When you're on vacation, enjoying food in faraway places can be as important as the scenery. You can't bring the mountains and ocean home, but you can duplicate favorite foods. This practical advice comes firsthand after my recent holiday in Mexico.
Fish tacos, limes, and jicama are on my banner list of Mexican favorites to try at home. Add cooked black beans as a protein substitute for meat. The beans also can be a side dish with scrambled eggs.
Every time I ate a fish taco I thought how much they belong in Toledo and should be renamed the Walleye Taco. It's a natural. So far, tortillas wrapped around fish don't carry the Walleye name here, but in a telephone survey I learned the casual Mexican-style sandwich is well-represented in the Toledo area.
Walleye Tacos will come, I am sure. I have put in a call to Tony Packo with a suggestion that Walleye Tacos be added to the downtown Packo's menu.
In Mexico at the small, unpretentious cafe where I was compelled to have two fish tacos at a time, the fish was dorado, which is the same as mahi mahi. Fish strips were batter-dipped and deep-fried and served with fresh-from-the-griddle flour tortillas. The filling was finely shredded cabbage, and salsa was on the table.
Loma Linda's and Ventura's in Toledo, sell Tilapia Tacos. Obviously they are made with tilapia, but Loma Linda's uses a chipotle sauce and cabbage and Ventura's goes for dill and lettuce. The tacos are popular in the Devils and Round lakes area in Michigan. At the Highland Inn, they are topped with guacamole sauce, and at The Other Side they are big sellers every Tuesday night. Both places use cod.
Toledo's new Hungry I restaurant has bypassed fish in tacos and is going for shrimp in a well-stuffed package. Shrimp tacos also are featured in a Taco Bell promotion.
Kay Prokop, a former San Diego food editor, credits a young man in the California city for introducing fish tacos in the United States. After tasting them in Ensenada, Mexico, he opened his first stand. It was his idea to use cabbage instead of lettuce that wilted in the heat.
Because of their frequent use in restaurants and in our condo kitchen, I gained a fresh appreciation for limes and jicama and immediately put them on my shopping list back home.
The dozen limes arranged in the old wooden bowl on the kitchen table may look like a St. Patrick's Day decoration, but one by one, they will be used in drinks, on fish and fruit, and in about every way we commonly use lemons. Lime juice delivers a satisfying, robust flavor that is not as sour as lemon juice. I am anxious to squeeze lime juice on cantaloupe, but only when it is in season. Why take home a rock-hard melon in March?
Jicama, the rough-skinned vegetable that looks like a potato and has meat as crisp as water chestnuts, sometimes appears as a crudite on hors'doeuvre trays in America.
In Mexico, whether they are crazy about jicama or because it's cheap is a toss-up. But they surely use it a lot in salads, as a snack, and as a garnish. Great mounds of jicama were sold from the produce pickup truck that drove through town several times a day. At an outdoor picnic prepared by the housekeepers at our condo, several tenants were curious about the large platter of "white sticks." It was jicama. They were also curious about the "brown stuff." That turned out to be chicken mole (chocolate), something I will not try to duplicate at home.
The Mexican eating experience covered all bases and no one got sick. We bought water for drinking, but otherwise tried the street food and the pastries that vendors brought to beach. There was no point asking where the food was from because "No English" was the answer. At a Rhythm and Ribs fund-raising festival the ribs were tough, spicy, and inedible, but the stuffed cabbage, wings, and brochette served as our supper that evening.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
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