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!
(Published in Pacific Pearl's April 2019 issue)
If I ask you what Mazatlan’s traditional ceviche is, nine out of ten people would say shrimp ceviche. You know the one with shrimp, cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro and lime juice. Even though this might be the most famous version, there is a lesser known ceviche that is often overlooked. You may have seen it at the fish monger or on a street cart, with its striking orange color. It is Mackerel ceviche or Ceviche de Sierra in Spanish.
In Semana Santa (Holy Week) mazatlecos will go to the beach in their hundreds. Not because they can’t go any of the other 51 weeks, but because it’s…. Tradition! Part of this tradition are the snacks that are packed to camp out on the beach for a whole day. Obviously the beverage of choice is our beloved Pacifico beer. Besides the beer you will also find home-made mackerel ceviche served on a wheat-based Duro toast or on a corn tostada. Mackerel ceviche is prepared with ground mackerel (ask for it at the fish monger), shredded carrot, finely chopped onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Each family has their own ‘perfect’ recipe with a unique twist. Some will leave out the carrot and put cucumber, others will add mayonnaise and peas to the ceviche (really that’s a must-try!). I would go as far to say that mazatlecos are born with the skill to make at least three different kinds of ceviche. Whenever you organize a potluck dinner, be ready to try at least four different ceviches between shrimp ceviche, mackerel ceviche, aguachile or sashimi tuna. You see how it isn’t hard to keep a seafood diet in Mazatlan!
Most people turn their nose up when I say mackerel ceviche. You think of the smelly oily fish you get back home. The trick to a tasty mackerel ceviche is curing the fish twice in lime juice, to get rid of the fishy flavor. Now you could get cooking and whip up a mackerel ceviche yourself, but it’s more fun to eat at a traditional marisqueria (seafood restaurant). Here are a few popular spots!
“Para todo mal tamal, para todo bien… también! Translation: if things go wrong, have a tamal and if things go well… also have one!”
It’s the perfect ‘energy bar’ with its spongy corn dough, savory filling, wrapped in corn husk or banana leaves. Luckily tamales are available all year round. But if you ask which celebration is connected to tamales, most people think it is Christmas or New Year’s Eve. True fact is that most Mexican households will only make tamales during the holiday season when there is an army of family members (mothers, daughters, aunts and nieces) who can pitch in with the preparation. But there is a one day a year where tamales are the mandatory meal, which is Dia de la Candelaria on February 2nd.
Dia de la Candelaria celebrates the presentation of baby Jesus in the temple, which is 40 days after Christmas. This day is linked to a previous celebration, which is Dia de Reyes (Three Kings Day) on January 6th. On Dia de Reyes Mexican children traditionally receive their gifts from the three kings, although nowadays many families give gifts on December 25th. Apart of the presents you share a ring-shaped bread called Rosca de Reyes. The person, who finds baby Jesus in their slice of bread, has to offer tamales on February 2nd. To keep up with this culinary tradition, here are some local favorite options.
Tamal de Elote/Piña
These corn or pineapple tamales have a sweet flavor (yes sweet tamales are also a thing!) and they are typically served as a side dish with a Sinaloa-style breakfast. The other essentials are Machaca shredded beef and Rajas poblano peppers in sour cream sauce. Tamales de Elote are made with freshly ground corn kernels, contrary to savory tamales which are made with Masa corn dough.
The most traditional location to buy sweet corn tamales is Tamales La Cuchillita. It’s located on Av. Juan Carrasco 317, one block before the intersection with Aquiles Serdan street. The unmistakable green cabin has been the favorite tamales shop for generations of Mazatlecos. Opening hours: 12-3pm, arrive early because choices are limited: sweet corn, pineapple or poblano pepper. Don’t let its unassuming appearance fool you though: fantastic flavors hide inside!
Tamal de camaron
Shrimp capital of Latin America, it should come as no surprise that Mazatlan has great shrimp tamales. The original shrimp tamales come from Escuinapa, where unpeeled shrimp is added to the corn dough, hence its name Tamales barbones or bearded tamales. However in Mazatlan shrimp tamales are made with peeled shrimp.
The Masa corn dough used for savory tamales is the same as used for tortillas. Most Tamales shops will specifically look for authentic corn dough, made from dry corn instead of instant corn flour. What if you’re allergic to shrimp, or if you don’t feel for sweet tamales? Don’t despair because you can also buy beef, chicken, pork and vegetable tamales or bright-red Tamales colorados. And if you’re lucky, you might see street carts selling Oaxacan tamales steamed in banana leaves. Hungry already? Score your savory tamales at these spots:
Tortilleria Zaragoza in down-town Mazatlan is the place to go if you want authentic tortillas made from real corn. Nowadays other tortillerias have opted to use corn meal to make tortillas, which is less time consuming and cheaper. But mr. Rafael Tostado has dedicated his life to continue this century-old tradition of making tortillas from the corn grains. Originally from Nayarit state mr. Tostado started his tortilleria 50 years ago. In those days people ate much more tortillas, but Mexican diet has changed through the years.
The process to create Mexico's favorite staple food start by boiling corn kernels in limewater. Then the grains are ground into a dough called 'masa'. The 'masa' is pressed flat into small patties and cooked on a very hot 'comal'. This process has been mechanized by creating a tortilladora machine.
Mr. Tostado uses a local corn variety called 'Garañon' instead of other genetically modified options. Sometimes it's hard to find the right product, depending on the harvest and climate. He is proud to continue this tradition, even though his business has remained small. "Why would I want all the riches and power of a big business? God has given me everything I need in life, so why ask for more?"