If you say Mexican cuisine, you say spicy salsas. There is an infinite variety, depending on the region and the availability of fresh ingredients. But there is one salsa that is famous above all: Red tomato salsa or “Salsa Roja”. It’s time to discover how easy it is to make a healthy home-made salsa, using fresh ingredients that are available everywhere. Now not everybody likes it HOT, so feel free to adjust the spice level to your personal preference.
Published in the Pacific Pearl February 2020 issue
Have you ever felt overheated after a day on the beach? Have you ever eaten too much food and felt indigestion? Have you ever had a rough night after too many tequilas? Did you know locals have a cure for all these ailments. The answer might surprise you: they drink a fermented corn beverage called ‘Tejuino’ (Tay-hoEE-No). And no... it’s not going to make you drunk.
When you think of fermented food and drinks, the first things that comes to mind are probably German Sauerkraut, Korean Kimchi or Eastern European Keffir. The idea of fermenting food and drink has existed for thousands of years as a way of preserving food and its nutrients. Most cultures around the world have some form of fermented drinks, including Mexico. In the arid highlands of central Mexico you can find a fermented agave beverage called Pulque. On the Pacific coast in Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco you can find Tejuino.
The name Tejuino comes from the native Náhuatl word tequin which means heart beat. In former days this beverage was used for sacred rituals. Nowadays there are only few artisans who continue this ancient tradition, with fascinating nicknames like El Tucán, El Perico or El Champion.
Meet Sergio Maestre Villarreal, also known as El Tucán. He is the third generation of Tejuino makers and he’s proud to mention that his kids, the fourth generation, are ready to take over. Originally from Jalisco state mister Tucán arrived to Mazatlan in the 1970’s when he met his wife. They have been successfully making Tejuino ever since. You can find his shop on Aquiles Serdan street downtown or around the Juan Carrasco market. Making Tejuino isn’t an easy job. The day starts early to prepare the ingredients to sell to thirsty customers and in the afternoon the next batch has to be prepared.
What is the secret for a good Tejuino? Mister Tucán says it all starts with the basic ingredients. “First I put to soak the dry white corn in water with lime stone for three days, changing the water daily. Once the corn bursts open, I grind it into masa corn dough. Then I cook the corn dough with water for about two hours. I add raw canesugar and salt to this mixture. It is very important during this process to keep stirring to avoid lumps. I strain this corn custard and leave it to rest in closed containers for several days. In summertime it takes 10 days to ferment and in wintertime up to 14 days. I only make a limited amount of Tejuino per day. So if I sell out today, customers have to wait until tomorrow.”
Once the Tejuino corn custard is ready, El Tucán prepares the beverage with a pinch of salt, sodium bicarbonate, lime juice and shaved ice. But the mixture is not exactly the same for every customer. “If a client is complaining about a head ache, I add more salt and lime juice. If a client has an upset stomach, I add more sodium bicarbonate. I’m like a doctor curing illnesses!” The preparation is a wonderful mixology-like show where the ingredients are incorporated until it has the perfect consistency. If you’re ready to open your heart to Mexico´s traditional flavors, Tejuino should be on your must-drink list in Mazatlan!
Published in the Pacific Pearl January 2020 issue
Everybody who comes to Mazatlan wants to try our local fresh seafood and fish. A trip to the “Pearl of the Pacific” isn’t complete if you haven’t had a ceviche and a cold Pacifico beer. If you’ve been to Mazatlan a couple of times, you have probably discovered which seafood flavors you like and dislike (that’s ok, I’m not judging!). But what happens if you go to a local Marisquería (seafood restaurant), there is no English menu and the waiters only speak Spanish? Have you ever wondered about the options on the menu that you have no clue what they are? And because you don’t know what they are, you never order it? Flavor Teller comes to the rescue to break through those language barriers and decipher the local favorites.
