Monday, January 7, 2013

Pigging Out In Michoacán

Scott and I LOVE FOOD.  We aren't foodies, we just love consuming good food.  Most days we wake up asking, "so what are we going to eat today?".  Our travels through Mexico have opened up a whole new world of amazing flavors and mouth-watering dishes.  We figure a good way to support the local communities is to buy food from them instead of the big box stores.

The markets in Mexico have been stunning. Fresh, inexpensive fruits, veggies, spices, and bread make it hard not to overeat.

Bread ladies in Paracho
This market in Páztcuaro went a quarter mile in each direction.
4.4 lbs of mandarins for 80 cents - YES!  A cow or pig head - NO!

At first, I was a little weird-ed out by the street food stalls.  Not because I doubted the quality of the food, but because I didn't understand why people would sit so closely together, facing the cook.  I remember our first time getting fish tacos in Baja, I kept trying to stand up and look at the street, rather than sit at the bar, staring at the cook.  There is a reason for this.  Usually, if you order tacos, sopes, gorditas, tortillas, quesadillas, etc., you get more than one.  So, to ensure the freshest, right-off-the-griddle food, you eat one at a time, while the cook works on your next one.  It takes a lot of coordination for one cook to keep everyone's plate full, but not too full. As evidenced by the pictures below, we have gotten over any fear of sitting on a street, right next to the cook.

Grilled torta (sammy) with all the fixin's in Patzcuaro (don't forget your own, salt-rimmed cuppa marg)

Blue corn tortillas filled with whatever you please in Paracho.
This was one of the rare vegetarian finds, as she had fresh-cooked beans.

So far, it has been hard to find good vegetarian items on the street in Mexico.  At every new place, I try to order vegetarian.  They can usually accommodate me, but without fail, I try Scott's food, and realize it's just sooo much better.  On the rare occasion that we find good vegetarian fare, I am obsessed about eating it morning, noon, and night.  Examples include chard-filled tamales in Tapalpa and black bean sopes in Troncones.

Who needs a helmet when you can have a bread-basket hat!?  Mom, I think you need one of these.

We recently spent a few days in a town called Pátzcuaro in the highlands of Mexico halfway between Mexico City and Guadalajara.  After the third or fourth day, we would wake up and put together a food itinerary for the day.  For the most part, we were either eating or trying to do some exercise so that we could eat again.

If anyone is looking for THE BEST food in Patzcuaro, find this guy (pictured below) with his wife and son tucked away in the mercado. All of their food comes from their ranch (meat, veggies, salsa, and thick, fresh corn tortillas).  The guy was also neurotic about putting anti-bacterial soap on his hands during every interaction he had with our plates.  This family takes a lot of pride in what they serve. Scott still talks about this place. They don't have a sign, but after entering the mercado, take the first street heading north. They're on your right, underneath a sign for a dentist (or ask for Gorditas Mary).

We tried 6 of the 8 types of gorditas until we were gorditas ourselves

For dessert, we were obsessed with seeking out cocadas.  They are baked and caramelized, freshly sliced coconut.  These giant treats cost a little more than $1. They remind Scott of the topping on his Mom's oatmeal cake. He has always loved coconut, but I grew up hating it. Guess what Mom and Dad? I like coconut now!

We returned to the coast a couple days ago, and I found that my surf shorts were a bit tight.  Julia Child once said, "Life itself is the proper binge."  Patzcuaro was proper, indeed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Baby Turtles at Troncones

In between a couple of stays at The Ranch, we also stayed at a place called Troncones, just north of Zihautanejo.  We rolled up next to a fancyish hotel and parked in a public parking area for a few nights--right on the beach!  See a picture of the neighborhood leader below:

One night, we took a walk on the beach and found some conservationists releasing baby sea turtles. These little guys face a tough welcome to the world. All 7 species are endangered and humans are a huge threat to their existence. For example, thousands of Mexican Catholics travel to the Pacific coast during the week preceding Easter (Lent) in search of sea turtles and other seafood. Apparently, turtles aren't considered "meat". During this short period of time, as many as 5,000 turtles are consumed in this region alone. Estimates reach as high as 35,000 sea turtles killed a year in Mexico.

After this post was originally written, we continued to head down the coast to the state of Oaxaca.  We stopped in a town called Juchitán, where we walked around the town plaza doing what we often do - gawk at the food and produce.  Scott asked a vendor what the white, melted balls were on her table.  Her answer,  "huevos de tortuga". I'm pretty sure that is highly illegal.  Recent news story: Traffickers Arrested in Mexico with 22,000 Turtle Eggs

Assuming the eggs survive, and aren't picked up by humans or other animals, they must incubate for around 60-days. Then, the baby turtles peck themselves out of their shells and dig themselves out out of their buried nests.  They never meet their parents.  If they don't make it to the ocean quickly, many will die of dehydration or be caught by predators. The obstacles are so numerous for baby turtles that only about one in 1,000 survives to adulthood.

It was magical watching these little guys scurry (in their own round-about way) to the ocean. In the end, various humans picked them up (including me) and helped them get to the water. If you want to learn more about why we care about saving the sea turtle go here. An interesting fact is that some species of the sea turtle are the only predators of the deadly box jellyfish. Yummy!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Big Fish at El Rancho

After all of my belly-aching about the hot and humid weather on the coast, it's finally bearable! A few weeks ago, we left Paracho (the guitar-town), and drove about 4 hours down to the coast. It was Scott's birthday, 12/12/12, and we were pleased to find a quiet camping spot right at the surf break, called "The Ranch". There was an old gringo living near the surf spot. He asked us to refrain from telling anybody about our free and peaceful camping spot.  He suggested we tell people it was scary and dangerous.  This is a common thing with most surf spots - everyone wants the waves and camping to themselves. Don't get me wrong, if I felt that this place was special or a huge secret, I would not mention it. But, it's in every surf guidebook and even has it's own entry on the various surf forecast websites.

Scary and dangerous camping at The Ranch

We stayed here for many days/nights, and when the waves were too small to surf, Scott turned into a paddleboard pescadero.  While the fishing boats trolled back and forth just outside of the surf and rocks without catching anything, Scott was able to fish right over the rocks.  On different days, he caught a 20-lb and 25-lb snapper.  We thought the first one was big until the next one.  The big one fed us for 3 days. Bringing in the big one did not come without incident.  He got tossed in the water 3 times, in the waves, and even broke the handle of the fishing pole in the process.

Mexican Barred Snapper and Pacific Dog Snapper (we think!)

In the end, we left this place because the vibe was too negative.  First, there was a brooding Alaskan fisherman who yelled at me because we ran over a hidden, wild watermelon on the public beach front. Then, there was the foul-mouthed family from New York/Florida that thinks their 20-year history of vacationing here gives them special wave privileges.  These guys pretty much ruined it for us.  It's sad that the meanest, most negative people we've encountered in the past 13 months in Mexico have been Americans. They are the real hazards at The Ranch.