Adventures in “La Comer”

Expats here call it “Mega.” Most of the locals I know call it “La Comer” or “Comercial Mexicana.” Either way, to me it’s a pretty boring place. I’m not a big shopper, I prefer the mercados to the supermarkets, and when there’s not a lot of variety in the offerings (fresh, local-grown or caught, unique), well, suffice it to say, Mega is not my favorite place in town.

So, we went grocery shopping there today, and we actually had a bit of excitement!

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First of all, we met one of my favorite painters, Maestro Antonio López Saenz. I’ve heard him speak several times, but until today I’d never met him. What a friendly, kind and gentle soul he seemed to be! Soft-spoken, warm, and hospitable. We spoke right there between the epazote and cilantro. I was finally able to make my request, which I’ve hoped for for several years now.

“Please, maestro, might you paint a painting of our malecón as the biggest gymnasium in the world? You know how every Mazatleco uses it: running, roller blading, walking, yoga, pushups, sit-ups, bicycling? It’s perhaps the world’s longest oceanside promenade, and it’s a popular free gym for so many. It would be a gorgeous painting! It would really capture the Mazatlán of today.”

He told me how the original malecón is really just the Olas Altas portion, and that this longer part down towards “La Comer” is all new. Then he and his colleague Victor shared some really exciting news!

From December of this year the Maestro will be issuing canvas prints of his paintings! He wants them to be affordable and accessible! Woo hoo! Can’t wait to possibly have a replica of a López Saenz on our walls! Bravo!

And, the excitement in La Comer didn’t stop there. Maybe I just haven’t been looking closely enough, but I saw several interesting looking products. Rather unbelievable that they were there, actually. These included sushi rice, sushi roll wrappers (soy paper), and sesame seeds in bright “rainbow” colors (yuk—artificial dyes, but fun). Slideshow below:

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Back in the dairy case, they are carrying wine sorbets, and even one that is flan-flavored!

Just when you thought supermarket shopping couldn’t get any more boring! 😉

La Nueva Generación/New Generation of Mazatlán Restaurants

We love seafood. Cevichefilete al ajocamarones a la diabla, callos de hacha…. all those terrific and typical dishes we have the pleasure of eating deliciously and cheaply here in Mazatlán. We acknowledge that it’s an incredibly spoiled thought even to have quickly pass through one’s mind, but sometimes we crave something a little different. We want something a little less “standard,” a little out of the ordinary.

We were in luck last spring when a group of new restaurants, run by a younger generation of Mazatlecos in their 20s and 30s, opened. The owners have traveled; they’ve lived and studied outside Mazatlán. They love our port city, and they are excited to take the “best of” what they like in Mazatleco food and prepare it in a way that creates something a little different. First they started adding mango, pineapple and coconut to the traditional ceviches. Then they added pastor spices to the grilled fish. Then they starting searing (hooray!) ahi with Asian sauces and sesame, and pretty soon, we had complete menus of a really innovative, fusion cuisine that are keeping our family very happy.

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Our favorite of these is the wonderfully named Barracruda’s (for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, the name is a play on words: barracuda, the fish, and “raw bar”). Run by a group of hipster surfer-types, the upscale beach-hut-in-suburbia is filled with young people, but the owners are friendly, outgoing and always very welcoming of our family. They serve up seared fresh tuna that is to die for, and ceviches, quesadillas, burritos and tacos unlike anything you’ve eaten. You will love it! Greg has even taken the guys there for compadre night, and those old-time Mazatlecos loved it, too. They serve wonderful tajin-rimmed micheladas, mixed with lime just the way we like them. Their service is fast and efficient and the prices are a real bargain. Sports fans will find some nice large flat screens as well.

The one downside for us is that they are usually crowded. Fortunately they are building a second location right across the street (Avenida de la Marina at Durango 335, north of Insurgentes about seven blocks), which they hope to have open in November. While we speak Spanish with them, you can be confident the owners and most of the staff speak English quite well. Many of you no doubt are already fans, but if you haven’t checked out Barracruda’s, please do.