Chicharron de pescado
Chicharron in any other situation means pork rinds. However on the menu of a seafood restaurant in Mazatlan, it refers to crunchy fried fish chunks. The story goes that Chicharron de Pescado was brought in by Peruvian sailors who arrived to the port in the 1930’s. You could easily confuse this dish with “Fish and chips”, but the cubes of white fish (sole or pufferfish) only have a flour coating before being fried. So there’s no egg or beer batter. You can order it as a main course, but it’s also the perfect appetizer to share.
Orden de Jaiba
This overlooked appetizer is very simple, yet that is its strength. It’s boiled crab meat that’s shredded and served with chopped red onion and cucumber. Then the fun starts: you assemble your own tostadas! What do you do? Get a Tostada (crunchy tortilla), cover it with mayonnaise and put a spoonful of jaiba, onion and cucumber on top. It’s a very mild flavor and kids love it (and adults too!).
You shouldn’t miss Tacos gobernador, because this scrumptious shrimp dish has a flavorful history. It’s common knowledge that Tacos gobernador were invented at Los Arcos restaurant back in the early 2000’s. The Sinaloa state governor came to Mazatlan and the restaurant owner wanted to impress his distinguished customer. His chef creates a shrimp taco with bell pepper, onion and melted Chihuahua cheese. The governor loved this nameless dish so much, that it was baptized Governor tacos.
If you thought barbecuing was just for meat, you haven’t tried Pescado Zarandeado on the Mexican west coast. A snapper is split in half from head to tail and place open-faced on a special grill rack. It’s marinated with a lime, garlic, mayonnaise and mustard mixture and topped with onion, bell pepper and tomatoe. Then it’s grilled over a charcoal fire for about 15 minutes. Pescado Zarandeado is the perfect meal to share as a main course and you can choose the size of the fish depending on your group size. Its price is stated per kilo.
The flavor sensation of this spicy shrimp ceviche is worth a try, especially if you like it hot. The origins of aguachile are disputed between Culiacan and Mazatlan. It is prepared by butterflying raw shrimp and marinating in a mix of Chiltepin chili and lime juice. It is served with slices of cucumber and onion. The key for a good Aguachile is real fresh shrimp and a short marinating time, because otherwise the shrimp will become tough. No worries if your spice tolerance level isn’t very high; just ask for fewer chilis to be added.
Published in the Pacific Pearl December 2019 issue
Have you been inside a Mexican kitchen? Have you ever seen how Mexican mothers and grandmothers create everyday food like refried beans, red rice, Mexican meatballs or home-made flour tortillas? If you’re lucky enough to see the magic in action, then you might notice one major difference with your own kitchen: nobody uses a recipe book (GASP!).
My own story with Mexican food started in the early 2000’s when I met my Mexican husband in The Netherlands, my home-country. He created these wonderful dishes that were unfamiliar to me: Tinga de Pollo, Cochinita Pibil and Rajas poblanas. Everything I tried was scrumptious and the vibrant colors of the food mesmerized me. It couldn’t have been more different from Dutch food. Mexican food was the way to my heart and for the last 15 years I can proudly call Mazatlan my home town.
The two wedding gifts that I received from my mother-in-law upon arrival to Mexico were not what I expected. I got a used lava-stone Molcajete and a pressure cooker. Not the fancy electric Instant Pot, but the good old “it-might-blow-up-in-your-face” pressure cooker. Her welcoming message with these gifts was: “Now that you’re marrying my son, you better cook him good food.” Right…. No pressure at all! Much later I realized that receiving a seasoned Molcajete is a big deal, because it’s usually passed on from mother to daughter.
But since I’m always game for a challenge, I didn’t blink and took up the dare. However where to start? My mother-in-law was kind enough to share some of her recipes with me, so I could at least put something decent on the table. Here I was with my notebook and pen, ready to scribble down all the culinary wisdom. But was I in for a surprise: Mexican mothers-in-law don’t use teaspoon, tablespoon or cup-sizes to prepare their dishes. So I cut short my Mexican cookbook idea and realized that in order to learn, I had to get my hands dirty and learn by doing!
The basics turned out to be pretty easy: how to use a pressure cooker safely, how to make boiled beans and chicken stock (using chicken feet!) from scratch, how to make red rice and Rajas poblanas and all those recipes I never thought I would master. Feeding my hungry (and growing) family was the best way to keep practicing these cooking skills.
