guide for a list of food and wine tours in New Zealand.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON NEW ZEALAND CUISINE
We’re yet to take up my brother-in-law’s open invitation to go traveleating in New Zealand, but we will soon. After all, roast lamb is a big part of Ren’s hypothetical last meal. With nearly six grass-fed animals to every person, there are few better places in the world to eat lamb than in New Zealand.
I just texted my sister but she can’t remember the name of that salmon farm near Queenstown. My brother-in-law knows. I’ll be sure to ask them again before that trip.
Some of the links in this New Zealand food guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a booking at no additional cost to you. As always, we only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as it helps us make more of these free travel and food guides. Thank you!
Cover photo by Kate_Smirnova. Stock images via Depositphotos.
When deciding upon which cities to visit on this year-long (or more) trip to Mexico, I googled “best food cities in mexico”. Taste is subjective so articles varied in their recommended cities, but there were a handful of destinations that made it to nearly every list – Puebla, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, and Merida.
Merida, the capital city of Yucatan state, is one of the most visited destinations in the Yucatan Peninsula. Known as the cultural heart and soul of the Yucatan, millions of travelers flock to Merida each year to admire its colonial architecture and taste its fantastic regional cuisine. Visit Merida and you’ll be treated to a bevy of delicious Yucatan dishes like cochinita pibil, salbutes, panuchos, queso relleno, and sopa de lima.
Because of its popularity and size, Merida was the only Yucatan city mentioned on those lists, but you can experience the same level of food throughout much of the Yucatan Peninsula. I spent over a week in Valladolid and was smitten by the Yucatecan cuisine there too.
If you love Mexican food like we do, then you’re going to enjoy visiting this part of Mexico. Food is a major part of the Mexican experience so be sure to look for these 25 traditional Yucatecan dishes on your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula.
YUCATECAN FOOD QUICK LINKS
If you’re staying long enough in the Yucatan and want to really dive into Yucatecan food, then you may want to join a guided tour or take a cooking class. They’re among the best ways to learn about Mayan cuisine. Check out some of the most popular food-related tours and activities in different cities throughout the Yucatan.
Food Tours: Yucatan Food Tours
Yucatan Cooking Classes: Merida | Riviera Maya
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WHERE IS THE YUCATAN PENINSULA?
When used to describe a destination in Mexico, the term “Yucatan” can pertain to one of two things – Yucatan State and Yucatan Peninsula.
Yucatan State – or officially the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatan – is one of 32 states that comprise the Federal Entities of Mexico. It consists of 106 municipalities, the capital city of which is Merida.
Yucatan Peninsula refers to the large peninsula that encompasses southeastern Mexico and adjacent parts of Guatemala and Belize. The peninsula is home to three Mexican states – Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche – along with almost all of Belize and the Petén Department of Guatemala.
The Yucatan Peninsula was the central location of the ancient Mayan civilization. Vestiges of the Mayan people can be appreciated in the many archaeological sites throughout the peninsula, the most famous being Chichen Itza and Tulum. It can also be enjoyed in its regional cuisine, which is why Yucatan food can also be described as Mayan food.
In this article, we’ll talk about traditional Mayan food that you can enjoy in the Mexican part of the Yucatan Peninsula, mostly from the State of Yucatan.
WHAT IS TRADITIONAL YUCATAN FOOD?
Traditional Yucatan cuisine is heavily influenced by Mayan food, but it also draws influences from European (Spanish and Dutch), Caribbean, North African, and Middle Eastern (Lebanese) cuisines.
Much of Yucatan cooking is based on four types of pastes or recados – steak recado (steak paste), recado rojo (red paste), recado negro (black paste), and recado blanco (white paste). These elaborate mixtures form the backbone of Yucatan Mexican cuisine and provide the flavor for many traditional Yucatecan dishes.
Steak paste is used mainly for pickling and to season meat, red paste for cochinita, black paste for relleno negro, and white paste for puchero.
