Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bizarre Foods Baja Part 2: Plan B, Fixing and Scouting La Paz

In case you missed it, Bizarre Foods Baja: Part 1.

As I approached La Paz, quixotically mind tripping as I often do traveling throughout Latin America, the sight of roadside stands sharpened my instruments of mass consumption. The first crisis averted, and I was now driving in Mexico with an expired driver's license. But hey, I was being paid to look for tacos and such. Life wasn't all that bad.

I love La Paz, but my mission here was bittersweet. I would be scouting alternative locations for some of the Tijuana restaurants and stands in the event that Tijuana would be deemed unsafe for shooting. I was aware that many movie studios would not insure their staff and crew to work or even stop in Tijuana. One afternoon at my foavorite cigar lounge in Tijuana, La Villa del Tabaco, my requisite two hour communion with a San Cristobal de la Habana figurado, I struck conversation with two rogues. They worked for a film studio which I won't name, and told me that they weren't even supposed to be there, in Tijuana. There were supposed to cross the border and keep driving until they reached their destination, somewhere south of "Mexico Under Siege".

Checking onto the hotel brought about my second bump on this trip. The production company for Andrew Zimmern had booked the hotel but the credit card hadn't been charged, so I had to put down a cash deposit, plus I lost an hour dealing with that hassle.

My credit cards weren't working either, I learned after another credit card issue on a subsequent trip that credit cards were becoming more vulnernerable to fraud and the companies were taking protective measures. Since then I call everytime I leave the country, but, no credit cards, and now I only had a small amount of cash to get me through the first day. And, I had little time to spend on such inconveniences. Oh well, I had to get on and figure it out later. My bank and the production company off on their weekends, I was on my own.

But the malecon can sooth any maladies, it was time to detach, and engage in the task at hand. La Paz has stellar seafood, but bizarre, cutting edge, gripping cuisine? I was picturing Andrew with a shrimp cocktail and a margarita, and me without a spot on the show. PRESSURE.

In any city in Mexico, I always start at the historic center and work my way outward. It's the pulse of the city.I know people that read online, collect obscure lists of cuisine, collect Mexican cookbooks, but you have to get out and see for yourself. What do the people really eat, and why?

Ther happened to be a Oaxacan fair going on in the Zocalo(town square), so I followed my nose and came across some tacos de chapulines(grasshoppers). Nothing like some pre-conquest protein to gear up for this mission.

My good friend Benito Molina also suggested I stop by at Carlos Valdez's Buffalo Barbecue in La Paz, and any friend of Benito's should be able to offer up some tips.

He was out of town but I recognized some of the young chefs and staff there. They ahd worked at Benito's Silvestre in the Valle de Guadalupe when we were there for our infamous Baja FAM last July.

The selections at Buffalo are burger and barbeque intensive but the menu had some unique foods. The young chefs made a grasshopper risotto, grilled fish in an hoja santa leaf, and served a dish with a chorizo made from scallops. Seafood chorizos are popular in Baja, like the legendary chorizo de abulon(abalone chorizo) from Isla de Cedros.

While all the other diners enjoyed some quality burgers, I was alone in my bug feasting. Buffalo BBQ has a mixed crowd of locals and tourists, as well as domestic tourists. It's known as restaurant for wood fired steaks, burgers, and ribs, and is the perfect setting for a romantic evening while in La Paz.

I took a stroll through Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagues' El Aljibe, The Tijuana based chefs Southern Baja outpost. It has the same menu, and like Buffalo, has indoor and outdoor dining. It had a lively crowd, and I wished I had the space to grab a bite, I mean, I've had most of the dishes Miguel's La Querencia, but I was digging the scene there. Sadly, Miguel recently had to close this restaurant to focus on things in Tijuana.

The rest of the evening was spent scouting spots for Saturday and hitting up some of the La Paz nightlife, seeing where that might lead.

The chefs from Buffalo had told me about Carlos' brother Mike, who had a taco stand of unusual cuts and stews, and he parked his cart just down the street in the mornings.

Mike Valdez's Los Tacos varios(stewed tacos)cart was jokingly referred to as El Buffalito(the little buffalo). He does eyes, udders, bull's penis, and other interesting fillings for tacos, which he changes all the time.

On that day he had cabeza(cow's head meat), which was excellent.Cabeza tacos are a popular breakfast item in Mexico, especially the northern states, but is served everywhere.

The taco de lengua(tongue) showed off Mike's seasoned taquero skills, deeply flavored, rich, and inviting slices of tongue with a touch of pickled jalapeno and onion. Sometimes tongue looks like BLEHHHHHHH, and others it can be quite sexy.

As I started to hit the markets, funds were getting low, and I called a family member to wire me some cash to make it though the trip so I could focus on the gig. I went to receive a Western Union wire from the back of an appliance store and beelined it over to the Mercado Francisco Madero.

Here I encountered all forms of grisly,and fascinating butchery. Here, a crate of whole cow hearts next to a dismembered head. Over there, a whole liver, a pig's head, and a pristine steer's intestine.

This market was primarily for beef, pork, and other farm animals, with a smaller section of local seafood.

The Mercado Bravo was the seafood destination, with all kinds of tempting eateries, but I was here to try and hook up some contacts to do a seafood feast on the beach.

Guillermo Alvarez Marron took time from cleaning fish to give me his contact info.

The other market workers tolerated my inexplicable picture taking of their seafood and the market.

The display of two types of scallops,callo de hacha,and callo catarina, with dungeness crab, octopus,and shrimp all at amazingly low prices made me green with envy. I could cook the ultimate Baja feast if I only get my hands on these precious gems.

Whenever you're near a Mexican market there are always taquerias, fondas, and all sorts of eateries that are usually of high caliber.