But after some time another challenge was thrown at me. The holiday season calls for more labor-intensive dishes like Cuete Mechado, Lomo de cerdo adobado, tamales or Pozole. I’m a huge fan of Pozole, devouring large portions whenever I get a chance. However I had never thought about what goes into a proper Pozole. In essence its key ingredients are hominy corn, dried Ancho and Guajillo chilies and pork. To my surprise it isn’t just plain pork meat. In order to make a mouthwatering and authentic Pozole you need to use pig’s head or pig’s feet. So off we went to the market where my mother-in-law ordered half a pig’s head. Back at home she expertly prepped the pig’s head and cooked it in a large pot together with the other ingredients. If you’re not making Pozole enough to feed an orphanage, then it’s not worth the work. That night I savored the Pozole, despite knowing there was pig’s head in there and decided that some things are best left to the professionals.
Now if you ask me if I never use any recipes when cooking Mexican food? The truth is sometimes I do, but learning to cook with my mother-in-law has helped me become more confident in my own cooking skills. So what if I put three tomatoes instead of two in my stew, sometimes my Mexican meatballs taste a bit more like cumin and sometimes more like garlic. Life isn’t always the same, just as cooking Mexican food. The beauty lies in realizing that’s ok.
[NEW!!! Join the hands-on Mexican Kitchen experience with Flavor Teller and learn from a traditional cook how to create local dishes from scratch. For more information and bookings contact me at email@example.com.]
Published in the Pacific Pearl November 2019 issue
Want to know what Mazatlan is all about? Above anything it’s a city to be savored, not just to be seen. The first thing that comes to mind when you’re talking about Mazatlan’s culinary scene is shrimp. But what goes on behind the scenes of this million dollar industry and why is it the perfect time to eat shrimp now?
Back in the 19th century Mazatlan was a bustling cosmopolitan mining and trading city with connections to the US, Europe and South America. Fisheries weren’t an important economic activity, but this changed drastically after the Mexican Revolution in the second decade of the 20th century. Scared away by the insecurity, many of the foreign traders sold their businesses and left the country. This left the local economy in ruins, with little hope for recovery. However locals got a lucky break when in the 1930’s a Japanese delegation suggested that they should consider shrimp fishing. Until then shrimp was seen as a by-product (can you believe it!). This was the birth of Mazatlan as shrimping city. Fisheries, shrimp and tuna mainly, has been the engine of the local economy during the 20th century. Did you know that shrimp you eat at the restaurant can have different sources? That’s right: even though it is all ‘local’ shrimp, the way it’s caught can be different.
The first type is shrimp caught by small fishing boats (or pangas in Spanish) with round nets that are thrown out in the sea. The coastal fishermen can only catch shrimp close to shore or in the estuary areas. Shrimp caught by the coastal fishermen is referred to as ‘camaron de estero’. To prevent over-fishing the Mexican government has imposed seasonal bans. You can find ‘camaron de estero’ between late September and March and it’s perfect for a shrimp ceviche or spicy Aguachile.
The second type is shrimp caught by the shrimp trawlers (or barcos camaroneros). These ships sail for three weeks and catch their shrimp at sea. The shrimp is processed on the ship and flash-frozen in batches. A common measurement is the ‘marqueta’ which is four pounds of frozen shrimp selected by its size. The letter U with a number indicates how many shrimp fit in a pound. So the lower the number, the larger the shrimp: for example there are 12 shrimp size U-12 in a pound (or 48 in a marqueta). If you have to feed many, this is a great (and less expensive) option to buy shrimp. Also subject to seasonal fishing bans, you can find high-sea shrimp between October and April. These larger shrimp are perfect to prepare as beer-battered, coconut or bacon-wrapped shrimp.
