Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mercado de Pescados

Here's the second reason I wanted to come back here - the Campeche fish market. All fresh, all local. No Pacific halibut or Arctic char for sale here just what's caught off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico. After three years in landlocked Laos this abundance from the sea was irresistible. What was it all?

On New Year's Eve my friend, Glynnna, an American who has lived in Campeche for over six years and speaks fluent Spanish, agreed to come with me and get the names of everything. Bruce came along as photographer. The folks selling the fish were totally into it and once they knew we were documenting their products they started dragging stuff out and running up to us with so many different types of fish I couldn't write fast enough and Bruce couldn't snap fast enough to keep up. We managed to get the names and photos of over sixteen different species before we became completely overwhelmed. And this was on New Year's Eve - a slow day. Here's a guy holding up the primeval looking "peje lagarto" - crocodile fish.

I took my list home and started trying to figure out what they all were in English. Some, like "cazon" - shark was pretty obvious. Others like "pargo amarillo" I figured out was yellowtail snapper. And some like "cochinito" which I know translates as little pig were inscrutable. Perhaps it's colloquial like the names of wild mushrooms in Italy. What somebody in our village calls a particular funghi could have a completely different name twenty kilometers down the road. I consoled myself with the notion that since I didn't know what it was in English I wouldn't be able to look it up on the Monterrey Aquarium website and find out I was dining on an endangered species.

While trawling the net for "corcovado" (caranx lugubria) or black jack I made a surprising discovery that gave me pause. There's a disease called ciguatera which can be found in tropical reef fish all around the world. This was a problem. Pretty much all they sell here is reef fish. Ciguatera can make you very sick or really, really sick. It grows in plankton and algae which are then eaten by herbivorous fish who themselves are eaten by bigger fish working it's way up the food chain - kind of like mercury in tuna.

Well, there goes my purchase of a barracuda steak. It seems there's no way to detect ciguatera-poisoned fish although I did enjoy some of the folklore connected with that. Flies won't land on an infected fish or if black ants crawl over it and die you shouldn't eat it. The best was if you put a silver coin under the scales and it turns black it's no good. Which, coincidentally, is what Italians say to do with your pan of wild mushrooms. If the coin turns black non si mangia.

And then it dawned on me. Please. You're going to worry about a food borne illness in Mexico!
Lighten up and stop reading Wikipedia.

Here's what we bought for New Year's Eve dinner. I already knew what these are called. Robalo and huachinango - snook and red snapper. They were both scrumptious but the robalo was superb. I've never understood why it's not more popular in the states. Is it because "I'll have the snook" just isn't as sexy as "I'll have the branzino". Then I found out that snook is not permitted to be commercially sold in America. I don't know why.

But here in Mexico you can buy it at the market and then take it over to the guys who, for a few pesos, clean your fish for you.

We took them home and marinated both in olive oil, habanero chili and Seville orange juice. Seville orange juice - which is more sour than regular orange juice - is used extensively in Yucatan cooking. It's kind of like a cross between orange and lime juice. Then we wrapped the pair whole in banana leaf packages and grilled them on the barbecue. Muy rico - delicious.


  1. Jojo e Bruce - What a pleasure! Always great to read your fun and informative journal entries. You know Lori and I love fish, so this one was especially great! Keep them coming. Maybe we'll shopw up on your doorstep in the Yucatan one day!

  2. Love your entries Jo Jo! And I agree...worried about food borne illnesses? Did you forget what country you just moved from? I think your stomachs are well prepared for whatever evil works its way into your food! Miss you both! -Diana