Yucatan cuisine utilizes many ingredients and cooking techniques, some of the most important being sour oranges, habanero chilis, achiote, chaya, and the píib.
The sour orange (naranja agria) is perhaps the most important ingredient in Yucatan cuisine. Also known as Seville orange or bitter orange, this citrus fruit is native to Southeast Asia and made its way to the Yucatan by way of the Spanish.
The sour orange is ubiquitous in Yucatan food. It’s used in many Yucatan dishes like cochinita pibil, lechon al horno, escabeche oriental, poc chuc, and longaniza de valladolid. Sour orange juice is used as an ingredient in marinades and often takes the place of vinegar to brighten up dishes and help preserve food.
Yucatan cuisine makes use of different types of pepper but the habanero chili is the most important. Introduced to the peninsula by way of the Caribbean, habanero chilis are among the hottest peppers in the world and often used as an ingredient in spicy Yucatecan salsas.
Habanero chilis can also be roasted, pickled, or chopped into pieces and added directly to food. When mixed with sour orange juice, it works as an effective preservative to help keep perishable foods from spoiling under the intense tropical heat of the Yucatan.
Like the sour orange and habanero chili pepper, achiote is a widely used ingredient in Yucatan food. Also known as annatto, seeds from the achiote tree are crushed and used as a flavoring and coloring agent in many Yucatecan dishes like cochinita pibil. Together with sour orange juice, it’s what gives this iconic Yucatecan dish its signature color and flavor.
Achiote is also the main ingredient in recado rojo. The ground-up seeds are mixed with different spices like oregano, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and cloves to form one of Yucatan cuisine’s most commonly used spice mixtures.
Go to any Yucatan restaurant and you’ll probably see the word “chaya” on the menu. Also known as tree spinach, it refers to a nutritious chard-like shrub native to the Yucatan Peninsula.
You’ll find chaya used as an ingredient in many dishes like Yucatecan-style empanadas, huevos con chaya (eggs with chaya), tamales, and brazo de reina. Personally, I enjoyed it often as a cold refreshing beverage mixed with pineapple or lemon.
After weeks of traveling in western and central Mexico, the one thing that surprised me most about the Yucatan Peninsula was the heat. Compared to the rest of Mexico, it experiences a more tropical climate which puts food at a greater risk of spoiling.
To help preserve food, the ancient Mayans came up with a method of cooking and smoking wild game to keep it from spoiling. Freshly hunted meat would be rubbed with a spice mixture and then slow-cooked in an earthen oven called a píib or pib to keep it from spoiling on hunts that would often last several days.
Several Mayan dishes like cochinita pibil, considered by many to be the most representative dish of Yucatecan cuisine, is still prepared in this way.
MUST-TRY MAYAN DISHES IN YUCATAN CUISINE
This is by no means an exhaustive list but these are some of the most popular and delicious Yucatan foods you’ll come across when exploring this part of Mexico.
1. Cochinita Pibil
As described, cochinita pibil is considered by many to be the signature dish of Yucatecan cuisine. It was the Mayan dish featured on the Netflix series Taco Chronicles and the one I was most excited to try in Merida.
Cochinita is a traditional Yucatecan dish of slow-roasted pork marinated in sour orange juice and achiote. Cochinita literally means “baby pig” so the dish is traditionally made with a whole roasted suckling pig, though it can be prepared with pork shoulder or pork loin.
To prepare, the meat is rubbed with an achiote paste and then marinated overnight in sour orange juice. The achiote is what gives the dish its characteristic burnt orange color while the highly acidic sour orange juice acts as a meat tenderizer.
The marinated pork is then wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked for as long as 16 hours in an airtight píib. The result is an incredibly tender, citrusy, and smokey pork dish that’s typically eaten in tacos, tortas, salbutes, or panuchos. It can also be served on its own with pickled red onion and a side of corn tortillas. It’s absolutely delicious and one of the best Yucatan foods you can eat on the peninsula.