The third variety is shrimp from the shrimp farms. You might have seen the large shrimp ponds when landing at Mazatlan airport. It’s the fastest growing shrimp industry because it’s not subject to fishing bans. Its yearly production almost triples coastal and high-sea shrimping production combined. You can find farmed shrimp (or ‘camaron de granja’) all year round and it’s mostly consumed as ceviche, because it doesn’t have a strong fish flavor. Farmed shrimp is usually less expensive than high-sea or estuary shrimp.
Feeling hungry already? Looks like it’s time to find the nearest sea-food restaurant (or ‘marisqueria) and devour every scrumptious shrimp option on the menu. If you’re feeling inspired to prepare your own shrimp, make sure to visit ‘Las Changueras’ shrimp market where you can find the largest variety of shrimp in Mazatlan.
Published in the Pacific Pearl October 2019 issue
The best part of living in Mazatlan is eating amazing street food and buying fresh produce year-round. And if local food is something you’re crazy about (like me!), then you’ll soon ask the question: How can I make it myself? And where do I get the tools to prepare these dishes? Don’t go looking in fancy department stores or supermarkets. You’ll find better quality cooking tools for less at the local hardware store (‘ferreteria’)! Let the shopping begin…..
Tortilla griddle, tortilla press and baskets
A meal without tortilla isn’t a meal, so must-have tools in any Mexican household are the tortilla press (‘prensa de tortilla’), the tortilla griddle (‘comal’) and tortilla baskets. If you want to make tortillas from scratch, buy fresh corn dough (‘masa’) and flatten a small ball of ‘masa’ between two plastic sheets on the tortilla press. Then the ‘comal’ comes into action: preheat the comal on a gas stove and carefully place the uncooked tortilla onto the hot ‘comal’ without any oil or butter. Grill for 1-2 minutes and flip over. Once the tortilla is ready, you place it on a fabric napkin in the tortilla basket. Make sure to cover the tortillas well, because they’re best served hot. Watch out to not burn your fingers! You can also use the ‘comal’ to char peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion for a spicy salsa, leading us to another essential tool: the molcajete…
The best salsas are made from scratch in a Mexican mortar (‘molcajete’). Once you’ve tried a home-made Salsa Roja or Guacamole, you’ll never go back to canned salsas. Lava stone or clay; it doesn’t matter as long as you season your ‘molcajete’ before its first use. How do you season a molcajete? You put a handful of dry rice into the lava stone ‘molcajete’ and grind until the rice becomes grey. Discard the rice and add another handful of dry rice. Repeat the grinding process until the rice doesn’t turn grey anymore (heads-up: it will take some elbow grease). The last step is to grind a clove of fresh garlic in the ‘molcajete’ to cover the whole inside of the bowl. Leave to rest for a night and then rinse with lukewarm water. From this moment onwards never ever (!) use soap in your ‘molcajete’.
Wood slice cutting board
The essential equipment for any taquero is a sturdy cutting board, used to chop up the grilled beef. Mostly it’s so worn-out it is almost hollow (imagine how many tacos were prepped there?). You can buy pre-cut and pre-sanded wood slices at the local hardware store. Use a soft cloth rub mineral or vegetable oil into the wood. Allow your wood slice to dry and repeat process 3-4 times as needed.
Where can I buy it?
Getting excited to go and stock up on these tools? You’ll be able to find these and many more at the ‘ferreterias’ downtown. Make sure to also look for carved wooden spoons, charcoal grills, gourd water bottles (‘jicaras de bule’), barbecue racks to make grilled fish (‘pescado zarandeado’), and even camping cots (‘catres’) and machetes.
Here are some popular shops:
Published in the Pacific Pearl Sep-Oct 2019 issue
Nowadays every serious food enthusiast talks about food pairing: white wine needs to be served with fish, red wine with beef and of course a dark beer with German sausage. But how does this work in Mexico, where lagers and tequila rule? And having a beer with your meal is common, but usually it’s not paired with a typical kind of food. It’s a whole different story for another indispensable component of a Mexican meal: the salsas. Here are some recipes how to spice it up like a local!
