Overland miles: 1063 Tacocount: 37 Days without Tea: 3
The evening sun was glinting through the foliage that provided a natural canopy over the courtyard in the centre of the hotel Yeneka in la Paz, B.C. We were drinking shots of very acceptable Tequila with the compliments of the house (which is a great selling point of this slightly loco establishment – a minus point is the amount of flesh eating insects that nibble happily on your extremities whilst you relax in the rainforest-style surroundings). Suddenly, Clare suggested: “We’ve been eating a lot of tacos lately. Why don’t we go for sushi tonight?”
She had a point: we had been indulging in taco-mania, which is fantastic at any time of the day, and particularly for those visiting Mexico on a tight budget, but sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself, and try something a little different. “It won’t be the sushi we’re used to back home, you realise”, I pointed out. “That’s fine”, she said. “Let’s order weird stuff. It’ll be fun.”
I admit to being a little hesitant here: my essentially parochial nature to trying ‘world foods’ dictates that, completely illogically, I will feel that X cuisine being served up abroad is “just more authentic back home”. As though the Japanese decided to export two very specific versions of their incredibly varied cuisine: the ‘right’ one for the British, and an adulterated, fabricated one for everyone else. You just have to look at the sub-standard quality of ‘Mexican’ (i.e. comedy Tex Mex) food only available in the UK up until about three years ago to know this is complete rubbish. We are a very inclusive nation when it comes to trying and adopting everyone else’s cooking, but that doesn’t make us more discerning.
But I digress: tacos were (temporarily) out, and California rolls were the new negra. So popular is Japanese food in Mexico, in fact, that a new fusion cuisine called ‘Sushi Mexicano‘ has sprung up, in which various chilli salsas accompany dishes of California rolls, or in some cases are added directly to the rolls. Sushi Zone, on the Malecon overlooking La Paz seafront, was chosen as the most suitable venue to experience this fusion fashion first hand. It was a fantastic spot view-wise, as the sun slowly set using a luminescent palette of reds, oranges and pinks. It was less easy on the ears: aggressive rock tunes blasted out of the restaurant and its sister bar next door in a cacophony of aural dissonance. I tried to block out the mood music and ordered a Clamato.
I’ve never had one of these babies before and was thoroughly impressed. It was like a slightly-saltier-than-usual Bloody Mary, the clams providing the attitude to the mix and the tomato adding warmth and depth. The waitress had offered to make mine with more salt and lime, which I think improved the overall balance of the drink. I wasn’t sure if Tabasco, or a drop or two of the filthy hot sauce that it’s customary to add to fish tacos and tostadas was added as well, but it wasn’t overly spicy, otherwise I think it would have entirely obliterated the food. I heartily recommend trying this drink where available: you don’t have to like clams particularly either – Clare doesn’t and she seemed to enjoy it.
When it came to choosing the food, there were seemingly unlimited options on the California rolls front, perhaps appropriately given the region we were in, a few Tempura options and very little Nigiri or Sashimi on offer. Not that slices of raw fish on their own were really in our price range. We thought we would choose two different rolls and a starter to share, but when we saw the size of the rolls on our neighbours’ plates (immense) we realised that would be overkill, and when we saw the size of the first course we ordered (the same as a main) we were mighty relieved that we’d revised our order. Just check out this starter!
It was Pollo al mango (chicken and mango sauce with rice), and it was like, half a breaded chicken. Ace. The meat was coated in a delicious coconut batter (coating things in coconut seems to be popular in these parts). The sauce it came it came with was light and fruity, but really really sugary, so the two elements together overloaded the sweet senses. I dipped mine in the soy they’d provided on the side instead, and that seemed to work fine. Next up were the Osaka rolls Clare had chosen. Again, please marvel at the copious rice bounty before us:
The main ingredients rolled in the rice were cucumber, avocado and cream cheese, strangely cooked salmon slices were daintily draped on top, and something possibly fishy reposed majestically atop. It sat stickily in a great sea of something called Salsa Anguilla, which we think was Teriyaki sauce. Anyway, it didn’t work for me. It was just too creamy and again far too sweet to be said to create that harmonious blend of tastes for which good Asian food is known. I don’t know if this is how California rolls are served in the US, or the Mexican interpretation of how they should be. It’s definitely not how they taste in the UK, or for that matter Japan.
But each to their own I say, and to the rest, dipping sauces. Naturally, a host of these turned up all at once on our table, and I turned my attention to each in order to alchemise the perfect combination of flavours in this dish. Thousand Island, apparently the preferred topping on our neighbours’ rolls, we also far too sweet and abandoned quickly. Soy clashed with the Teriyaki and turned the rolls to a salty mulch. Pickled cucumber was moreish on its own but didn’t work well with the other cucumber in the roll. I was left with one more choice: pickled habanero. My Japanese friends in the UK will be shocked at what your intrepid PFB reporter did next: I slathered it on the rolls. And despite my misgivings, it shot a whole new bolt of flavour through the monstrous dish. I was astounded; proof if needed that a good dose of Mexican chilli can right any culinary wrongs.