A young couple of Mexican hippies Marco Antonio Castro and his wife, Tahoti Camacho had a taqueria with head, eye, brains, and tongue tacos called Tacos-Tao. This is a play on words and short for esta costado(he is resting), in this case it just means take a load off and have a taco.

I popped into La Fonda, also near the markets and found a restaurant that was started by a couple of lawyers that liked the cooking so much of their home cook, they started a restaurant to feature her cooking. One item of interest besides the classic Mexican fare they offered was a dish with the giant squid which are referred to locals as red devils, as they flash red, squirt sea water, and violently flail about when the fishermen try and drag them in their boats.

Talking with the owners Margarita and Jose Briseno, and their friend Silvia Gonzalez gave me that essential part of every trip I've ever taken, getting to know the people that live their lives in these fascinating places. I loved his story about his mother's sopa de zapatero(shoemaker's soup), and some of his father's recipes.

The Ostioneria Bismark-cito was chosen as a back up location for some of Bajas regional specialties.

The chocolata(chocolate)clam, which once led me to the conclusion that oyters were overratted is best in La Paz. Here they are served live squirming and contracting with each squirt of lime and salsa.

A caguamanta(manta ray soup) with tuna fin was superb, but not near as outstanding as my location in Tijuana, Mariscos Ruben.

After taking a break and getting cleaned up I breathed a sigh of relief. I had found plenty of material for the show and still had time to track down some late night options. I had taken note of a target rich stretch of road as I came into La Paz on Friday afternoon and had saved ot for last. The key to finding places is to be on recon mode 24/7.

The guys at Buffalo had a few more dishes to show me, so after a stroll on the sea walk, I was ready for action. More grasshoppers? OK, I can't get tired of these things, and they are about the most efficient protein known to man. I wonder if a nutricious,fat free diet of bugs would ever catch on in the US?

A beautiful tuna tartar topped with fish roe and salicornia(sea asparagus) to follow.

Felipe and Antonio, who I met during the FAM in Ensenada showed me a gorgeous black cod they had received that day.

You guys want to do a pate of cod liver? This is getting interesting.

A trio of black cod, very representative of Benito Molina's head to tail approach featured a cod blood risotto with a grilled tail that was edible, the pate of cod liver, and an herb crusted cod filet.

Before driving out to explore the mid-skirt of the city, I watched the cruising scene for a while. In the beach towns of Mexico, young people cruise the sea walks, flirt, and blast banda and ranchera music. A flirt back might lead to a park and drink date.

Tripe tacos are always a great late night snack. I came across Taqueria del Sur and it was a natural and familiar as countless other places I've been in Mexico.

An austere, yet hospitable Jose Alejandro Sepulveda Caballero let me have the run of the place. I was quite the curiosity snapping pictures of tacos at almost 2AM on a Saturday night.

The place was busy and rightfully so.

The scent of grilling, milk-drenched tripe filled the air, and the conversation was sparce due to the serious grubbing that was going on. Our soundtrack mostly consisted of grilling, sizzling, and chopping.

The best application of tupperware ever.

Jose claimed that his tripe tacos were the best, and I can't say that I've a rebuttal after sampling this funky, crispy, and gritty version of the tripe taco.

I was sure that this would be a great stop for the show, a late night taqueria that everyone who visits Mexico should experience. It just feels right.

Shots of tequila followed by beer,high decible cumbias and the lone traveler's introspection made me loose track of time.

Three hours later, fueled and coffeed up for the drive to Los Cabos I was focused on navigating the meanders towards the toll highway. No time for fuck-ups when on a schedule, especially in Mexico, where anything can happen on the highways, oops, wrong turn,"Ohhhh, what's that?"

It's a house, but the front yard is a birrieria, but of kid! A whole kid birrieria. Tripe,head,lungs,inside skirt cut, ribs, spine, shoulder, and head.

Loreto Martinez is the kind of serious specialist that us hard cores live for.

He showed me his customized pit he built in the front yard. I caught him just as he had finished cooking, perfect timing, the kid was at its peak.

I grabbed tripe, head, and shoulder tacos for the road. They were so good wanted to pull over and enjoy the epiphany, and savor in the good fortune of this unexpected find. Man, I had a few things go wrong on this trip, but I was in the ZONE!!!

But what would happen to Tijuana. Man, I took a bunch of sweet and innocent bloggers to Tijuana, I mean our group looked like a college debate team. Nothing ever happens to tourists, I'm in Tijuana every month, nothing happens. Would the place that I felt closer to than any of our locations be passed over, and remain a destination to be feared?

To be continued....

Bizarre Foods Baja airs tomorrow 6/14 on the Travel Channel, 7PM PST.

Birrieria Rebano Sagrado
Av. Reforma between Chiapas and Durango
La Paz, BCS
7:30AM-2PM daily

Alvaro Obregon between Constitucion and Hidalgo
La Paz, BCS
8AM-11PM daily

Buffalo BBQ
Av. Madero 1240, Col. Centro
La Paz, BCS
Tues-Fri 6PM-11PM
Sat-Sun 2PM-11PM

La Fonda
Revolucion @N. Bravo
La Paz, BCS
7:30AM-11PM 7 days

Los Tacos(Buffalito)
Ave. Madero #389 entre Constitucion y 5 de Mayo
La Paz, BCS
8AM-2PM Mon-Sat
closed Sundays

Mercado Bravo
Bravo between L. Ramirez and Gmo. Prieto

Av. Revolucion 1910 at Nicolas Bravo
La Paz, BCS
8AM-4PM daily

Taqueria Del Sur
On Forjadores(highway to Cabo) at Tabachines
La Paz, BCS
Mon-Sun 10AM-2AM
Tues. 5PM-2AM


MyLastBite said...

Ok. I want to go. With You.

streetgourmetla said...

We are going, girl.

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