I had cochinita many times in the Yucatan but one of the best versions I had was from a restaurant in Valladolid (pictured below). They source their cochinita from Tixcacalcupul, a municipality about 20 km (12.4 miles) south of Valladolid. According to my server, this remote Yucatan pueblo is known for having some of the very best cochinita on the Yucatan Peninsula.
In the cochinita episode of Taco Chronicles, the producers were interviewing a young female traveler eating cochinita pibil tacos. According to her, she had been a vegetarian for over a year before arriving in Merida. She allowed herself to try cochinita pibil just once before resuming her journey to full-fledged vegetarianism. She ate her first cochinita pibil taco and never went back to being vegetarian again.
The cochinita pibil tacos pictured below were from the Merida restaurant featured on that episode. It was my first taste of cochinita at a Yucatan restaurant and it’s still one of my favorites.
Served on freshly made corn tortillas and topped with loads of pickled red onions, it was absolutely delicious. Go easy on the habanero salsa because it’s devilishly spicy.
2. Poc Chuc
If cochinita sounds appealing to you, then you’ll definitely enjoy poc chuc. It’s another signature dish in Yucatan cuisine made with slow-roasted pork marinated in sour orange juice.
To prepare, a thin pork fillet is marinated in sour orange juice and then grilled over a wood or charcoal fire. In the Mayan language, poc means “to toast” over hot embers while chuc refers to “charcoal”. Like cochinita, this cooking method was devised as a way of preserving meat.
Poc chuc is typically served with fresh tortillas and a variety of side dishes like pickled red onions, avocado slices, sour orange wedges, chiltomate, and frijol con puerco. Chiltomate is a charcoal-roasted tomato salsa while frijol con puerco is a classic Yucatecan pork and beans stew.
Castacan refers to the Yucatecan version of crispy pork belly. It’s made from the stomach of the cerdo pelón or hairless pig, a Mexican breed that feeds exclusively on corn, cassava, pumpkin, and sweet potato.
To prepare, the pork belly is cut into small chunks with a thin piece of skin that gets crunchy when fried. It’s typically eaten in tacos with various accompaniments like pickled red onion, habanero pepper, and Oaxacan cheese.
Pictured below is a corn tortilla filled with tasty castacan meat and black beans. It’s from Wayan’e, one of the most popular taquerias in Merida.
4. Lechon al Horno
As you can probably tell by now, pork features prominently in Mayan food. Lechon al horno literally means “baked suckling pig” and refers to a slow-roasted pork dish that’s been consumed for breakfast in the Yucatan since the time of the Spanish conquest.
Like cochinita, lechon al horno is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked for many hours in a píib. The result is incredibly tender and succulent pork meat that’s typically eaten in tacos, tortas, salbutes, or panuchos, often with refried beans and xnipec, a spicy habanero pepper salsa.
Pictured below is lechon al horno served on a panucho with pickled red onion and a shard of crispy pork skin.
Here’s lechon al horno served on a salbut. Not every restaurant does this but the best lechon al horno salbutes I had were topped with a crisped-up piece of pork skin. Delicious!
5. Lomitos de Valladolid
As its name suggests, lomitos de valladolid is a pork dish originally from the city of Valladolid. It consists of diced cubes of pork loin cooked in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. It’s typically served with hard-boiled eggs and different side dishes like corn tortillas, rice, avocado, salsa, and refried beans.
6. Longaniza de Valladolid
If you like sausages, then you need to try longaniza de valladolid. It’s a type of Yucatecan pork sausage seasoned with chile ancho, garlic, pepper, vinegar, and spices.
Longaniza de valladolid is served roasted with a variety of side dishes like pickled red onions, sour orange wedges, habanero pepper salsa, refried beans, and fried tortilla chips. When prepared well, the roasted sausage has a wonderfully crisp but crumbly texture that’s an absolute joy to eat. It’s delicious.
This is the only dish on this list of Yucatan foods that I didn’t personally try. I remember seeing it at Wayan’e but I didn’t order it because at the time, I didn’t know it was from the Yucatan Peninsula. Only after doing research for this article did I learn that it’s one of the less common specialties in Yucatecan cuisine.