Getting your Vitamin Sea in Mazatlan isn’t hard at all. Seafood restaurants or ‘marisquerias’ are abundant, because of the fresh fish and shrimp arriving to port. They’re a great way to explore the delicious diversity of lunch options. Yes that’s right: seafood restaurants are traditionally only open for lunch from noon until 5 pm. A must-try is ‘Aguachile’; a spicy ceviche which combines fresh shrimp and local chilis. You can add less chili if you want.
First peel the shrimps and open them lengthwise so they look like butterflies. Then place the shrimp in a deep flat dish, together with the onion and cucumber.
Blend the garlic, lime juice, two types of chili, pepper and salt and pour the mix over the shrimp. The mix should cover the shrimp completely. Cover and marinate for a least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
You have to move the shrimp every 15 minutes so the flavor penetrates well. Before serving add some iced water and soy sauce, to make the taste less acid.
The smell of grilled beef is recognizable from several blocks away and stirs up your evening appetite. Mazatlan is bursting with street-side taquerias, but be aware that they only open after 6 pm. Wait for your ‘tacos de carne asada’ (grilled beef tacos) while munching on a cucumber or radish slice smothered with liquid guacamole. This isn’t the guacamole you might know: chunky with onion, tomato and cilantro. Taquerias in Sinaloa blend the avocado with water and some salt, making an easy topping. Another favorite salsa is ‘Salsa tatemada’ or fiery red salsa: charred tomato, chili, garlic and onion blended with chunks of avocado
Buen Provecho! (Enjoy your meal!)
Published in Pacific Pearl magazine July-August 2019 issue
What is the typical food you’d expect at a birthday party? Apart of the birthday cake, you would probably think hot-dogs, pizza, popcorn and soda. If you have ever been to a birthday party in Mazatlan, you may have found some surprising flavors. Obviously you’ll find frijoles puercos (piggy beans), often you’ll see Marlin en escabeche (pickled marlin), but have you ever tried Pastel de atún? The name of this dish is the combination of the two most unlikely ingredients: canned tuna and cake. Now don’t freak out, because it isn’t a sweet dish. Think of Pastel de atún as a savory cake that is similar to a layered cream cake with tuna. It is also known as sandwichón or large sandwich. Some might have already tried this delicacy and wondered how to make it. It’s elusive local food, because any Mazatleco can make it with their eyes closed. Funny enough pastel de atún is almost impossible to find at restaurants or even food carts. That’s why I will share the pastel de atún recipe and you can add it to your culinary collection.
1 package white bread
250ml sour cream
1 package cream cheese
1 can bell pepper (red)
1 small can Chipotle pepper (to taste)
2 cans tuna (water or oil-based)
Mayonnaise to taste
Put the sour cream, cream cheese, bell pepper, chipotle pepper, tuna and mayonnaise into a food processor and blend until smooth and pinky.
Remove the dark rims from the bread. Butter the bottom of a rectangular oven dish and cover with one layer of bread slices.
Spread a part of the tuna mixture onto the bread. Then place another layer of bread and cover with more tuna mixture. Continue until you finish with all the bread.
When the oven dish is full, decorate with some bell pepper slices. Cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Cut the pastel de atun in squares and serve with frijole puercos.
Published in Pacific Pearl magazine May 2019
Frozen desserts have always been a guilty pleasure of mine and living in sunny Mazatlan, it means that every day is ice cream day. In Mexico there is a different translation for milk-based and water-based ice cream: Helado versus Nieve. As we are bracing ourselves for the hot summer months, I want to introduce you to three tantalizing treats that are perfect to cool you down.
The best way to describe a raspado is a Mexican snow cone. Raspado comes from the Spanish word “raspar” which translates to “scrape”. You might have seen raspado vendors around town, with a huge block of ice in the center of their cart surrounded by colorful bottles of sweet syrup flavors. Ordering a raspado can often feel like entering a labyrinth of confusing Spanish words. But I’m going to make it easy for you. Here is what you really need to know before you slurp.
