Midnight in Mazatlán: Trading Tequila for Trunk Tamales

Street art of frog dreaming of food

Let’s talk about food! You would never know it by looking at me, but I eat a lot. I love food and I want to eat everything, but I can’t because of genetics. Lucky for me, I came to a place that is primarily corn-based instead of wheat. So I can eat most of the things. Who needs gluten anyway? Let’s start with Guadalajara and work our way to Mazatlán. They are only a six-hour bus ride from each other, but still very different.

To the market!

The very first thing I spotted as my ride-share drove me into the Guadalajara neighborhood, where I would be spending the next two months, was an amazing Sunday market. Tianguis! These open-air markets spring up around the city on different days of the week and offer an enormous variety of items for little money. The one I spotted by my apartment happens every Sunday and has so many amazing fruits and veggies and meats and cheeses. It closes down the entire street for like 15 blocks. So much fun.

Smiley face in coffee
You know it’s going to be a good day when your coffee smiles at you!

What do you do with all this fresh produce right around the corner? So many things! First thing is to make mojo shredded chicken and pikliz (pickled Haitian cabbage slaw) for breakfast tacos. The chickens here are a wonderful orange color because the farmers feed them yellow marigold flowers (also creates bright orange delicious egg yolks as well!). I’m back in the land of fresh corn tortillas from the tortillaria. I honestly hated corn tortillas in the States. Then I got to México and tried fresh corn tortillas. Noms! There is no going back after that!

Now my mojo chicken is already a bit spicy because the fresh poblano peppers I use actually have a bit of a kick. But I still like to add hot-sauce. You can buy hot-sauce from the store, but veggies are crazy cheap here, so store bought is just a waste of moneys. I made two different kinds. One is a freakishly hot Belizean carrot-based orange sauce made using orange habaneros. So spicy!!! The other is a lovely green tomatillo based sauce that works a lot better when you can roast the tomatillos in an oven. No oven here. Sigh. The stovetop worked okay.

What are those tiny bananas?

On the days that do not have a Tianguis, I found my absolutely favorite fruit stand inside the Mercado in the fun neighborhood of Santa Teresita. I got so comfortable with my veggie vendor that I finally asked him about the tiny bananas they sell. Plátano dominico. These delicious gems are a bit sweeter than your average banana with an almost pineapple flavor. So-so good. I started buying these a lot for Monkey Lala rum drinks. Nothing better than reading a book on the deck with a fruity rum drink in the tropics!

Plátanos Dominicos
Plátanos Dominicos are absolutely delicious. You have to try these the next time you are in the tropics. So much flavor in such a tiny package!

Speaking of alcohol, I’m back in the land of tequila! Did you know that Guadalajara is an hour drive from the town of Tequila… where tequila comes from!?! Well, you do now! You have to do this if you come to this neck of the woods. So much fun! Needless to say, the tequila here is absolutely delightful and really inexpensive. Great for sipping and in homemade margaritas!

It can’t all be cooking at home, right? I don’t go out much. Eating out can be expensive. A lot of times I have no idea what to order. And I have to worry about gluten in my foods. My poor intestines also don’t like too much salt or food that is too fatty or rich. I have more control eating at home. But how the heck am I going to learn new foods if I don’t try them first? Plus, I don’t have a grill, and I love grilled food.

Time to dine out…

One of my good friends from Oregon said that I just absolutely have to try Menudo with tripe (cow stomach). This soup is so good, but I had a hard time with the tripe as it was a bit chewy. My friend said it should be fall-apart-soft, so I might have to try again at a different restaurant. My jaw hurts real bad if I eat chewy meats. I’m just slowly falling apart here. It’s all good though.

What I did find in Guadalajara that is absolutely amazing is Quesabirria. You may have heard of Birria before. Birria is meat that has been marinated in adobo sauce, slow cooked in broth until mouth-wateringly tender, then shredded to be used in tacos. In Tlaquepaque, they add cheese to the corn tortillas to make them into Quesabirria, and then pan fry them for a crispy outside. They are served with a spicy broth for dipping. You would die! They are so good!

Street art of squirrel with corn-cob spray-paint can
Corn is a huge staple around here. Being as I can’t eat the glutens, I’m very happy with all the corn foods!

A similar taco dish is tacos dorados. Street vendors sell these all over the place. Shredded meat in corn tortillas that are grilled to perfection. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. You get loads of toppings like grilled jalapeños and onions, pickled onions, salsas, and absolutely, most importantly… lime wedges. You have to squirt fresh lime into your taco or the gods will frown upon you!