Hígado in Spanish means “liver” so higadilla refers to a Yucatecan dish made with liver and other organ meats like the kidneys, heart, lungs, and tongue. The offal is meticulously cleaned and boiled with garlic, oregano, and seasonings before being chopped into cubes and flavored with sour orange juice and achiote.
8. Relleno Negro
Pavo en relleno negro – or simply relleno negro – refers to a popular Yucatecan dish made with turkey meat and ground pork swimming in a thick dark sauce. The jet-black sauce may be off-putting for some, but like mole negro or mole poblano, relleno negro gets its color mainly from roasted chili peppers (chile ancho).
Relleno negro is one of the oldest recipes in Yucatecan regional cuisine. Like many Mexican sauces, it’s made with a laundry list of ingredients like sour orange juice, achiote, tomatoes, epazote, burnt tortillas, garlic, and spices. It can be eaten on its own with chopped boiled eggs or served as a topping on salbutes and panuchos.
I didn’t see this nearly as often as relleno negro. In fact, I spotted it just once on a restaurant’s menu in Merida.
What you’re looking at is relleno blanco, a similar turkey and ground pork dish swimming in a white sauce called k’ool. The white sauce is made by adding saffron and wheat flour to the same water used to boil the turkey.
Relleno blanco is served by pouring the white sauce over the turkey and ground pork, and then finishing it with some tomato sauce.
Salbutes and panuchos are among the most common antojitos or snacks you’ll find anywhere on the Yucatan Peninsula. A salbut is basically a deep-fried tortilla topped with any number of ingredients like cochinita, relleno negro, lechon al horno, lomitos, carne asada, and seafood. Like tacos, you can basically top them with anything.
Panuchos are almost the same thing as salbutes except they’re made with corn dough stuffed with refried black beans. Like salbutes, they can be topped with anything.
Salbutes and panuchos look almost identical but you can easily tell the difference when you take a bite. While a salbut is soft, like a puffy fried tortilla, a panucho is a little harder and crunchier in texture. They’re both good but personally, I prefer salbutes.
On the plate below are two salbutes and one panucho. Can you tell which is which?
I was standing outside a busy food stall inside a market in Valladolid when I noticed nearly every customer eating these grenade-sized ovals of food. They looked similar to kibis and were stuffed with the same ingredients normally used as toppings for salbutes or panuchos.
I asked the server what it was and he told me they’re called pibihuajes. I googled them and as it turns out, they’re a specialty dish of Valladolid. According to the origin story, cochinita vendors asked chachachuajes sellers (similar to tamales) to make them so they could stuff them with their cochinita. People enjoyed them and the rest is history.
Pibihuajes are basically football-shaped spheres of bread made with dough and red beans. They’re baked in a píib before being split open and filled with different ingredients like cochinita, lomitos, and lechon al horno. They’re very firm and dense in texture – less like a bread and more like mashed plantains.
Unlike salbutes and panuchos, pibihuajes don’t seem to be as common in other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula so you should definitely try them when you visit Valladolid.
The taco al pastor is probably the most well-known dish derived from Lebanese influence on Mexican food. Kibis is another.
People familiar with Lebanese food will recognize kibis as the Mexican version of kibbeh, a meatball-like Lebanese dish made with spiced ground meat, pine nuts, onions, and bulgur wheat.
Kibis is made in a similar way as kibbeh but it differs in spices used and how it’s eaten. Being a Yucatecan dish, kibis recipes include sour orange juice and habanero chili peppers. It can also be split lengthwise and filled with various ingredients like red onion, chopped cabbage, ground beef, and queso de bola (Edam cheese).
Kibis is a popular appetizer or street snack sold throughout the Yucatan, often in glass boxes by street vendors. You can also find them at cantinas or peddled along the beach.
Polcanes are a pre-Hispanic dish commonly eaten as an appetizer or street snack in the Yucatan. They’re deep-fried patties made from masa stuffed with a mixture of ibes (Yucatecan white beans), pepitas (pumpkin seeds), chives, and ground chili pepper.
