Veracruz, where to eat
I have have returned from the very untouristed-by-foreigners state of Veracruz with a report. I was on a trip with a group so I didn't have many opportunities to seek out food on my own, but here are a few highlights.
While few foreigners visit Veracruz, it is a popular destination with Mexicans who come for the gulf beaches and to eat super-fresh seafood. The food is generally wonderful and fresh, like elsewhere in Mexico.
In Veracruz City there is a row of small seafood places on Calle Landero y Coss, near the seafood markets. I randomly picked one, just a room open to the street with a small kitchen area and about 4 tables, called Ostioneria La Unica. Ordering off the menu painted on the wall I asked for mojarra enchipotlada and a Sol. There were two women cooking, making puffy fried tortilla things with cheese for an older couple. One was kneading masa by hand for tortillas, and she stopped that and started making chipotle sauce in a blender. Meanwhile I saw a man come from one of the fish markets around the corner holding my mojarra by the gills and hand it to the other woman—market fresh! She prepared it and slapped it in a skillet, releasing the aroma of frying garlic. It was served with rice and fantastic fresh tortillas (freshly made tortillas were served everywhere in Veracruz, each recipe slightly different and all great), the whole fish covered with chipotle sauce and sautéed onions. Mx$65 (about $6) plus Mx$10 for each beer, fairly standard prices in Veracruz.
The very well-known Gran Cafe de la Parroquia on the malecon serves up delicious lechero and I also had a really good picata, fried cornmeal topped with eggs cooked with ham, jalapeno and topped with tangy crumbled fresh cheese. The waiter brings strong coffee in the bottom of a tumbler, bangs on the glass with a spoon and sets it down. The sound summons another guy with a big pot of hot milk with which he fills up your glass.
The big Mercado Hidalgo has lots of great-looking stuff for fans of mercado food. I had eaten so I just looked.
There is a coffee plantation in the foothills southeast of Xalapa called Finca Hilde where the 170 year-old house is run as a eco-tourism lodge (contact info not with me at the moment). If you stay there the meals are home-cooked and fantastic: barbacoa chicken is wrapped in hoja santa, spiced with mole and steamed in banana leaf until falling off the bone. Two tamales we had were in the style of southern Mexico, cooked in banana leaves: both chicken, one with green pipian sauce and one with a local mole, called xiqueña after the coffee town of Xico.
The best example of pescado a la veracruzana I had was at a palapa-roofed seafood restaurant called Costa Esmeralda, one of a cluster along the highway in Alvarado on the way to Tlacotalpan. Masterful saucing of olives, tomatoes, onions, caperberries. Robalo steamed in foil was wrapped in hoja santa and subtly spiced with peppercorns and cinnamon bark. You can't go wrong with shrimp, grilled on skewers with bacon, tomato, red bell peppers and onions, or in cocteles (tomato-based ceviche style). Consomme de jaiba (sea crab) was also stellar here, clear red spicy broth allowing the flavor of the big pile of crab meat to shine.
A delicious Tlacotalpan specialty is horchata made with peanuts in addition to rice.