I’m a big fan of tamales (tamal if I only want one… see I’m learning you things!). But… did you know they come in sweet as well as savory!?! Pineapple Tamales!!! I could just die. They are so good. I found this wonderful tamal stand down the street for like 20 pesos a tamal (~$1.20 USD). Then I found a different vendor selling tamales steamed in banana leaves instead of corn husks for about 35 pesos. Very different texture and flavors. It’s become my job to try them all… you know… as research. You’re welcome.

Another interesting food item that you will see around town in grocery stores and in open-air markets is hominy. Hominy is simply corn that has been dried and then treated with an alkaline solution of some sort. This entire process is called nixtamalization, and it makes the corn kernels soft and three times as big as usual. It also makes the corn more easily digestible by us humans, so you get to absorb all those wonderful nutrients that you would normally poop right out.

Chicken Pozole
See the giant corn kernels in this Pozole? They have been nixtamalized to make them more digestible. And delicious!

If you grind up the hominy, you can make all kinds of things like tortillas, tamales, huaraches, gorditos, a delicious local beverage known as tejuino (more on this later), etc. But if you want to use the hominy as is, you can make an absolute delightful soup called pozole. I made mine with rotisserie chicken in a green sauce (salsa verde) but I hear red sauce is delicious as well. There are tons of variations of pozole with a variety of types of hominy. It’s a food lover’s paradise!

Chorizo… with rosemary?

I’ve been dying to make up some paella but I can’t find a good Spanish style chorizo. Now I know what you are thinking. You’re in México. Use Mexican chorizo. Here’s the thing. It’s different. Very, very different. For one, it’s more like hamburger than sausage as it’s not dried. For another, it’s made with spices that are very dissimilar to Spanish spices. I’ve been trying a bunch of different varieties. I even found one made with rosemary. Weird.

Okay, I made up some fresh stock and switched out the chorizo. Plus, I added cilantro to give the paella even more of a Mexican flavor. It was so good! I highly recommend you try this. While this might have been a success. My attempt at Spanish tortillas was not so much. I don’t have an oven. You know what you need to make Spanish tortillas?… an oven. It ended up as scrambled eggs with potatoes. It was still delicious.

Fish tacos
I found a 1-to-1 gluten-free flour mix with which to make San Diego style fish tacos! The Zarandeado sauce is the best part.

Just as I was heading out of Guadalajara to get back to the ocean, I finally-finally tried tajuino. This is a lovely drink made by fermenting maiz (ground hominy (aka: nixtamalized corn)) and piloncillo sugar (raw “Mexican brown sugar” sans molasses). Tajuino has very little alcohol (less so than cambucha) and contains some good gut bugs. It is served cold on ice with lime, a pinch of salt, and a scoop of lime sorbet. It is delightful and tastes vaguely like a margarita! They are served from carts in many of the pop-up open-air markets (Tianguis). You have got to try one!

I need me some ocean!

So you all remember me telling you about my trip from Guadalajara to Mazatlán? Well, it was very late, and I was already hangry when I finally left the new apartment to go search for food. I couldn’t find anything fast that I could eat from the grocery store, but a woman was selling tamales from the boot of her car and I immediately grabbed a couple. Trunk Tamales! Not as good as the tamales from Guadalajara, but still good. I think they had yucca in them. Noms.

But here’s the thing. I kept going back and could never find her again. Maybe they didn’t sell well in that location, so she moved on? Who knows? I did come across a gentleman who walks up and down The Malecón with a couple of coolers selling pretty good tamales. I got spoiled in Guadalajara. Ultimately, I settled on the tamale stand in the famous Mercado Pino Suarez. They not only have pineapple but also sweet bean with chocolate and sweet corn. So good!

While Mazatlán isn’t really known for their tamales, they are known for their shrimp (well, actually Pacifico beer, but food-wise, it’s shrimp). So much shrimp! I hardly ever cook with shrimp because of the environmental impact of harvesting and transport. But this is local and you have to eat local. At first I tried taking the heads and shells off before cooking. Bad idea. Then I learned that you could use a toothpick or a pair of sharp tweezers to pull out the poop chute without disturbing the shell too much.

Cooked head-on shrimp!
Shrimp! Mazatlán is shrimp country, for sure!


Cooking shrimp in their shells is the best way to go. They stay moist and it’s more difficult to overcook them. Plus, it is so much easier to de-shell them once they are fully cooked. Plus, you can suck the delicious juice out of the heads, so there is that. You can make a delightful stock with the heads and shells when you are done. I used this stock to make shrimp paella. Noms! I did try the dried shrimps sold around town, but they were a bit too chewy for my jaw.