Polcanes are typically eaten with a side of red onions, cabbage, tomato sauce, and cheese. In some cases, they can also be split open and stuffed with the ingredients.
The name polcan comes from the Mayan words pol and can, meaning “head” and “snake”. They used to be more oval in shape, like the head of a snake, but nowadays, they’re typically round and resemble gorditas.
Papadzules are another Yucatecan dish with ancient roots. They resemble enchiladas and consist of stuffed corn tortillas drenched in two sauces – one made from pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and the other a tomato sauce.
If you’re a vegetarian, then you’ll definitely want to try papadzules. The dish contains no meat and is stuffed only with coarsely-chopped hard-boiled eggs. Because of its appearance, some speculate that papadzules may be the forerunner to modern enchiladas.
15. Sopa de Lima (Yucatecan soup with fried tortilla strips)
Like salbutes, panuchos, and cochinita, sopa de lima is one of the most popular dishes in Yucatan cuisine. Meaning “lime soup”, sopa de lima refers to a type of Yucatecan soup made with shredded chicken or turkey meat served in a broth with fried tortilla strips.
As you can probably guess, sopa de lima is known for its citrusy flavor derived from lime juice. Depending on the cook, it can be made with other ingredients as well like tomatoes, bell peppers, avocado, and cilantro. It’s a flavorful and filling soup that can be enjoyed as a full meal.
16. Queso Relleno
Like kibis, queso relleno is one of the most well-known examples of delicious fusion foods in the Yucatan Peninsula, this time Mexican and Dutch.
Queso relleno is a Yucatecan dish made with a queso de bola rind (Edam cheese) stuffed with a filling of spiced minced pork, ground beef, raisins, nuts, spices, and other ingredients. The stuffed rind is steamed to lightly melt the cheese before being drenched in k’ool and topped with tomato sauce.
No one really knows how, but Dutch Edam cheese became a common food item in the Yucatan. Wealthy hacienda owners would eat the creamy insides and discard the tougher rinds. Servants would save, stuff, and steam the rinds, giving rise to queso relleno.
I was particularly interested in this dish because queso de bola is popular in our native Philippines as well, especially as a Christmas food. As you can imagine, queso relleno is a filling dish so don’t expect to have room for anything else if you order this.
17. Huevos Motuleños
Huevos motuleños is one of the most popular dishes in this Yucatan food guide. We enjoyed it for breakfast all throughout Mexico without realizing that it’s originally from the Yucatan town of Motul, about 44 km (27.3 miles) east of Merida.
Huevos motuleños is a popular breakfast dish consisting of corn tortillas topped with black beans, fried eggs, cheese, and tomato sauce. Depending on the cook, it can be made with other ingredients as well like diced ham, peas, and fried plantains.
18. Pollo en Escabeche Oriental
The term escabeche refers to a cooking method popular in Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and the Philippines. It consists of marinated meats, fish, poultry, or vegetables cooked in an acidic sauce, usually with vinegar.
Pollo en escabeche oriental refers to a specific type of Yucatecan escabeche made with chicken (or turkey meat). The chicken is marinated in a mixture of vinegar, garlic, coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, and seasonings before being boiled in water with chopped red onions and sour orange juice. The chicken is then cooked on a grill and served in a broth with onions and chili peppers.
This version of Yucatecan escabeche is called “oriental” because it hails from the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, specifically Valladolid.
19. Tamales Colados
If you like Mexican tamales, then you need to try tamales colados. In her book The Art of Mexican Cooking, British food writer and Mexican food expert Diana Kennedy describes this elaborate form of tamale as “the highest form of tamale-making” in Mexico.
What makes tamales colados so special is that the masa corn dough is strained, giving it a silky soft and extra smooth texture. It’s then mixed with a gravy filling and wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed for hours. This creates a tamale that’s softer and more delicate than any other in Mexico.
Tamales colados are served in banana leaf and topped with tomato sauce. In some cases, it can also be topped with shredded chicken.
