I just took a vacation where the food was so uninspired and mediocre I wanted to weep each day over my plate. It was one of those "family obligation" vacations. You know the kind. Where a family member insists everyone spend their hard-earned vacation time and money at a destination where she/he wants to go. This family member insists you'll all love it, but you don't. You can't really complain out loud, because your beloved family member is so pleased that everyone is together in seeming harmony at their very special holiday spot, that you choke back your snarky comments. So while you sit miserably and snicker with your partner over the faults of the locale, the family member who convinced everyone to go is having the time of her life. Thankfully my very special persuasive family member doesn't read my BAB posts, so I can fully vent here.
Now although I had never actually set foot on a cruise ship before December 26 of this year -- yes, that's the very special holiday location -- I always knew I never wanted to take a cruise. My information on this type of vacation was limited, mainly culled from Love Boat episodes and those awful Carnival Cruise Line commercials where everyone is partying down. But I am not a party-down-on-a-cruise-ship type of person. When I go on vacation, I like to explore places I've never visited or return to locations I love: ambling into small family restaurants and town squares, sitting on park benches while I watch locals meander by, romping with my kids, and investigating trails and roads previously unknown. I enjoy strolling through museums, watching local theater, wandering around national parks, and chatting with people I normally wouldn't meet. I also like to sometimes just quietly read my book.
So, let's just say that my vacation wasn't quite what I would have planned had I been persuasive enough to convince my family where to vacation this holiday season. I will discuss the food on my own private Love Boat in another post -- as I just can't muster up the energy to rehash it now -- but this week I want to talk about something amazing I ate while away. It's the beginning of a new year, and I have warm and fuzzy thoughts of being less negative (we'll see if I can carry this through to February), so I want to start off with a post about something delicious. Luckily, in the midst of all that cruise ship hubbub, we found one truly amazing meal, and of course it was on land.
After three days at sea, our enormous polluting ship sailed into beautiful Puerto Vallarta. While the rest of our group took off to the jungle to zip line for a couple of hours, my family and I taxied downtown to meet fellow Babber Kim Laidlaw (who just happened to be staying an hour away) and her husband Keith (looking very tall and Scottish in the Mexican sun). Now although I usually research restaurants before I leave for vacation, I must admit that I failed to do so this time around. Maybe it was because our time in each port was limited to a few hours, or maybe it was due to my resentment at having to go on a cruise. Whatever the case, I was remiss. Luckily Kim is a much better woman than I. Before taking a taxi to meet us, she had researched the perfect place to eat fish tacos while visiting the beautiful Night of the Iguana location city of Puerto Vallarta. So while the other tourists made their way to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (there really is one of those in every seaside tourist town) our group meandered about 8 blocks away from the crowded boardwalk and into the city where we found a small aluminum taco cart called Marisma Fish Taco (yes, I realize "Marisma Fish Tacos" sounds more catchy, but the sign left off that last "s").
Marisma is the type of eating establishment I dream of finding while on vacation. With locals crowding the few stools available to taste the pleasures of its fried fish, smoked marlin and shrimp tacos, it's the real deal. Marisma, from what I understand with my limited Spanish, is the lovely woman who runs it all and I am witness to the fact that she and the other women who work there are masters at making Baja-style tacos. While orders are being taken and patrons eat at the counter or at the few tables set up on the neighboring sidewalk, one lovely young woman continually pulls handfuls of masa from a small mountain of the stuff and grills freshly-made tortillas while another woman, who I think is Marisma, cooks and runs the show behind her. And here they are...
There are salsas set up on the counter, red and green with just the right amount of spice, but the real show stopper is the chile and onion compote set in large glass goblets. This mixture -- picante, tangy, and sweet all at the same time -- is the perfect accompaniment to the fish taco, or really anything for that matter. I wish I had some to slather on my chicken at home.
Once you taste those tacos you know why, in a city full of food, people stand in line for their lunch here. I started with the smoked marlin taco, which is served in a gorgeous red sauce that wakes up the tongue and makes it dance. I then went on to the house specialty: fish tacos. These are, in essence, perfect. Dorado covered in the simplest of batters, fried until golden, crisp and beautiful and then set inside a tortilla fresh off the grill with a topping of crema and cabbage. After days of heavily sauced mediocrity on board the ship, my taste buds sighed in relief. I devoured the first taco in a few seconds, so then had to order another one, pacing myself so I could slowly enjoy the flavors. While listening to a man strum on the guitar nearby, I marveled at how such simple ingredients could coalesce to create the perfect taste.
I chatted with the nice man beside me. He had grown up in Puerto Vallarta and ate at Marisma a few times a week. At 13 pesos a taco (about one U.S. dollar) it was a bargain for both tourists and locals alike. Kim and Keith treated my family to our feast, which came out to about $20 for the six of us, which included sodas. Thanks, Laidlaws!
After returning to our ship that evening, my family and I talked glowingly of our lunch that day. While tuxedoed waiters flitted about us, serving us a very forgettable meal on china plates, our thoughts were with those fish tacos. Yo sueño con Marisma Fish Taco
Marisma Fish Taco
320 Calle Naranjo