However, they made a wonderful addition to homemade kimchi! At first, I couldn’t find Napa cabbage so I had to resort to using regular green cabbage. Not bad. It helped that the jicama here is absolutely crisp and flavorful. That went in as well. After that fermented at room temp for several days, it was ready for kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakes, and kimchi shrimp sushi rolls. It helps that I found a Japanese grocery store just down the street!

With all the sushi places around here, I was excited to try some. Here’s the thing. Almost all the sushi rolls and poke come with cream cheese (known everywhere as Philadelphia!). If you are from Seattle, you have heard of adding Philadelphia to rolls (and calling them Seattle Rolls!). But I still think it’s weird. The Japanese store has cases and cases of Philadelphia in the fridge section. Now I know why.

Kimchi in fancy jar
Kimchi with jicama is the best! Sometimes you have to substitute with local ingredients and it works out well.

Does it taco? …lasagna?

This wonderful apartment comes with a toaster oven and a small glass pan that will clearly be wonderful for lasagna. But who wants a regular old lasagna when you can make a taco lasagna!?! The butcher shops at the Mercado sell shredded carne asada (grilled beef) so all I had to do was sautée some onions seasonings and add the cooked meat with a bit of vinegar to add some acidity. Noms!

While the meat is already cooked from the butcher shop, it is stored open with all the raw meat, so it’s a good idea to give it another cook. It’s like my chicken lady giving me a sucker on Valentine’s Day with raw chicken bits on her fingers. I’m going to wash that sucker before I stick it in my mouth… but I’m definitely going to eat it! Back to the lasagna… it’s layers of cooked meat, refried beans, Chihuahua cheese (new to me and delightful!), corn tortillas, and homemade tomatillo sauce (salsa verde: I got to use the toaster oven to roast the tomatillos!). It turned out slightly too salty but surprisingly delicious!

Have you ever had a tamarind drink or partook in a bowl of Pad Thai? Well, in Seattle, I would just wander down to the store to get some tamarind paste and cook away. Not here. You have to work for it. The tamarind comes in a brick with seeds. You have to add boiling water to break it apart and then mush it through a strainer to get the good stuff. It’s a pain. But the Tamarind Margaritas and Shrimp Pad Thai are well worth it!

Food Tour!!!

Remember that food tour I told you about when friends came for a visit? Well, my mum-in-law bought a bunch of Oaxacan mole. She bought a red one, an almond one, and a black one. Unfortunately, the black one got mixed up at the store and she ended up with two red ones, so she gave me one. It’s a pretty solid paste, but has easy enough instructions. Take some homemade tomato paste, sautée with the mole until darker, then add some chicken stock.

Coconut sweets
The coconut sweets sold around Mazatlán are so good but kind of hard on my jaw. I might stick with the coconut marshmallows instead.

I lightly seared my bone-in chicken parts first (you don’t have to, but I like it) and then added them to the simmering mole. Cook until chicken is fall-apart tender. OMG… I could die… so good! The leftover mole is absolutely amazing on top of tamales, so I had lots of meals with this. I actually had to freeze some so it wouldn’t go bad before I got to it. Oaxacan mole is so good that I’m thinking of planning a trip to somewhere in the state of Oaxaca to try more varieties!

The food tour also introduced me to coconut marshmallows. I can never go back to regular old marshmallows from the States. I am forever ruined. Sigh. I also finally got to partake in Oaxacan fried crickets (chapulines). I’m not sure I would eat an entire bag, but they were genuinely good, and I’m glad I got the chance. They are an excellent source of protein and have a nice crunch.

Let’s discuss fruit

Walking around in any market in the tropics and you are bound to find a large variety of fruits that you have never seen before. Maybe never even heard of before. I have a really hard time with these because I don’t know how to pick them (how do you know when it is ripe!?!). I don’t know how to open them up nor what parts to eat (do you eat the skin? What about the seeds?). And I don’t want to waste it if I don’t like it.

Nance berries on sweets cart
I grabbed a bunch of these nance berries (yellow fruit next to the coconut marshmallows) for on top of panna cotta. It worked well but was an effort.

This is how I came upon nance berries at the Mercado. Tons of people are buying them, so they must be good. They sometimes come in a cup with Tajin (chili salt) on top, so you must be able to eat them whole and on the go. They look like cherries. Are they cherries? They are not. After a bunch of research, I finally bought some as a topping for coconut-milk panna cotta (made with an unlabeled bag of gelatina that I found at the dulce shop).

Here’s the thing. Nance berries are a pain to get the seeds out. It took like an hour to cut them all up and they smell really weird. Not bad per se, but weird. However, they stop smelling weird as they are cooked and they taste wonderful. I will probably stick with plums and strawberries for the panna cotta, but I’m really glad that I got adventurous and tried something new. That is what slow travel is all about!

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