Marquesitas are among the most common street foods you’ll find in the Yucatan. Typically sold from street food carts at night, they consist of a rolled-up crunchy crepe filled with a variety of ingredients like cajeta (dulce de leche), jam, fruits, and chocolate. One of the most common versions is filled with Nutella and Edam cheese.
21. Dulce de Papaya
Dulce de papaya is a simple Yucatecan dessert of unripe papaya cooked at low heat with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and water. It’s sweet and firm in texture when cooked and usually served with small cubes or shreds of grated Edam cheese.
22. Caballero Pobre
Caballero pobre is basically the Yucatecan version of French toast. Enjoyed as a snack or for dessert, it’s very similar to Spanish torrijas or Portuguese/Brazilian rabanadas, but with its own unique twist.
To prepare, slices of bread are dipped in a mixture of milk, vanilla, and sugar. What makes caballero pobre unique is that the bread is coated in a second mixture made with egg whites that are beaten till stiff and then mixed with beaten egg yolks.
The coated slices of bread are then fried in oil and served with syrup, raisins, almond slivers, and slices of fruit.
As described, it can get brutally hot in the Yucatan Peninsula. This is why refreshing desserts and drinks like champola are a godsend in this part of Mexico.
Champola is a popular dessert in the states of Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo. It’s basically a Yucatecan milkshake enriched with pureed whole fruit like strawberry, mango, mamey, and soursop.
I asked my server for the most traditional version and he recommended I get the coconut. After drinking this, I felt like I had just gone swimming in a cenote. It was so damn refreshing.
Machacados is another refreshing dessert/drink from the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s originally from Chetumal in Quintana Roo though you can find it in other cities throughout the Riviera Maya like Cancun, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen.
Machacados are very similar to raspados except they’re made with condensed milk and crushed fruit instead of the usual flavored syrups.
25. Agua de Chaya con Piña
After trying chaya for the first time at a restaurant in Merida, it quickly became one of my favorite Mexican drinks.
As previously described, chaya refers to a type of chard-like shrub native to the Yucatan. It’s used as an ingredient in many savory dishes but I enjoyed it most as a cold beverage.
Chaya can be pureed into a refreshing drink with just water and sugar but it can also be mixed with pineapple or lemon. I tried all three and I enjoyed them all. It’s sweet and herby in flavor, but in a good way.
YUCATAN FOOD TOURS
Needless to say, no one knows Yucatan food like a local, so what better way to experience the best of Yucatan cuisine than by going on a guided food tour?
Not only will a food-obsessed local take you to the city’s best markets, restaurants, and street food stalls, but they can give you tidbits of information that you simply can’t find on Google. Check our Get Your Guide for a list of food tours in different cities throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
YUCATAN COOKING CLASSES
If you want to do a deep dive into Yucatan cuisine, then you may be interested in taking a cooking class. It’s one of the best ways to learn about Mayan food because it gives you a chance to work with the local ingredients that go behind each dish.
If you’re adept in the kitchen and want to take a cooking class in the Yucatan, then check out Cookly for a list of classes in Merida and the Riviera Maya.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON MAYAN CUISINE
At the time of this writing, I’ve been traveleating through Mexico for almost six months and Yucatecan food is some of the most interesting I’ve enjoyed so far. It’s definitely up there with Oaxacan and Pueblan food.
The taste of sour oranges, habanero, and achiote is something I’ll always associate with Yucatan food. Pork is usually the last thing I order on a restaurant’s menu but well-seasoned dishes like cochinita, poc chuc, and longaniza de valladolid will have me craving for pork long after I leave the peninsula. The Yucatecan love for slow-roasted pork is palpable and easy to understand, simply because it’s so delicious.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on the best Mayan dishes to try in the Yucatan. I certainly enjoyed writing (and doing field research for) it. We’ve fallen in love with Mexico and Mexican food so you can bet your queso relleno that we’ll be back.
Hasta luego and have a wonderful time eating your way through the Yucatan Peninsula!
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