Sunday, June 14, 2009

On Eating Cocteles de Mariscos

A friend emailed me regarding shrimp cocktails as sold at MEGA Comercial in Morelia. You get them in the Fish Department, preferably earlier in the day.

Until now, I was unaware that Mega offered such. Somehow, it just doesn't seem quite right to eat a coctel de camarones in that setting. Coctelería should be left to the specialists, not a mega hypermart chain. This is the same, "full service" store that among its notable features is an espresso bar, but one that is rarely staffed. To get a coffee, you have to flag down the Produce Manager or whatever employees nearby and they'll hail some especialista callow teenager barista to put the coffee pod into the machine and push the BREW button.
My friend asked, in a followup:
"Now then, about those stands at Plaza Chica (Pátzcuaro) that you seem to regularly 'never frequent'???"

Yes; what about them? I don't eat at those out of concerns of hygiene. Friends who've eaten at those open air carts, with the blocks of ice, (passed on by Canine Inspection Teams as the blocks lay waiting in the early morning gutter) have reported no ill effects. But I'd rather spend a little more for assuring quality and good hygiene. Chopping onions or tomatoes on a wooden board perched on an upturned catsup bucket, resting in the street, as traffic sputters by within arm's reach doesn't cut it for me.
In 2004, within the Mercado Independencia in Morelia, I ordered a coctel de camarones. I waited and watched while the guy defrosted the plastic bag of shrimp under running tap water. It was a passable, but not great CdC. What do you expect for breakfast at a stand overlooking the skinned cow's heads over at the carnicería close by? I'll spare you the foto de las cabezas de vacas.
A couple of years ago, I had a small, cheap CdC at Don Prisci's within the Pátzcuaro Mercado. It was poor; the shrimp were mealy, the sauce corriente. Don P should stick to his birria.

The first coctel de camarones I ever, ever had was the Gulf Coast village of Nautla, Veracruz. It was our first trip to Mexico, Feb, 1980. The air was warm and sultry, under the palms. A borracho entertained himself by mildly bugging us.

The coctel arrived; a very tall glass, brimming with very fresh, barely cooked shrimp, in a light red, not too sweet sauce, studded with fresh, picante bits of chopped chile jalapeño, minced onion, and LOTS of chopped cilantro. This was El Chingón Coctel de Camarones, one which will always be that against all others are measured.

The restroom was, unfortunately, quite memorably ghastly.

Nowadays, at least here in central Michoacán, cocteles are made too sweet for our taste. Even at our querido y lindo Mariscos La Güera. The trick is to ask for it as you like. "Poco catsup, pero con mucho cilantro, por favor."

The one exception, so far, to sweet cocteles has been at LangoStiko's in Morelia. They offer specialty cocteles including a Coctel Mazatleco style, made with NO CATSUP but with pepino and pineapple, and garnished with carambola. (starfruit.)

Actually, it's almost too pure for me. I'd appreciate the addition of some cilantro.

The same restaurant, and by no means, the only one, makes Micheladas Preparadas con Clamato and shrimp and oysters in it. Very tempting, but as I don't eat raw mollusca while in Mexico, I ordered it with shrimp only. (Michelada is basically beer with lime juice in a salt rimmed glass. Starting there, many different seasonings and variations are possible.)

We are lucky to have decent seafood inland here in Michoacán. Years ago, in Zacatecas, inland, far from the sea, I had a coctel at Mariscos Boca del Río, at the Plazuela Genaro Codina. It was murky and borderline hazardous. I hope that it's better there now.

La Jaiba, on Blvd. Garcia de León in Morelia has amongs its offerings huge chabelas (large goblets) full of Vuelve a la Vida (occasionally called "Levantamuertos"), either of which seem to have some sexual revival connotations. The La Jaiba version has just about every kind of boiled and raw seafood in it that they have. I had the oysterless version once. It was quite good, but lacking the oysters, I can't report on the sexual revival aspects.

Similarly, the "Viagra" coctel at El Pescador, Morelia. It's something like a Vuelve a la Vida coctel but in Clamato instead of the usual clear syrup-stock and catsup. Here is the Vuelve a La Vida under an alternative name of "Rompe Colchón": "Break Mattress". You figure it out. Here's a recipe, in Spanish, for this treat.

To conclude; in my opinion, you generally get what you pay for. In the better marisquerías, you can customize your cocktail al gusto. It helps to speak Spanish.

As a reward for staying the course until this point, our Feature Presentation of Pátzcuaro's beloved Mariscos La Güera, below.


Felipe Zapata said...

I´ve been eating at one or the other of three of the stands on the Plaza Chica for years. I´ve had just one, relatively minor, stomach upset.

Don´t worry. Be happy.

Don Cuevas said...

Que la Diosa te proteja.

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Mariscos La Güera is probably my favorite, the other one that is pretty decent is Chema, by the new mercado. Unbelievable how many patrons they turn through there on any given Sunday.

Don Cuevas said...

Constantino, we have never eaten at Mariscos Chema, although our Alabaman neighbors have and they say it's all right.

I am just a La Güera loyalist, although I am aware of some minor iperfections.

Don Cuevas

Felipe Zapata said...

New mercado? What new mercado? Where is this Chema place? Other than next to the new mercado.

Don Cuevas said...

Felipe, I'm assuming that Constantino was referring to the Mercado Tariacuri, nore or less across the Libramiento from the Bus Station.

"Chema's" is in a green building just down from the traffic light. Also has a sign that says, "Mariscos a Ruedas".

Don Cuevas

Don Cuevas said...

Hablando de camarones, today I bought a medio kilo of medium shrimp at the new seafood store on Ibarra, a few doors up from the Carnicería La Sin Rival, or across from the Kafé del Ángel.

They were $550 a half kilo, headless, and they look nice. Tomorrow's lunch.

The store, called El Camarón Pelao, has been open only a few months and seems nice, with relatively low prices. (maybe)

Don Cuevas