Boca de Tomates: a dirt-road access beach, sandwiched between PVR airport and the beginnings of Riviera Nayarit, and a little-known gastronomic gem.
The mother spends much of the year down here now, so she has her connections. One of her local friends brought her here, and now she’s been back ‘many times’.
But what, you ask, is the draw?
There are a couple family-run beach shacks right on the sand, and little else. They specialise in pescado zarandeado – a delicacy served along the Pacific coast of Mexico. Around the Bahía de Banderas region, they often use pargo or huachinango - both names for red snapper (the former is cognate with ‘porgy’ in English, another name for snapper I believe). They slice the fish in half, remove the spine, lather the flesh generously with lime juice, a special sauce made from garlic, chiles (often ancho and arból), and other ingredients, and a little mayonnaise, and grill it over an open fire. It’s unabashedly delicious.
But the pescado was not the first of our culinary pleasures of the afternoon. When we arrived around four or five with some good daylight left, we were ushered through the kitchen to our usual table. Such was the third sign of the nice treatment we were going to receive as a party of ‘regulars’, the first two being the garrulous and jovial welcome upon our arrival and the immediate preparation of fresh cocos, coronas with lime, and tostadas del pulpo, a circular crispy corn chip topped with octopus ceviche. That one was a highlight already, and we hadn’t even witnessed the main event. The octopus was oh-so-tender, almost like miniature sweet pillowy gnocchi but even better because it was octopus. But hey I’m a sucker for it, what can you do.
When we finished the coconut water (which was incredibly fresh and refreshing), they would take the husk away and return a few minute later with a plate of the meat, cut into slices and dressed with lime juice and chile flakes. Yet another delicious highlight even before any snapper had found its way onto the table.
While the mother and her friends chatted away in Spanish, dad and I surreptitiously ducked back through the kitchen to watch the fish on the fire, only to return to our cocos and coronas in heightened anticipation. As the sun began to sink, the family trouped out bearing a large platter, the fish splayed out in all its grilled, red glory.
Each family and region has its own particular set of recipes for the special sauce. I can only speak for our version, but I’m not too worried about that because it was mind-blowing. The fish itself was at the height of freshness, and it was a big one too – they told us the bigger fish are often fattier and more delicious, a claim I would not dispute. The sauce had become concentrated on the outside of the flesh from the heat, searing into the surface, concealing rich, fluffy layers of thick flesh.
We ate reams of it with soft homemade tortillas, tostadas, rice, and salsa. How we ate that huge fish between the four of us I’ll never know. But it was a transaction of honour on at least a few levels.
Perhaps the best bite of the entire evening, though, was the eyeball. If any of you have had a fish eye you already know what I mean. If you haven’t, check your instinctual revulsion and give it a try the very next time you find yourself face to face with a reasonably fresh fish.
It’s like butter and caviar mixed together, but even more textural and, as it were, ‘raw’.
Our bellies began to cast longer shadows. We were full and we ate.
It was a time. I don’t eat fish often, but this is just the sort of right experience I save it for. What delight. I thought about it all the way home.