Baja Food Is Popular Everywhere

Mostly because we know fresh
BY: DAVID FLORES

I’m continually surprised there are so many international reviews on Baja food. Baja style fish tacos, shrimp tacos, ceviche, baked clams, lobster tacos, machaca (shredded beef), and many more. Born in Mexico City, which is a food snob paradise, I currently living in Baja, and I can understand the love for culinary creations of the seafood variety, but I did not expect the following that our Baja cuisine has among Gringos.

Nor did I expect to see such a vast variety of books and articles written about Baja cooking, and lately, the fascination with Baja wines and vineyards. In Northern Baja, for some, Ensenada is a paradise for foodies. It’s a town that’s been hit with numerous economic disasters, and it’s hard for restaurant owners to survive this roller coaster ride, but living there is a delight for some.

For example Diego Hernandez is happy to live there. A native of Ensenada, Diego worked hard to become a chef, not knowing that his hometown was on its way to transforming itself into a world class culinary destination. He lives there because “I like to wake up and see the sea and watch the starry nights with no electricity in sight. But above all else, I live here because Baja’s food scene is like no other. Here, we eat the sea.”

Ensenada is full of small vendors selling ceviches made from the freshest fish. If you feel like eating clams, go to Gordito the clam vendor, or look up Güero when you crave shrimp. Tizon has the best sea urchin and chiluda clams. La Guerrense, is the most famous street seafood spot, which has been owned by the charismatic doña Sabina for more than 50 years. She sells the best octopus and cod in the area. It’s easy to live in a place where food is this good, but it’s even more envy worthy to live in a place that allows you to have your own sustainable restaurant with an orchard.

Ensenada’s geography enables it to exist as the perfect environment for organic and sustainable agriculture. It is surrounded by two seas: the Pacific Ocean, with its cold water, and the Sea of Cortes, which is a warm water sea. The land is fertile, there’s a lot of space for crops, and the climate fluctuates, but the sunlight and heat balance it out. People there have been cultivating and eating organic produce way before it became a worldwide trend. At first, they farmed organically because they didn’t know anything different, but then the American market asked them to keep it up, and invest in becoming certified, so that’s how they wound up cultivating so much food that ends up in U.S. supermarkets like Whole Foods. If the vegetables don’t pass the quality controls over there because of their size, they stay here and are eaten by the locals.

Eating something that has just been harvested makes a huge difference in taste . This is why many restaurants are now planting small orchards that provides them with the fresh produce that is needed to make their dishes.  The immediacy, the freshness, and the quality of the products are true luxuries in Mexico. This means the flavors are more alive because the peak of freshness when you serve it right away is dramatic compared to weeks later. It’s important to expose the produce to the real climate of the place, both cold and heat, to soak up the natural sunlight and maintain their natural cycles. Chefs can build their menus around what their orchards give them. The orchard has the reins of the business: The orchard is in charge.

In Ensenada you can find smoked tuna, because there are smokers all over town. The second course is clams; the third, vegetables; the fourth, raw fish; and the fifth is always a warm dish (which can range from a tamale to a soup, a tartlet, or something sautéed).

Here, all the cooks, farmers, beer makers, and other producers are a tight knit community that’s simply beautiful. Without intending too, they have influenced other cuisines and communities in Mexico. The reason for this might be the fact that Ensenada’s food is so fresh, maybe because our community is so positive. Or maybe because their lifestyle is so beautiful and healthy. It’s all a result of living in an idyllic place.