Veracruz, situated on the Gulf of Mexico, is one of my favourite Mexican cities. The zócalo is closed off to cars, ringed with restaurants, and has a large stage where something is happening almost every night.
While there we have seen the Navy Band (Veracruz is a major port city with a major naval presence), el Son Jarocho (regional music from Veracruz where everyone dresses in white and dances), La Bamba (the best known ‘son’, performed on stage by dancers), the ‘Night of the Clowns’ (where the clowns dance with crowd), and dance-offs for el Rey del Carnaval (where the person who can get the most people in the crowd to mambo becomes the King of Carnival). This doesn’t even count the numerous bands and mariachis all playing their hearts out in front of all the restaurants all at the same time – a complete cacophony…
And then there’s the food of Veracruz! One of the meals you must try while lounging in one of the zócalo’s restaurants is ‘seafood’ a la Veracruzana, with either red snapper (huichinango) or prawns (camarones). This dish has a strong Spanish influence, with olives, capers and onions from Spain, combined with tomatoes and poblano chiles from Mexico. We usually order the ‘camarones a la veracruzana pelados‘ (peeled prawns), and it is one of my favourite dishes in all of Mexico.
In our cooking class featuring the food of Veracruz, we started our comida veracruzana with thirst-quenching agua de tamarindo (tamarind water) and picaditas del puerto. The picaditas are rumoured to be an excellent cure for a hangover, but even if you don’t have a hangover you will still want to try these bocadillas (nibbles).
The picaditas are hand-made ‘pinched’ tortillas of masa (corn dough), topped with either a salsa verde (green salsa) or salsa roja (red salsa), then shredded chicken, crema fresca (crème fraiche) and queso fresco (fresh cheese, mild cow’s milk feta makes an okay substitute). Like the salbutes we made in an earlier class, they were a quick way to experience Mexico without the hassle of flying, and I’m pretty sure it has to do with the flavour of those homemade tortillas. (How we made them.)
The tamarind water was both sweet and sour, a refreshing accompaniment to the spicy picadas. (How to make it.)
For the entrée we had Huatape Veracruzana con Camarones. Special large sweet prawns are traditionally used in this dish, and Chef Rossana felt that the BC spot prawns would be a perfect substitute. They were cooked in a light ‘mole’, which means there were only 10 chiles in the sauce, as opposed to 50! Served with a Mexican-style white rice (fried before adding the seasoned chicken broth), topped with fried plantain chips, this was a satisfying main course. (How we made it)
Desert was a treat, a frozen mango concoction. (How we made it.)
To drink, Torito de Cacahuate, which translates as ‘little bull made of peanuts’. It was a unusual creamy drink, traditionally made of chunky peanut butter and aguardiente (we substituted white rum). I love tasting entirely new things, especially if they’re good, and this rum drink was certainly a great way to finish off a great meal! (How we made it.)
A couple of these and you can sing along to our version of La Bamba on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kM7Q2m3jCI