To prepare a raspado they use a special tool, called raspador to scrape the ice (yes, they use purified water) and place it in a plastic cup. Pick your favorite syrup flavor, ranging from plum, guava, nanchi, pineapple, mango or tamarind. If you’re feeling indulgent add condensed milk (lechera in Spanish) on top! You can find raspados around Plazuela Republica (in front of the Cathedral) or by the cliff divers on the Malecón. Raspados are also the must-eat dessert at a traditional cenaduria (evening diner). You know there’s always room for that! The small town of Concordia is regionally famous for its raspados made with leche quemada (caramelized milk) topped with pieces of fruits. The unique flavor of these raspados makes the one-hour drive all worth it.
Paletas and Bolis
It might be tempting to describe them as popsicles, but that’s selling paletas and bolis short. They are so much better than the mass-produced frozen treats made with artificial food coloring. Paletas are a common craving for Mexican kids. And no wonder, because who could resist natural refreshing flavors like strawberry, lime, jamaica (hibiscus) or how about avocado or eskimal (coconut flavor covered in chocolate)? It’s no surprise that paletas have been described as ‘summer on a stick’.
The origins of the paleta are unclear, but the modern version started in the 1940s. La Michoacana, a family-fun business based in Tocumbo, Michoacan, first made ice cream before adding paletas to their lineup of treats. In Mazatlan Helados Ely is a successful local ice cream company created in the 1980s. Besided paletas they also make a local version called bolis (popsicle in a bag). Paletas and bolis are welcome guests at birthday parties and schools. You can find paleta or bolis vendors along the Malécon with their white cooler on wheels, but you can also buy paletas at the La Michoacana or Helartesano.
(Published in Pacific Pearl magazine March 2019)
Carnaval has come and gone! After the banda has finally stopped playing and all the confetti has been cleaned off the streets, it’s time to gear up for Easter. Catholics in Mexico observe Lent for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Usually Lent is a time to reflect and give up specific pleasures such as sweets, alcohol or social media. In Mexico there are specific food restrictions: no beef, pork or chicken on Fridays during Lent. However you’re allowed to eat fish and (drumroll…) bread pudding. You would say, bread pudding isn’t really meal, it’s more like dessert. Here’s the catch: during Lent the Mexican bread pudding or ‘Capirotada’ as it’s known, is served as a dish in itself. So bring your sweet tooth and start eating!
Ask any local to recommend the ‘best’ capirotada in town, the most likely answer is: “The one that my grandma/mom/aunt makes!” Don’t bother to ask for the recipe, because it’s all memorized by heart and passed on from mother to daughter.
There are several ways to prepare Capirotada. But at its most basic it has four components: toasted bolillos (Mexican baguettes) drenched in piloncillo syrup with clove and cinnamon, dried fruits and cheese.
Capirotada was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards in the 16th century. Back in those days there were two kinds: the savory meat-based and the sweet meat-free option. Both had the same preparation technique: layers of bread, syrup and cheese. The sweet capirotada became the most preferred version during Lent. It symbolizes the Passion of Christ: the bread represents the body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the cloves are the nails of the cross and the cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross. The cheese represents the Holy Shroud.
The variations on the theme are limitless. Some cooks add nuts (peanuts, pecans or almonds), fresh fruit (bananas, apples, pineapple, or peaches), butter, condensed milk or lard. The cheese can be creamy Chihuahua, queso fresco, cotija (Mexican feta). Capirotada is good use for stale bread.
Capirotada may include ingredients that seem downright weird in a dessert, such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, bay leaves which are used to ‘flavor’ the syrup, a potpourri of little things to spice it up. The dessert is traditionally made in a ‘cazuela’, a glazed Mexican earthenware dish. The story goes that capirotada in cazuela tastes better.
Is there a ‘right’ way to make capirotada? An authentic version? Don’t try to find it: there are as many different recipes as there are households in Mexico. In Mazatlan you can find two types of Capirotada: sugar-based Piloncillo or milk-based Leche. The most traditional location is the Pino Suarez market down-town. Most vendors will sell both types, so get some of each and decide for yourself!
Maaike Hoekstra has lived in Mexico for over 15 years. She is passionate about Mexican culture and food. Here are the stories and recipes she finds along the way.