If I were asked to pick any one type of cuisine that is characteristic of coastal Mexico and Baja California, it would probably have to be some kind of preparation of fresh, tasty local seafood.
The waters surrounding Baja are particularly rich with such oceanic treasures, many of which command high prices in the international marketplace.
One of these, the abalone, can only be found in a few places on the globe, and commercial operations in and around Isla Cedros on Baja’s central Pacific coast are responsible for covering a good portion of the worldwide demand for this popular univalve mollusk. Sea urchins and various species of small sea snail also constitute a solid percentage of the region’s annual seafood production for export. A typical Puerto Nuevo lobster dinner generally includes the main course, and all the rice, beans, tortillas and salsa you can eat.
But for many, it is the vision of a big, charcoal grilled spiny lobster split in half and served with plenty of melted butter, or perhaps a pile of large, succulent gulf shrimp prepared al mojo de ajo that really whets their appetite. Happily, Baja California is a premier producer of both of these highly coveted crustaceans.
The rugged and often rocky Pacific coast between the International Border and Bahia Magdalena offer a near perfect venue for the California spiny lobster.
A substantial number of residents of small coastal towns south of Ensenada are involved in the commercial lobster industry, which is the only way that lobster can legally be taken in Mexico, as opposed to southern California and Florida, U.S. states which allow the spiny lobster to be a seasonally available to sport anglers.
For many decades, one of Baja’s most popular destinations for lobster lovers has been the small, seaside poblado known as Puerto Nuevo. Located only a few miles south of Rosarito Beach, it is readily available to tourists and day trippers from north of the border who are in search of a quick, yet exotic getaway. In the early 1950’s it was basically just another community of local fishermen, until a few local families began opening up their casas to hungry travelers with a hankering for their deliciously sweet local lobster. Ortega’s, one of the originals, is still around today along with a couple others who have all grown into popular restaurants that now intersperse the rows of small shops that festoon the narrow byways. Lobster is always available, but if you want a truly local product you must visit during lobster season, which starts at the beginning of October and extends until the end of February.
On the other side of the peninsula, the northern portion of the Sea of Cortez is a prime fishery for incredibly large shrimp that are renowned for their rich flavor and delicate tenderness. Despite heavy fishing pressure, the region remains one of the world’s most reliable resources for both blue and white shrimp of exceptional quality.
San Felipe has always been a central location for shrimping operations, and their annual Shrimp Festival has always celebrated this fact. Held in early November, visitors arrive from far and wide to take part in the delightful debauchery of consuming as many shrimp and related preparations as possible under the warm desert sun of fall. Many of those who attend are also generally equipped with a large ice chest that will allow them to purchase several kilos of fresh shrimp to take home with them and enjoy later. But no matter where or when you decide to feast on a mouthwatering meal of fresh seafood taken from the waters of Baja, it is bound to leave you with a satisfied smile on your face.
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