When traveling around the world, I find half of the experience can be found in the local cuisine, the other half in the culture. There’s nothing more ridiculous than going halfway around the world only to dine at Subway or McDonald’s or some other recognizable chain. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to limit yourself, be my guest… I just think it’s ridiculous.
Never was it more true than with the ceviche de pescado in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.
This little fishing village is quaint, quiet, polite and boasts mind-blowingly good food.
If you’ve never had ceviche (se-VEE-chay) you’re in for a treat. I was watching the man who caught my lunch as I ate my lunch while he caught someone else’s dinner. The kind of fish they use here in Barra (for ceviche) is called Sierra and they grind up the meat and let it sit in fresh lime juice until the acidity in the lime literally cooks the meat – as well as imparts a rather glorious flavor. No fishy smell, no fishy aftertaste, just fresh tomatoes, diced like pico de gallo with onions and fresh jalapenos. That’s it, a little of mamasita’s secret spices and buckle up for one tasty meal. I’ve had ceviche made from halibut in Alaska, salmon in Washington, limpia in Thailand, wahu in Guam, and tuna in Japan, but this meal sets the global bar in my opinion, and sets it rather high.
One disclaimer for a few readers who I know will be thinking ‘if you don’t like a fishy taste, then you don’t like fish’: a ‘fishy taste’ is not simply the taste of fish, it is the taste of the smell of rotten fish, when I use the word fishy. Salmon ‘should’ taste like salmon, and cod ‘should’ taste like cod, and so on… but good fish doesn’t need to smell like hockey socks in order to be good authentic fish… moving on.
The other thing that is key to a fine meal abroad is to engage the locals the way YOU would want to be engaged back home where you live. Guys, this blog is about you: American notions of feminism aren’t nearly as widespread as your resident feminist friend would have you believe. The waiter will almost always look to you to order, so try and make a great first impression. Learn a little of their language, and speak what little you know the way ‘they’ speak it, not in your American accent. If you can hear your American accent in your Spanish, try harder. The worst thing you can do is expect them to speak English and understand exactly what you want.
Picture it, you’re a waiter at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, Alaska… a Japanese couple walks in and starts speaking Japanese to you. You don’t understand Japanese, so you try and tell them so, and instead of being understanding or patient, they get irritated and loud until the one person on your restaurant staff who speaks a little Japanese rushes over to help out. What a couple of assholes… right?
It astonishes me how many Americans (and Canadians) do this exact thing in Mexico, or Thailand, or Japan, or Bahrain, or wherever. Now I do speak a little Spanish, enough to crack jokes with the locals and chat it up, and I tip well, and because of it my wife and I are remembered by name, we are hugged when we return literally two years later, our favorite meal AND drinks are remembered and ordered without asking, and we get invited to parties with the locals – which is the OTHER best way to experience culture abroad: befriend your waiters, waitresses, and restauranteurs because they know where the real culture happens, and if you’re cool… they’ll invite you along.
So the next time you are in the neighborhood, learn a little Spanish, try to sound Spanish when you speak it, and if you are in Barra, order the ceviche… it’ll blow your mind.