Sunday, January 30, 2005

A Little Taste of Baja in Montreal

Back in 2001 I spent most of the summer in Southern California. At the end of the summer my sister and I took her jalopy south of the border to Baja for a few days. It was that trip that brought an end to 11 years of vegetarianism for me. I’d already decided that if I were to travel to, say, China, that I wouldn’t want to pass up on the local specialties in order to maintain my diet. Well, it wasn’t Chinese food that did me in on that occasion (although I guess it could have been, seeing as we did pass through Mexicali’s Chinatown during our stay in Baja), it was a combination of the local Mexican specialties. Almost immediately after we got down to the small fishing village that was our primary destination, it was clear that very little down there was going to be vegetarian, strictly speaking. I didn’t think I was ready to try everything on offer, but seafood was the local specialty and I was pretty sure I could handle freshly caught fish and shellfish. Most days we only ate twice, and my favorite two meals were chilaquiles for breakfast, and fish tacos for dinner. Chilaquiles has since become one of my preferred brunch meals. I find the combination of fried tortilla strips, sautéed onions, garlic, tomatoes, bell and chili peppers, and scrambled eggs absolutely irresistible. It’s the perfect meal to make with day-old corn tortillas, and few meals get you off to a better start in the morning. The fish tacos were served up simply—just a few pieces of fried fish in a couple of corn tortillas—but what really made them (and what distinguished our favorite fish taco haunts from others) was the assortment of condiments that accompanied them. The best places provided us with a vast assortment of condiments that were both fresh and tasty. These included salsa fresca, guacamole, pickled jalapeno peppers, pickled onions, pickled cabbage, lettuce, green onions, crema, and an assortment of hot sauces. We’d order three tacos each (they were usually about $2 (US) for three), overstuff them with fixings, and feast on them. With a couple of cervezas and a seafood cocktail as an appetizer (the clam cocktail was the most delicious one we came across), we were set. Afterwards we’d wander over to one of the ice cream shops, have a cone, and take in the streetlife.

You can find a pretty good ceviche in Montreal, but you’re hard-pressed to find any fish tacos. We have no lack of good seafood here, though, so I’ve taken to making a trip to Nouveau Falero (5726-A Ave. du Parc) to pick up a couple of fresh filets for my homemade Baja-style fish tacos. There’s one major difference between my fish tacos and the ones I had in Baja: I don’t fry my fish. I’m not the hugest fan of fried fish, so what I do is I take my filets (I always use a firm-fleshed fish like blue marlin), I chop them into one-inch cubes, I marinate them in a mixture of tequila and lime juice, and then I sauté them over medium-high heat for just a few minutes (3-5) in a wok. I then serve the fish in warm corn tortillas, with homemade refried black beans, steamed rice, and an assortment of toppings: homemade salsa ranchero and guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, carrot salad (made with green onions and lime juice), and Tapatío hot sauce (nothing finishes off a taco like Tapatío, in my opinion). My dining room doesn’t quite have the atmosphere of those outdoor fish taco stands in San Felipe, but the tacos do a pretty good job of bringing back seaside memories of Baja California.


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