Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific seacoast in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is famous here as the source of Tequila.
Guadalajara is the capital of the state, but lying inland among mountains, its climate and cuisine are different from that of the coast.
A recent visit to Puerto Vallarta introduced me to some intriguing new culinary delights as well as new spins on familiar favorites.
It also brought a few surprises, for foods with familiar names sometimes turned out to be far different from what I expected.
But you have to get away from the resorts and tourist magnets to find the real food. Fortunately, that’s easy to do, and what you’ll find is inexpensive as well as tasty.
Also note that the food isn’t necessarily very spicy, just flavorful. However, as in other parts of the tropics, hot sauces are popular, and you can spice up the dishes to the level you like. The favorite commercial
As in other parts of the tropics, hot sauces are popular there. The favorite there is Salsa Huichol, which is available in local Mexican markets. It reportedly contains cascabel peppers, cumin, salt and vinegar.
Tapatio is a nickname for the native for natives of Jalisco, but Tapatio hot sauce is made in California by a native of Guadalajara. It appears to contain garlic but not cumin.
Let’s start, however, with beverages.
Tequila and beyond
As might be expected, drinks made with tequila are popular.
Tequila is made from eight- to 12-year-old blue agave plants, which are trimmed to produce sugar-filled cores that look like pineapples. They are cooked and mashed to extract the sugary juice. This is fermented into a milky-looking liquid that is distilled to produce tequila.
A drink called pulque is also made from fermented agave juice.
Margaritas are very popular, and they’re served in many flavors besides the classic mixture of lime juice and orange liqueur with tequila.
Especially popular seemed to be those flavored with passion fruit, which is a bit tart so it can replace all or part of the lime juice.
The ratio of the ingredients in a Margarita ranges from 1:1:1 tequila:lime:orange liqueur to 2:2:1 to 3:2:1.
Bartenders often slip in a little simple sugar (water boiled with water into a syrup and cooled) to soften the taste, though orange liqueur does contain sugar.
Brands of orange liqueur or triple sec include Curaçao, Contreau and Grand Marnier. Generic brands seem OK in a drink like this. Clear tequila makes the most sense, too. There’s no sense in using fancy aged tequila.
Small Mexican limes here, often called Key limes, are used there, and they let them ripen to yellow when they’re less tart than the unripe ones we get. And in Mexico, a limon is our lime. They don’t generally use yellow lemons.
You can serve Margaritas on the rocks, chilled with no ice or as a Slushee-like frozen concoction.
Other beverages are also popular. Coconut water is ubiquitous as well as being a mixer for mixed drinks with tequila, usually served in the coconut shell.
One local drink is “tuba” made from lightly fermented coconut palm sap usually served with chunks of fruit and nuts.
Tepache is fermented pineapple juice.
Tejuino is a corn-based drink fermented with rustic “piloncillo” cane sugar, then mixed with lime juice or lemon sherbet and a dash of salt.
Beer is also popular. Pacifico and Modelo Especial are most common, and Corona is considered for tourists, but all three are light and refreshing cold on the beach or with the food.
The local food isn’t necessarily ideal with wine, but wine from Chile and Spain is popular. You don’t seem much Mexican wine even though some is excellent.
— appetizers and snacks
Here are some of the most popular snacks, which can be eaten alone or before a meal:
Fresh fruit and vegetable plates of pineapple, cucumber, jicama, papaya and mangos are everywhere. When they are dusted with cayenne powder and lime juice, it’s called “pico de gallo” (rooster beak), but it has nothing to do with our pico de gallo, the tomato and chili-based condiment they call salsa Mexicana.
Elotes a las brasas are grilled corn ears on a stick slathered in mayonnaise and dusted with cotija cheese and chili powder.
Esquite is corn kernels cooked with salt, epazote (a native herb) and other herbs then served in a cup. Customers add mayonnaise, sour cream, cotija cheese, butter, salt, chili powder or lime juice.
Puerto Vallarta ceviche
Unlike the ceviche in some other parts of Mexico like Baja California, ceviche is chopped fairly finely in Puerto Vallarta.
It is fresh seafood “cooked” in lime juice with salt and chili peppers. Topped with chopped cilantro, and mild onion and avocado slices, it is generally served with tortilla chips.
Tostadas de marisco are seafood salads (including ceviche) served on tostadas.
More like our version of ceviche with large pieces of seafood is aqua chiles, although its usually made with shrimp or scallops, not fish. It often contains chopped cucumbers.
Pescado embarazado (pregnant fish) is skewered bite-size pieces of fresh fish marinated and grilled. Mahi-mahi, snapper (huachinango), shark or marlin are the commonly used fish. Swordfish would work, too.
The shrimp version is called camarones embarazados.
The name is a play on words. Embarazado describes the cooking method: Vara means stick of wood and asado means grilled and the phrase sounds a bit like embrazado or pregnant.
The fish is marinated before grilling with ingredients like garlic, olive oil and black pepper and served with salsa Huichol and lime.
Fish tacos are generally made with fried fish, chopped cabbage and mayonnaise, as in Baja California, with hot sauce added.
Raw oysters are popular, and often are served with lime and hot sauce.
Main courses from Jalisco
Not all dishes use seafood and fruits. Some from Guadalajara are favorites in this seaside town too.
Tortas ahogadas are a signature dish of Guadalajara. The name means “drowned sandwiches,” and they’re made with a dense roll stuffed with pork and drenched in spicy salsa.
Pozole is corn hominy soup made with pork or chicken, onions and chiles. Red pozole is hot and spicy; the white or translucent version is milder. You eat it with lettuce, radishes and tostadas.
Rancho Gordo in Napa has great dried hominy. The canned version can’t compare with it.
Another specialty of the state of Jalisco is birria, a spicy meat stew made with goat or lamb (or beef for gringos). The meat is braised slowly with spices like cumin, oregano and ginger. Minced onions, cilantro and limes garnish it.
Tamales (one is a tamal) are found throughout the Americas. In Jalisco, they are made with white corn dough around with salty or sweet fillings. The dough is wrapped in corn leaves and steamed a long time to firm up.
The most popular are savory verdes or rojos, tomatillos or red tomatoes with meat with chili pepper.
They are also made with sweet pineapple, guava or other fillings without the chiles.
Some other local Jalisco dishes include:
Gorditas (Little Fat Ones) – A thick tortilla of a small diameter made with masa corn dough, filled with cheese, shredded pork, beans or mashed potatoes. It is similar to the pupusas of El Salvador.
Chiles Anchos Rellenos – Rehydrated dried ancho peppers are filled with cheese, squash flowers and battered and fried.
Enchiladas Tapatías –Rolled corn tortillas are filled with cheese and onion in chili sauce and fried, like our flautas.
The cuisine of Jalisco is well worth investigating, preferably there; but to get you started here I’ve shared a few of my own favorite recipes.
“The Luxe List” Executive Editor
marileenMerilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.LuxeListReviews.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***