Back in late October, I plugged into the Google search window, “Iyengar workshop February”. What turned up was great fortune in terms of discovering a phenomenal Iyengar yoga instructor in NYC’s dynamic Lara Brunn, a truly special lodging in Mar de Jade, (tucked into the base of that lush volcanic jungle yonder), and the tiny West Coast Mexican fishing village of Chacala, Nayarit.
Meals at Mar de Jade are fresh, creative and abundant offerings. Much of the produce served comes from their own organic farm, and I’m sorrily missing my wee-hours morning snack of sweet n’tart guayabas eaten out of hand, and the housemade mango marmalade slathered stickily on toast.
The non-adventuresome and easily contented traveler could do no wrong in staying put for the duration, but that doesn’t suit my local cuisine-curious nature. A short stroll down the beach brings the scent of woodsmoke and the promise of fire-licked fish, fresh from the morning’s haul. Sit down, toes-in-sand with a friend, a liter of Pacifico, a pile of limes and salt to kick off a leisurely afternoon of grazing through Chacala’s finest oceanic offerings.
As a starter, I cannot resist a ceviche de pulpo. Served with a side of crunchy tostadas and limes. Limes with every dish at every meal. It’s a trend I can get on board with.
Bbq’d huachinango (red snapper), prepared as the local specialty, “pescado sarandeado” at Acela’s. Each palapa-covered restaurant has their own proprietary blend of sarandeado basting lubricant, many including a foundation of the local bottled hot sauce, Salsa Huichol. Whether you opt for the sarandeado or “al natural” preparations, the fish emerges moist and flaky with the lashing of smoke from local hardwoods.
This year’s travelmate, Binnie, and I devoured our first kilo of huachinango sarandeado at Acela’s. Served with warm corn tortillas, and a picante just-made salsa. Yes, soft fish tacos brightened with juicy squirts of lime, por favor.
Peering at Chacala through lush jungle foliage during a hike up a dormant volcano. So prehistoric in feel that a swooping-in from a pterodactyl would not be at all surprising.
Peeling buckets of sparkling-fresh camarones. Soon to become ceviche, a topping for a tostada, or grilled with garlic and butter, “al mojo de ajo”.
Bottles of Jarrito’s Mandarina soda and huachinango sarandeado for two.
In the name of comparative research, we eat another kilo’s worth of huachinango sarandeado. Done to a flip of the grill cage at Chico’s.
Chacalans must love their beans. The fish came with a side of refried beans, and a grilled tortilla filled with more of those same frijoles.
Grilled local spiny lobster, “al natural”. Maine lobsters, these aren’t, but when in Chacala…
The oysters looked beautiful. I love oysters, yet, I feared the Mexican oyster (shame on me). Next trip – I promise. They were served plump, glistening and simply on the half shell with a pile of limes, and I gazed enviously as locals devoured their platters with gusto.
There are at least fourteen varieties of bananas growing in the tropical climate of Nayarit. The plaintains (platanos), are robust and fleshy, and delicious cooked on a slow grill and topped with jam and sweetened condensed milk. I worked on a similar recipe for Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue, topped with guava paste and salty cheese. Do try this at least once with someone to share.
If grilled platanos aren’t your sweet thing, the ice cream man cometh. And so does the cart of fresh fruits sprinkled with chili salt and – you’re getting good at this – lime juice.
Chacala is home to some of the most intense and hotly-hued sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. Each night provided the only visual entertainment one could possibly desire, accompanied by the soothing sounds of the surf. Lights out.
This post is dedicated to Salsa Huichol, table mascot of Nayarit.