Take catch-of-the-day seafood, add Mexican spices and culinary expertise, throw in some live son jarocho music, and you have the makings of a first-class seafood meal in Veracruz, Mexico. As a key port on the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz has been refining its gastronomy for centuries, and has embraced cooking techniques from the Spanish, African, Indian and French immigrants that have flowed through the city.
You’ll find it easy to score a quick seafood bite, such as a tostada heaped with lime-drenched ceviche, or to sit down for a leisurely five-course dinner of huachinango a la Veracruzana, the city’s signature dish featuring a whole red snapper accompanied by tomatoes, onions, chiles, olives and capers.
If you’re in Veracruz for a limited time, sample the maximum amount of seafood dishes by heading to the Mercado de Pescaderia, the city’s fish market. If you have time to spare, explore the restaurants around the city’s zócalo as well as those on the water in Boca del Río.
Some years back, the fish market moved from its quarters in the middle of town to its present location on the edge of the city. Using Veracruz’s zócalo (main square) as a focal point, it’s easy to get to the market by hailing a taxi. It’s a 10-minute taxi ride that should cost no more than $2. (Confirm the price before setting out, since cabs in Veracruz don’t use meters.)
The fish market occupies a two-level warehouse bedecked with colorful pennants flapping in the breeze. The market is equal parts fish stalls and small restaurants. It’s a bustling atmosphere, with trucks zipping in and out, banda music blasting from speakers, and workers hauling plastic tubs packed to the brim with fresh fish. Before settling down for a meal, take a stroll past the vendors, and peer into the various stalls heaped with shrimp of all sizes, brilliant yellow pompano, slimy octopi, huge jackfish and live blue crabs still clicking their claws. Chances are the display will inspire a healthy appetite.
There are many restaurants to try, with both hot and cold seafood dishes — from bracing aguachiles (shrimp cooked in lime and chile) to coco en salsa de piña (coconut shrimp with pineapple salsa). Portions tend to be generous, and the ideal strategy for enjoying the Mercado de Pescaderia to the max is to travel in a small group. That will allow for plenty of sharing.
A City of Seafood
Back in town, Veracruz offers scores of restaurants, with the biggest concentration being those that surround the city’s zócalo. Lots of these venues have al fresco seating; snag one of these outdoor tables to enjoy Veracruz’s famed strolling musicians. This is a good time to sit back and enjoy a skillfully prepared huachinango a la Veracruzana. Adventurous eaters may want to order a bowl of estofado de erizo de mar (sea urchin stew); locals refer to it as a natural Viagra.
In the morning, if the night before included one too many cocktails, dig into a bowl of spicy sopa de mariscos, a savory stew swimming with shrimp, fish, octopus and blue crab. There’s no guarantee a hangover will vanish without a trace, but it will definitely put you on the road to recovery.
Some Jarochos (residents of Veracruz) swear that the best fish restaurants are located in Boca del Río, which is 25 minutes south of the city of Veracruz. Three reliably excellent venues there are El Canda, Restaurant El Varedero and El Recreo Restaurante.
In Boca del Río you can kick back, twist the cap off an Indio beer, set your toes in the sand, and order some fresher-than-fresh ceviche — all to the sounds of the marimba players passing by.