By Deborah Grossman
Traveling to Mazatlan in January, I expected warm sunshine and chilled Margaritas galore. A far cry from eating whale blubber in Alaska.
When I journeyed to Fairbanks last year, I knew with great certainty that whale watching was not on the itinerary. But smack in the middle of Alaska, I stumbled into an exercise in whale eating. Someone handed me a sliver of muftuk, frozen whale skin and blubber. After the muftek melted in my mouth, I did not want to deal with members of the baleen family for a long while.
Yet the first item on the Mazatlan itinerary was a whale watching adventure with Onca Explorations off the Southeast Sea of Cortez. This sounded somewhat appealing. I hadn’t seen a live whale since a mildly-seasick trip off the Mendocino coast a decade ago. Humpback whales are majestic creatures who communicate well. So I was game for the expedition.
Game, that is, until our flight was delayed and we checked into the Pueblo Bonito resort at 2:00 a.m. with whale watching scheduled for 6:30. Blurry eyed, I opened the sliding glass door to a blast of cold winds. No whale watching today.
My Mazatlan tour soon evolved from whale watching to some serious shrimp tasting. But that adventure took a few pleasant detours.
We started out day in La Nora, a small, historic town is known for high quality production of traditional huaraches (sandals). We then ventured to Los Osuna which makes 100 percent distilled blue agave. I could have sipped some more reposado agave azul, but lunchtime intervened.
The nearby town of El Quelite was founded in 1561. Many cultural aspects of the town are honored at El Mesón Los Laureanos restaurant. Entertainment features a talented troupe of costumed dancers performing native styles of dance. During our visit, platters piled high with meats and poultry were served family style; I felt a shrimp-craving come on.
After downtime at the resort, it was finally shrimp time. We dined in El Centro, the historic district at iconic Pedro and Lola named for two famous Mazatlan vocalists. Here I learned that Mazatlan is the shrimp capital of Mexico with other local specialties of barbecued fish and banana pie. Before a camarones-vore, I ordered the Pedro and Lola shrimp, a simple and satisfying plate with oranges and Cointreau.
Yes, it’s true, my burgeoning Mazatlan shrimp addiction continued the next morning at the resort’s Sunday brunch. But I sampled some enticing desserts for breakfast, too. We wanted but did not get calmer weather for whale watching. We ambled instead around Las Labradas beach, about 1.5 hours north of Mazatlan, looking for some of the 600 petroglyph rock carvings. The small museum captured stories of the ancient carvings and symbols of deer and prickly pears indigenous to Sinaloa province.
Lunch brought us back to of Mazatlan’s Golden Zone for a shrimp extravaganza at Los Arcos. The happy, handsome and hospitable waiters arrayed an assortment of seafood on the table. I zeroed in on the Culichi shrimp. Named for those who live in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa province, the shrimp arrived in a savory green, sour cream-based sauce. Los Arcos banana pie, with caramel and pecans and a butter crust, was my favorite during the trip.
Later we headed off to another shrimp feast at Costa Marinera. We ordered fiesta camarones, a giant platter for two filled with the shellfish breaded, grilled, stuffed, in diabla (spicy), green sauces and cerveza in a special beer sauce. Another unique dish was shrimp paté: ground shrimp seasoned with lemon, onion, coriander, garlic, Serrano pepper and a hint of mayonnaise served in an avocado half with red pepper, tomato, cucumber—and Ritz crackers.
On the last morning we took a city tour. Driving along the Promenade, we saw the famous Valentino’s night club and intrepid divers plunging off high rocks into a narrow inlet. We also toured Mazatlan Cathedral with its mix of architecture and the city market where I purchased red, white and green coconut candies.
Of course, we ended with more shrimp at La Puntilla. The molcajete style shrimp—a piping hot, beer-laced borracha (drunken) sauce lined with broiled cactus, bubbling fresh cheese and shrimp draped over the rim.
Feeling like a baby whale after eating what seemed like two weeks of carmarones rather than two-and-a half days, it was time to leave Mazatlan. The multiple ways local chefs build on basic shrimp recipes appear endless as is my appetite to revisit these fresh, succulent expressions of coastal Mexican food.
About the Author:
Deborah Grossman is a San Francisco Bay Area food, drink and travel journalist whose specialty is writing about people and places that craft unique beverage and food. Her gastronomic travel articles focus on experiences at global dining table.
Photos courtesy of Deborah Grossman