By Carla White
Images by Karina Gutierrez
My eyes bugged out of my head when I stared, face-to-face, at that big Huachinango…oh, wait a minute. The big guy was actually staring glassy-eyed at me. Fish get in your face sometimes…they are like that, especially when they had to leave their kelp beds unexpectedly.
But still…they all had their mouths hanging open when I walked by. Well, what do you expect from a port city where fishing is one of the major industries? Great seafood, that’s what. From street vendors, to fine restaurants, to trucks emblazoned with the words camarones frescos (fresh shrimp), the bounty of the sea is everywhere in Ensenada.
El Mercado Negro
No doubt about it, this is a sensory Ensenada experience not to be missed (unless you take issue with hundreds of beady little black eyes staring blankly at you). El Mercado Negro (the Black Market) is off of Blvd. Costero, near the triangle that is formed by Costero, Calle de la Marina and Blvd. Teniente Azueta.
On approach, you’ll be hawked by waitresses and waiters flagging you down with menus from different taco bars.* Continue stoically on towards the entrance of the fish market. Comprised of two long hallways, each corridor is lined with spaces for fishermen selling different kinds of seafood. The choices are vast: mounds of plump-looking shrimp; abalone (in season); swordfish, tuna and more. You can bargain, but what you pay for a pound of swordfish will be a fraction of what you would pay in the States. They’ll weigh your fish in kilos, lump your fish purchases into a bag, and you’re good to go**…but be sure to ask for extra hielo (ice) to keep your fish fresh.***
*These taco stands are good, especially the one of the southern corner of the street, right across from the entrance to the mall/movie complex.
**Be mentally ready to do fast calculations. And bring pesos.
***Wear close-toed shoes. Consider rolling up your pants’ hems.
De Garo — Pescado, Hierbas Finas Y Mariscos
De Garo’s is where many high-end restaurants and savvy consumers, and the editor of this article, shop for the catch of the day. On Av. Miramar No. 666-1, up near the original Santa Tomas winery and restaurant Embotelladora Vieja,Edgar Hernández Zúñiga has established a business that is renowned for offering up only the freshest fish caught by reputable local fishermen. A nice touch here is that they filet the fish on site and package them in individual containers, sealed fairly air-tightly. They will tell you the best way to cook your fish, and they also have lots of other goodies – ceviches, organic vegetables, spices and patés (want to impress your neighbors? Try the tuna paté).
TIPS ON BUYING FRESH FISH & SHRIMP
From Alain Genchi, owner Barra Azul restaurant
“Everything about eating fish—raw or cooked — is about its freshness. This is the joy of living in Ensenada, where we can have the freshest that there is!”
Check the eyes: Clear, bright eyes are the sign of a very fresh fish.
Look at the skin: Shiny skin is a good sign. Be wary if the skin looks patchy, or if it does not seem firm. In fact, if you can, press the flesh to make sure it is full, not mushy.
Smell the fish: If you think a fish smells bad, don’t buy it. A fish should smell like it is fresh from the water, or just a little briny, like salty sea water. Pungent is not a good word when it comes to fish!
Fish gills: The color of the gills, those flaps near its mouth, should be bright red. If it is a dull, darker color, it might not be fresh.
Shrimp: The first sign of shrimp going bad is its head, which might darken and sag. There should be no black spots (melanosis) on the shrimp. Shrimp should only smell like saltwater.
So, if you aren’t ready to hop on a boat and catch your own, visiting the colorful fish markets is the best way to find the freshest pescados. It’s a photo opportunity and a dinner waiting to happen! For more information about Ensenada, where to stay and play, visit Baja.com
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