Eat Like Locals Do
When you spend any time at a culinary mecca such as Puerto Vallarta, it is inevitable, particularly for our international visitors, to develop curiosity about local food, beyond the offerings available at many established restaurants. At the same time, visitors have legitimate concerns about the legendary so-called "montezuma's revenge," and rightly so! After all, who wants to spend part of their well-deserved vacation recuperating from an unsolicited stomach-related illness?
Well, we have news for you: by exercising common sense and relying on the helping hand of your Vallartense friends, you can experience a variety of local delicacies that you may not have heard of back home. You'll be glad you did! And while we cannot guarantee a bug-free vacation, we can offer some tips as to some items you may want to check out, and how to go about it. Eating like a local at least once during your vacation will reward you with a truly authentic and cultural experience which you can enjoy with your entire family.
Bread and Bakeries
One of the unexpected benefits from the French intervention in México during the 1800s was the shared knowledge of time-honored baking techniques from french bakers that relocated to the New World. Today, this tradition has prevailed and evolved, drawing people to the scent of freshly baked bread at panaderías—as we call bakeries here—throughout México. Plus traditional baked goods are surprisingly inexpensive!
- Just about every neighborhood in town has at least one bakery.
- Explore both the sweet and the savory offerings.
- You can find a bakery inside all major supermarkets, locally.
Cocktails you may be familiar with aside, there are several refreshing, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that are traditionally enjoyed locally, on a regular basis, and some on special occasions.
- Aguas Frescas, literally "fresh waters," are sweet and refreshing, water-based beverages prepared with fresh fruits, commonly available at Mexican restaurants and some ice cream shops. Agua de jamaica, made with dried hibiscus flowers, and agua de horchata, made with rice, are particularly popular and flavorful, and you can find concentrated versions of them at local supermarkets to make at home.
- Agua de Tuba is a refreshing beverage made from the heart of coconut palm trees. Tuberos, the men that sell it, can be found walking up and down Puerto Vallarta's Malecón.
- Agua de Cebada, or barely water, is another refreshing, seed-based beverage that can be enjoyed locally.
- Michelada—who could have imagined that adding freshly-squeezed lime juice and ice cubes to a cold beer could be so refreshing? Ask for one at your favorite restaurant or make them at home.
- Raicilla, the local moonshine, is a distilled spirit similar to tequila, also made from the agave plant. Originally made and sold illegally, an increasing number of companies are manufacturing it under government sanction.
- Tejuino, a cold beverage made from fermented corn (the same dough used to make tortillas and tamales, actually). Tejuino is unique to the state of Jalisco, sold by street vendors, and sometimes accompanied with lime sorbet.
- Agua de Coco, or coconut water extracted from fresh coconuts is surprisingly refreshing. Several vendors are located throughout the city, and they will frequently chop the coconut open while you watch, for your amusement. The liquid is enjoyed with a straw. Afterwards, the vendor will slice your coconut open and remove the flesh for you to enjoy as well!
A trip to México would not be complete without sampling the local sweets, available at dulcerías, or candy shops, which you can find all over Puerto Vallarta and surrounding areas. In addition, as you head toward Nayarit on the highway, you will notice several candy stands, most of them coconut-based.
- Try the milk-based dulces de leche, with a soft cheese-like consistency.
- Sweet guava and quince pastes, known as ates, are delicious alone or sliced together with cheddar cheese.
- Crystalized fruit, or fruta cristalizada, another typical Mexican dessert, is another favorite among locals.
Tacos and Other Antojitos Mexicanos
The term literally means "Mexican cravings," and it commonly refers to a variety of snacks designed to satisfy precisely that. This is casual food, usually available in mexican markets, street stands, and informal eateries. And although antojitos are not considered as a full meal, many are served as such. And while versions of these can be frequently found in established restaurants throughout Puerto Vallarta and surrounding areas as appetizers, nothing beats the experience of enjoying the humble originals, found at the aforementioned locations.
- Sopes and Huaraches can be though of as pizzas, México style. They are made of the same dough used for tortillas, but feature a border so you can place ingredients over them: refried beans, shredded cheese, shredded chicken or beef, chopped lettuce, sour cream, and such. Huaraches are like sopes, but, as their name indicates (huaraches means sandals) oblong in shape.
- Tacos and Quesadillas have several things in common. They are both made using a flour or corn tortilla, with a filling. Quesadillas are filled with cheese and other savory cooked ingredients, then folded in half until the cheese melts. Tacos, on the other hand, are usually rolled around a filling. A quesadilla variation, called sincronizada, calls for two flour tortillas with cheese and ham sandwiched between them. After grilling, it is sliced in wedges and served. Tacos can be either soft or crunchy, and can be filled with seafood (shrimp or marlin tacos), pork in adobo seasoning (al pastor), grilled beef (al carbón) and many other variants.
Pozole and Birria
Pozole and birria are both rich, hearty stews. Pozole pre-dates pre-Colombian times and contains a large number of ingredients: vegetables, meat, seasonings, and whole hominy kernels (a large corn variety). Originally from Jalisco, birria is a spicy meat stew usually enjoyed during festive periods, such as Christmas, New Year's, and birthdays. Birria gets his smoky flavor from a base of dried, roasted peppers. Both pozole and birria are considered by Mexicans to be an excellent remedy to hangovers. As such, they are widely consumed on New Year's Day.
Believed to be at least 5,000 years old, tamales are one of México's favorite comfort foods. They are made by wrapping a corn-based dough in corn husks or banana leaves, which are then cooked in a double boiler, the vapor inside doing most of the work. Tamales can have savory fillings, usually chicken or pork, or sweet, raisins and other dried fruit.
Stuffed poblano peppers, visually similar to large, green peppers but very different in their flavor, originated in Puebla. They are usually prepared with a ground beef-based filling, covered with an egg batter and fried, served with a tomato-based sauce. A delicious seasonal variety, chiles en nogada, is prepared similarly, but with far more ingredients, and served with a unique walnut-based sauce and fresh pomegranate seeds.
Keep in Mind
- As sophisticated as they sound, most of these dishes are very affordable.
- Most locals have strong opinions on where the best places are to enjoy them. Your best bet is: trust a local for best quality and flavors. Listo!