Tuesday, July 28, 2009

El Conchal-Tijuana: Sinaloan seafood from El Paisa, master coctelero

A touch of Sinaloa outside the Mercado Hidalgo, El Conchal

A coctelero takes a break from shucking oysters, pata de mula, and clams.

Almeja preparada, fresh clam prepared on the shell with Sinaloan tang.

firm and full flavored pata de mula(mangrove cockles)

The knife skills of Sinaloan cocteleros is an art form.

The carretas(street carts) of Sinaloa are numerous,featuring highly skilled cocteleros and cocteleras specializing in the raw seafood preparations of their state. Oysters,pata de mula(mangrove cockles),a variety of clams, abalone are shucked from a plenitude of fresh and delectable specimens. Tostadas accentuate individual ingredients or are stacked in baroque layers of divine combinations both of raw and cooked seafood.They are served wet in a bath of Sinaloan nectar, usually a local version of V-8, lime, and seasonings. Botanas(snacks) of scallops called callo de hacha, raw shrimp in lime and chile called aguachiles, and whatever else is available that day are highlighted with simple flavoring of lime, sea salt and season combinations,chiles, fringed with fresh cucumber and purple onion. The chiles of choice are the dry little balls of fury called chiltepin, chile de arbol, and fresh jalapeno.

An aguachile in molcajete.

El Conchal, located outside the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana walks firmly in the traditions and flavorings of their home state, Sinaloa. Their owner, a stocky and humorous character, calls everyone "Paisa".A common endearment used among the people of Sinaloa, meaning, countryman. Everybody is paisa at El Conchal.Paisa over there needs an aguachile, and Paisa over there wants pata de mula.

For the Sinaloan, selecting the finest ingredients and old hand knife skills are the cocteleros(cocktailer) art forms. The way the scallops are cut for callo de hacha affects the flavor and texture, just as in a sushi masters craft. El Conchal has a coctelero to shuck bivalves, another to assemble the tostadas and make the special preparations like the maleficio, a special raw shrimp cocktail that uses no ketchup.

The peerless callos de hacha.

At El Conchal, callos de hacha are sublime, with the texture of a tender steak, and the natural flavor of local catalina scallops. They must be firm to make callo de hacha. Aguachiles are served in molcajetes,earthily flavored by the volcanic rock vessel. Choose your spiciness and ask for chiltepin. The raw shrimp are flash cooked in the lime with fresh cucumber and purple onion, made to order. The tostadas, raw or cooked shrimp with supple octopus, and some abalone.This tostada is called La Especial.The maleficio is a V-8 and lime cocktail with raw shrimp served in a cup, accented by a little soy sauce.The shrimp ceviche tostada is definitive here at this humble shack.

The tostada especial, with octopus, abalone, and cooked shrimp drenched in sabor sinaloense.

You can get oysters and pismo clams served au natural, or prepared, with diced vegetables and condimented with hotsauce. Pata de mula, reina clams(white shell), and chocolatas(chocolate shell)are found at El Conchal.Shrimp ceviche on a tostada, another time-honored course from Sinaloa.

There are many Sinaloan seafood street carts,stands and restaurants in Tijuana, Sinaloans being the largest migrant population in Tijuana, but El Conchal is one of the best carretas.Perhaps they stand alone for this style of service.Pure Sinaloan credentials from El Paisa, the man from Culiacan, part of the serious group of stellar eats in and around Mercado Hidalgo.

Tostada of shrimp ceviche.

El Conchal
calle Francisco Javier Mina
Mon-Fri 8AM-5PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-6PM
just northwest of Tacos El Gordo near
the entrance of the Mercado Hidalgo
open daily(mornings and afternoons only)


Joanna said...

Great photography on this one!!!

streetgourmetla said...

Ah, thanks Joanna. Tastes better than it looks, but you know that already, you Baja expert you.

pleasurepalate said...

I totally remember this spot. This was the first time I actually enjoyed a raw scallop (of course with lime and hot sauce) :-D

streetgourmetla said...

Hey Abby, you are fully Sinaloan certified at this point. Only thing missing is a trip to Sinaloa.