On the malecón (pier) in the port of Veracruz. Mexican president Venustiano Carranza used this lighthouse building, built at the turn of the 20th century, as the Palacio Nacional (federal government offices) from 1914 to 1915. During that short period, the city of Veracruz was the nation's capital. Today, the Faro Venustiano Carranza (lighthouse of Venustiano Carranza) serves as part of Mexico's naval headquarters. All photos by Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
Directly across the street from the lovely old building in the photo above, the hyper-modern port of Veracruz receives and sends enormous quantities of goods to and from everywhere in the world.
Vacation! And not just vacation, but vacation in Veracruz, one of Mexico's most beautiful states--I was so excited at the prospect of re-visiting the Puerto de Veracruz (port city), where I had not been since about 1994. Two friends and I carefully chose two weeks for travel that would not be too hot, not be too humid: the temperatures along the Veracruz coast can range as high as more than 100ºF, with humidity equally high. Even during the second and third weeks of December, the high temperatures were in the mid-80s and the humidity was in that same range or higher. Did we get used to it? Not so much, but we definitely enjoyed a most fascinating trip together. From the Puerto to the mountain towns of Xalapa, Coatepec, and Xico, and from the Córdoba flanks of the Pico de Orizaba (Mexico's highest mountain, an inactive volcano) to Papantla, the land of vanilla's origin, we traveled and learned. And ate. And ate some more. Come along!
One of our group seriously craved and insisted on breakfast at La Parroquia. In researching the trip, I'd read that this old-time restaurant was muy de caída (had gone a long way down hill), but oh my goodness, our first breakfast in Veracruz was fantastic.
La Parroquia is most noted for its ritual lechero--freshly brewed Veracruz-grown coffee, poured from on high to the level you prefer in your glass, the glass then filled (again, from on high) with steaming hot milk. This first morning, the coffee wowed all three of us.
Hot milk from the heights! Photo courtesy Mexico Destinos.
The place was jam-packed for breakfast; there was no sign of a down-hill slide in quality or quantity the late-morning we were at La Parroquia. Best of all, our server, don Galindo, was a real treasure-trove of knowledge about the area. He directed us to--well, we'll go there next week on Mexico Cooks!.
Among many other regional specialties on the breakfast menu, the house special tortilla parroquia intrigued us. It's a tortilla española (Spanish-style omelet with egg and potato), cooked and then submerged in rich turkey broth. It's topped with shredded turkey, grilled onion, and chile serrano toreado (lightly fried in oil until the skin blisters and the chile is soft). Doesn't it sound odd? We were entranced by the flavor combination! Just writing about it makes me want another one right now!
Gorda negra with cheese, from La Parroquia.
We also requested other Parroquia specialties: gordas negras (corn tortilla dough combined with finely ground cooked black beans), patted out or pressed to form tortillas a bit thicker than usual. These are then fried in oil until they inflate and are served with salsa and cheese or cream. We also ordered gordas dulces (corn dough mixed with a little flour, a pinch of baking soda, and quite a bit of brown sugar), patted out and fried the same as the gordas negras, and served with thick grated mild white cheese and salsa. We also asked for what turned out to be a perfect plate of huevos motuleños, specialty of the Yucatán peninsula. We relished everything, shared among us, along with freshly squeezed super-sweet orange juice (the state of Veracruz produces nearly 40% of the oranges grown in Mexico) plus a second glass of lechero filled us to the brim.
That night, we enjoyed watching danzón in the Puerto de Veracruz zócalo. The group of both dancers and spectators was small but happy. Danzón is the official dance of Cuba and also very, very popular in Mexico.
Just to show you the dance form, here's a danzón video from Guadalajara, where one can danzón (or take inexpensive danzón classes) every Sunday evening in the plaza just in front of the Templo Expiatorio, at the corner of Calle López Cotilla and Av. Enrique Díaz de León.
In our meanderings close to the port city, we happened upon an island restaurant in tiny Mandinga-Alvarado. "Happened upon" is, of course, a euphemism for "asked everybody in the general area where to find it". Once we found the town of Mandinga, population approximately 1500, we stopped at the town taxi stand and asked a cabbie for directions to the restaurant, Isla Paraíso. He had no idea! Another fellow approached the car and said he'd guide us; he went running down the street ahead of our car and led us right to this bridge. We walked across into a world apart: Isla Paraíso opened nearly 40 years ago and is still going strong.
Mandinga is famous world-wide for its oysters. The oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is harvested throughout the entire Eastern coast of North America, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, including huge daily harvests from the Mandinga lagoon. Of course we had to eat a plateful.
The specialty of the house at Restaurante Isla Paraíso, oysters cooked in various ways and, in this case, served as an appetizer.
The restaurant owner, Patricia Waters Mújica, is British. Her Mexican husband, who passed away just a few years ago, met her in England and moved her and their family to Puebla, then to Australia, then to the Puerto de Veracruz--and ultimately to Mandinga, after many fascinating life adventures. They opened the restaurant, and Patsy has lived in tiny Mandinga all that time, raising their two daughters and running the restaurant. It was a delight to spend the afternoon and evening hearing her story.
Our last morning in the Puerto de Veracruz, we once again had breakfast at La Parroquia. This time, the restaurant unfortunately lived up to its current way-down-hill reputation. Almost everything we ordered, including this repeat plate of huevos motuleños, was far, far below the quality of what we ate the first morning. Even the coffee was disappointing. We shared the opinion that had this been our initial breakfast, we wouldn't have returned.
Next week, come back for much more de vaca y de vaga (vacation and wandering around) in central Veracruz.
Looking for a tailored-to-your-interests specialized tour in Mexico? Click here to see new information: Tours