149045_554355397938192_36127251_nThe great news is that just down the street is another of our favorites: Todos Somos Santos (“We are All Saints”). Todos Santos is much more open, so in the summer you get more natural breeze blowing through. It’s a much bigger place, so you don’t have the crowding issues (although it is also very popular, especially with families on the weekends). They have just added really gorgeous new roofing, to keep the rain and sun at bay during this time of year. The owners and staff here are extremely hospitable. The crowd here is also young, but with a whole lot of families and groups. You will love it.

The chef (Manny) speaks English perfectly, having worked a long time in Texas. He makes up a variety of fresh sauces daily that will blow your mind. Then he puts them over fresh seafood mixed with avocado, mango, coconut, pineapple… You can have tuna chicharrón or callos/scallops like you have not had them before. The tostadas are huge and filling. Waiters here will bring out funny hats to amuse you as they sing happy birthday to a nearby guest, so you get a bit of the party vibe, too. Compared to Barracruda’s, Todos Santos has more cooked food and more “entree” type items. Whichever you choose, you won’t leave hungry.  It’s on Avenida de la Marina 800, in El Toreo. You can’t miss it — it’s right on the corner behind Soriana, bright and airy.

Portions at both of these places are huge, and the prices are generally 75-100 pesos per entree.

399866_138666922986126_1737127503_nLeaving Avenida de la Marina and going down into the Golden Zone, in a place that has housed several different restaurants the past few years, is F.I.S.H. (Fresh International Seafood House). You will find it behind Rico’s coffee and Mary’s Hamburger in the spot where Mr. Ace’s stood for so long. The atmosphere here is completely different. Whereas Todos Santos and Barracruda’s are warm, friendly and colorful, F.I.S.H. is modern minimalist — clean whites and shiny aluminums. Here you’ll find wild rice, raisins mixed in the mango salsa, lobster and oyster po-boys, salmon burgers, kabobs, french fries in the burritosceviches served to you out of a mold, happy hour from 5 – 10 pm and live music a few times a week. F.I.S.H. has indoor, air-conditioned space, in addition to the terrace. It was started by one of the original founders of The Fish Market. We are happy to see the creative menu, but personally feel the execution is a work in progress and the atmosphere is still trying to find its way. Pricing in this restaurant has some real bargains and some over-priced basics. It’s a cool addition to our local restaurant scene, and hopefully the kinks will work out over time (this is the most recent of the four to have opened).

Overall, we love the trend. In most cities a radical influx like this would cause the old-line traditional restaurants to take a look at their menu, service and atmosphere and decide if they want to make a competitive tweak here and there. We have not seen this play out yet. Is this because they are waiting to see if these young guns will make a go of it, or are they happy to attract a different crowd? Only time will tell. Until then, we are happy to have some real variety available and will continue to enjoy all that Mazatlán has to offer in the way of seafood restaurants.

UPDATE 2 SEPTEMBER: Since we published this, Muelle 12 owners have confirmed that the restaurant will NOT reopen to the public. It will instead become a bar for Pacífico Beer, at least according to them. They have opened a new place in the GZ called XiBalba (behind Casa Maya/across from Hotel Las Flores). To prevent confusion, we’ve deleted the original Muelle 12 portion of this post.

Fine Swine

Where in Mazatlán can you get:

  • Pork loin that is lower in fat and cholesterol than a boneless, skinless chicken breast? (The pigs are fed yoghurt and a special mix of grains.)
  • Chorizo that’s low in fat and made with fresh chile, so it doesn’t give you heartburn?
  • Beef, chicken, fresh panelita cheese, marlin escabeche, as well as
  • Priceless advice on anti-cancer nutrition from a cancer-survivor with a masters in food science, accompanied by
  • A history of Mazatlán as told by long-time family business owners (many of our readers may remember Restaurant Doney on Cinco de Mayo, now the government library).

This multi-faceted carnicería is one we have been enjoying for a few months now, and is called Chikkowi. It is on the malecón, just north of the fishing pangas, right next to Pescadería del Mar (Paseo Claussen No. 97, telephone 193-0144). Alfonso Tirado Ibarra (Poncho) opened it in mid-June, and you can find him at work alongside his mother, Lourdes Ibarra Almada, Monday through Friday 8 to 3, and Saturdays 9 to 2. Poncho and Lourdes both speak excellent English as well as their native Spanish.

