Saturday, July 20, 2024

Mexico’s top 9 seafood dishes you absolutely must try

Mexican culinary mastery needs no introduction, particularly following the fanfare over the country’s recent cascade of Michelin accolades. Covering every point of the spectrum between simple to complex dishes, delicious regional masterpieces abound, encompassing expansive flavors, unique textures and ingredients of enviable quality. Amongst these incredible dishes, Mexican seafood sits at the very top of the pile.

And as might be expected with the aquatic glory of its Pacific and Atlantic coastal regions and diverse inland bodies of water, Mexico’s seafood dishes sparkle. An astounding 2,692 species of fish live in Mexico, encompassing over 10% of the world’s fish diversity. With such a wealth of options, Mexican kitchen aficionados from abuelitas to master chefs have perfected seafood selection and preparation. 

Among the hundreds of mouthwatering options to tantalize the palate with, are several iconic delicacies that you must cross off your culinary bucket list. Below, we bring the top nine must-try classic Mexican seafood dishes.

Baja-style fish tacos

Fish Tacos
It’s like fish and chips, but in a taco. And better. (La Ruta de la Garnacha)

Born on the sunny shores of Ensenada in Baja California, these crispy, smoothly battered fish morsels tucked into warm tortillas have been a coastal staple since the 1950s. Legend has it that Japanese fishermen introduced the concept of tempura to Mexican cooks, giving rise to this crowd-pleasing explosion of textures and flavor. The tacos are at times made with shrimp, but most often made with a firm, flaky white-fleshed fish, typically a local catfish, mahi-mahi, tilapia or cod, and adorned with tangy slaw, lime and zesty crema. Sometimes called Ensenada-style fish tacos, these crispy treasures are a popular must-try, whether on the beach or inland. 

Ceviche de sierra

Ceviche
Ceviche is one of Mexico’s defining dishes, for very good reason. (El Sol de Mazatlan)

Ceviche has roots tracing back to the ancient civilizations of coastal Peru, and has since been adopted – and adapted– into Mexican culture.  As its name would suggest, ceviche de sierra showcases the Pacific sierra, a mackerel  prized for its firm texture and rich flavor. Nearly all ceviches utilize the alchemical process of lime-juice cooking, and this variation combines chunks of sierra with crisp onions, juicy tomatoes and fragrant cilantro. Originating in the coastal regions of states like Nayarit and Sinaloa, this zesty dish is not to be missed.

Huachinango a la veracruzana

Straight from the Caribbean to your plate, huachinango is a vibrant melting pot of flavor – literally. (H-E-B)

Veracruz is known as a tropical melting pot, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the region’s most famed culinary staple. Huachinango a la veracruzana emerged in the 16th century colonial era when Spanish conquistadors and indigenous cooks began blending their culinary traditions. Developed in the port city of Veracruz, it reflects the influence of Spanish, African and Indigenous cuisines found in the city, with its huachinango fish — red snapper — swimming in a luscious sauce that marries land and sea in a blend of tomatoes, olives and capers.

Pescado or pulpo zarandeado

Pescado zarandeado
While the Huichol people are best known for their stunning art, their fish are every bit as good. (Marcus Nilsson/Bon Appétit)

Originating from the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, the traditional zarandeado grilling technique was perfected by the indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) people. Over generations, this dish has evolved into the perfect balance of char and succulence that speaks to Mexico’s mastery of fire and flavor. Butterflied fish or octopus is basted with a chili-laced marinade, then slow-cooked over smoking coals on a zaranda grill. The result is a lightly charred exterior that opens into a perfectly juicy interior, enhanced with flavorful spices and notes of citrus. 

Ceviche de Colima

Ceviche de Colima
Often overlooked, the Colima-style ceviche is a great reason to look twice at this tiny slice of the Pacific coast. (Cocina Casera)

Hailing from the small but gastronomically mighty state of Colima, this regional specialty elevates ceviche to a crunchy art form. Often combining a medley of local fish like dorado (mahi-mahi) or róbalo (snook), Colima-style ceviche is distinguished by its finely diced ingredients including tomato, onion, cilantro, green chiles, carrots and cucumber, lending the dish a subtle sweetness and extra crisp. The dish reflects Colima’s unique culinary identity, shaped by its coastline and the influence of pre-Hispanic and colonial traditions. It’s a divine explosion of freshness and texture on the tongue.

Caldo de camarón or pescado

From humble beginnings, the caldo de camarón has become a national comfort food. (MAMÁ CONEJA)

A twist on your typical veggie or chicken-based broth, this soul-warming soup with pre-Columbian origins has nourished coastal communities for centuries. Brimming with plump shrimp or tender fish morsels or both, vegetables and aromatic herbs, it offers comfort, a bit of spice and depth in every spoonful. It’s also a fine way to utilize the most flavorful parts of fish which are typically discarded, such as the head and tail. Originally a humble fisherman’s meal, it has become a beloved staple across Mexico, with each region adding its own twist to this hearty classic.

Aguachile

Limes, chilis, onion and fish combine to produce a bowl full of heaven. (Daniel Harding)

Born in the culinary hotbed of Sinaloa, this fiery cousin to ceviche sets mouths ablaze with its ingenious combination of chili-spiked lime juice, chiltepin peppers, cucumber, red onion, ultra-fresh shrimp and raw fish. Originating as a way to preserve fish in the scorching heat through the citrus cooking technique, aguachile has evolved from a way to preserve fish into a celebrated dish that offers a refreshing kick to the taste buds, awakening the senses.

Tacos gobernador

Sinaloa strikes again, with these delicious cheese covered pieces of seafood goodness. (Maricruz Avalos Flores)

A modern classic born in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, these succulent tacos were allegedly created in the late 1980s by a Sinaloan chef for the governor’s visit to his restaurant, hence the name. Crispy griddled tortillas cradle a decadent, buttery filling of plump shrimp, poblano chilis and melted cheese, garnished with grilled peppers and onions, creating a gooey, savory indulgence that quickly became a favorite across Mexico. 

Cóctel campechano

If only eating leftovers was this delicious all the time! (TV Pacifico)

Named after the port city of Campeche, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, this seafood lover’s dream showcases the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico. The cocktail-style dish emerged in the mid-20th century as a way to use up leftover seafood, quickly becoming a beloved hangover cure and beachside refresher. Featuring a mix of ocean treasures from shrimp to octopus to fish swimming in a vibrant, tomato-based sauce spiked with citrus and chili, it offers a refreshing and complex set of flavors in every bite.

From the coastal specialties of the Baja peninsula to the treasures of the Gulf, Mexico’s seafood dishes offer a delicious journey through the country’s rich culinary heritage. Each recipe tells a story of cultural fusion, local ingenuity and the bountiful seas that surround this diverse nation. Whether you’re savoring the crunch of a fish taco or the zesty kick of aguachile, these ten iconic dishes showcase the depth and breadth of Mexico’s seafood mastery. They invite food lovers to explore the flavors, techniques, ingredients and traditions that make Mexican seafood cuisine truly extraordinary.

What are some of your favorite Mexican seafood dishes? Have we missed any from this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Monica Belot is a writer, researcher, strategist and adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City, where she teaches in the Strategic Design & Management Program. Splitting her time between NYC and Mexico City, where she resides with her naughty silver labrador puppy Atlas, Monica writes about topics spanning everything from the human experience to travel and design research. Follow her varied scribbles on Medium at https://medium.com/@monicabelot.

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