Theirs is the family that ran Doney Restaurant on Cinco de Mayo for over 40 years. After it closed, Lourdes sold Kowi pork out of her home to friends, neighbors and restaurants, delivering it all over town for 20 years. The Sonora-based Kowi company is owned by Lourdes’ brother-in-law, Manuel Santini. “Kowi” means “pork” in the native language from the Sonora area of Mexico. Kowi is a huge operation serving all of Mexico as well as the U.S., Japan and Korea. They are HAACP and USDA certified. They have various varieties of pigs and design custom diets to ensure the healthiest and tastiest pork products available.

With grandchildren to tend to and her son home in Mazatlán, Lourdes and Poncho decided to open a store where anyone could enjoy the great pork products brought down from Sonora. Being Mazatlecos they know that locals don’t eat a lot of pork; here it’s fish and beef, followed by chicken, with pork in a distant fourth place. So, the mother and son team sought out the best beef and chicken as well to round out their offerings. The beef they bring in is from Monterrey; Monterrey and Sonora are known for having the best beef in Mexico. The chicken is also from Sonora. Sadly for us, they don’t (yet) offer lamb. In addition to meats, they also have queso fresco from El Quelite and eggs from El Rosario.

The offerings in the store are too varied to be described in detail here. We primarily want to share with you that we love having these products so close, part of our daily walk, and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know Poncho and Lourdes. If you take the time to stop in and meet these two, we are confident you will leave with something. You can choose pork tenderloins, pork medallions wrapped in bacon, pork roast stuffed with fruits, BBQ baby-back ribs, carne adobada, turkey salchichas for grilling, bacon, Canadian bacon, black forest ham, NY steaks, rib-eye steaks, whole tenderloins, sirloins, machaca (best in town for sure), the list truly goes on and on. Many items are pre-cooked and ready to heat up, while others are ready for you to make wonderful on your own. To help in this effort, they gladly hand out a series of recipes.

They have wonderful plans for the near future as well. They want to add homemade, ready-to-cook meals such as meatballs, burgers, and marinated chicken breasts. And, in a throwback to Doney’s fame, they will soon be preparing cooked shredded chicken for enchiladas. They will package this with sauce made with the original Doney’s recipe for enchiladas suizas. This secret recipe is around fifty years old and has yet to be replicated outside of the family. It is a Mazatlán classic.

Poncho was born in Mazatlán, attended school at Anglo Moderno, graduated high school from Tec, and then moved to Monterrey to obtain his B.S. in food science. From Monterrey he went north to Washington DC and Miami, working for the nutrition-improvement NGO “Sustain.” They paid for him to get his M.S. in food science, sending the Mazatleco of all places to another beach paradise, Hawaii. He stayed in Hawaii for about eight years, working for a fresh, ready-to-eat food processing company (salads, fruit cups), and opening both catering (tacos) and surf tour businesses.

Two years ago Poncho came home for Christmas, but he had a fever and a cough. Mom forced him to go to the doctor, which led to a diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkins Disease. The following year was dedicated to chemo and radiation treatments in Culiacán and León, plus a crash course in anti-cancer nutrition research. A year of juicing and focusing on regaining his health, and 35 year old Poncho was able to both open his new shop in June, and, just last week, swim in the Travesía Anual with 200 others out to Deer Island (he swam the distance in about two hours)! Talk about an accomplishment!

Doney Restaurant was opened by Poncho’s grandmother, Reynalda Velarde, or Doña Reyna, in 1959. It started out on a rented corner on Cinco de Mayo, becoming popular because she had the first rotisserie machine in Mazatlán. People would come to stare at it going round and round, fascinated, and this helped her business grow.

Reyna took over more and more space, eventually purchasing an 1800s-era Spanish nobleman’s house (Casa Echeguren) on Mariano Escobedo in which to house her restaurant. Her son, Poncho’s father (also Alfonso), was an architect, and he remodeled and updated the house (which had also been a hospital), roofing in the central courtyard. Doney was very popular for over 40 years; I remember dining there often when I visited Mazatlán in the 70s and 80s. Doney was famous for its home style cooking: enchiladas suizas, camarones gobernador, regional food, and homemade pies and cakes. As I remember the interior was gorgeous, with arches and open space, and the walls were covered with historic photos.

Sadly, the legendary restaurant closed in 1994, due to the economic downturn (you’ll remember that the value of the peso vs. the dollar halved in less than a week’s time) and the fact that Poncho’s father had been kidnapped (thankfully he survived the ordeal).

Their business is doing quite well in the few months they have been open. They have begun servicing many restaurants in town as well as walk-in clientele. So, who knows, you may have already had some of their great meat products!

Those of us who live here are always looking for something new and different. I think you will agree that Chikkowi fits that description. The pork loin at right is wrapped around a fruit center (plums, grapes, papaya, apricots, cranberries…) and is ready to heat and serve. We are excited for their early success and hope you will take the time to stop in and say hi. As they will tell you, there is perhaps no better view of Mazatlán than the view from their shop (featuring the pangas and all three islands).

Three Years in Mexico with a Junior High School Student

 

We moved here three years ago. Today our son graduated from secundaria/junior high/middle school. He has gained enormously by living here, as have we.

When we moved here our son didn’t speak much Spanish; now he pretty much passes for Mazatleco if Mom and Dad aren’t around. Bilingualism is way better than speaking only one tongue, for sure. After 3 years our 15 year old is not yet grammatically perfect in Spanish, but then, he isn’t really in English, either 🙂  Key for me is he is now extremely comfortable speaking Spanish or English, one on one, in a group, public speaking, in a formal meeting with adults. He can lead his peers, he can motivate, he can tell jokes and stories and crack people up, in both languages. Three years well invested, and at least three more to go.

When we left the US, our son’s mind was on our neighborhood, city and maybe the state in which we lived. He didn’t think about much beyond that in the world, and he didn’t like languages or cultures. He was a science, history and math guy. Now, three years on, he knows what it’s like to live as a minority member of society. He has gained confidence making new friends, going into new situations and figuring out how to get along. Not much intimidates him.

He now loves languages and thinks he’s good at learning them, anxious to try out Italian and French. He’s gone from wanting to see movies dubbed into English to wanting to see movies in their original language, with subtitles if needed. He gets that the original provides the most honest portrayal and feeling. He is keenly interested in international affairs, environmental concerns. He can recite to you UN resolutions and the rights of women, children and people worldwide.  He still loves history, and likes science and math. He talks of going to university in, well, South America, Italy… he now sees that there is a whole world out there. This is the primary reason we moved here: to provide him a broader worldview, and I thank goodness that he has done such a terrific job in this regard.

As our son graduates to high school (or preparatoria), he looks forward to a new adventure in a larger school with only a few of his current classmates. Being in a small private school now, there is a bit of a reshuffling as students decide where to study for the next three years. His graduating class of about forty will be spread out across various schools in town, breaking up this close knit bunch of kids who entered and experienced the hardest years of adolescence together. This is in sharp contrast to the normal trek in the United States, of elementary schools merging into middle schools and middle schools merging into high schools, where groups of friends remain intact and take on new friends. With this new school, he will enter as a Spanish speaker and a bit of a “local.” There will be close to 275 kids in his grade, so the huge size increase may be the biggest adaptation he has to make.

Before we moved, our son gave us strict instructions that he didn’t want to live in Mexico like some “rich gringo.” While of course the average wage in Mexico is much lower than that of the US, which he was speaking to, his eyes have been opened to just how rich the rich can be in a country like Mexico, where there are huge gaps between rich and “middle class.” He is able to describe class differences, their customs and values. He has become a “blended culture” person in the sense that he now knows what he likes and dislikes, personally, about the various cultures with whom he has contact. He doesn’t judge, knowing every worldview is “right,” but he doesn’t let himself get lost, either. I’m proud of him for that.

Thank you, Mazatlán. Thank you to his teachers, tutors, mentors, Scout leaders and friends.

And to you friends, many of whom we now love, too: best of luck in prepa! Remember to maintain these precious existing friendships!

Other posts on this blog about schools:
High Schools and Foreign Residents in Mazatlán
Inauguration of Soccer Season
Moving to Mexico (Mazatlán) with School Kids