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Travel to Mazatlan for an up-close look at taco traditions

February 14, 2018 Updated: February 15, 2018 at 8:02 am
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photo - Maaike Hoekstra, owner of her Mazatlan-based Flavor Teller, culinary experience gives food tours in downtown Mazatlan.

Photo by Teresa Farney
Maaike Hoekstra, owner of her Mazatlan-based Flavor Teller, culinary experience gives food tours in downtown Mazatlan. Photo by Teresa Farney 

I've just stepped up my Taco Tuesday game, thanks to a trip to Mazatlan, Mexico.

Here's a look at some of the culinary tours and classes I recommend.

Food tours

Alastair Porteous, chef and owner of Water's Edge Bistro in historic downtown Mazatlan, loaded us onto the back of an open-air truck - with a cooler full of beer, wine and water - and took us on a street taco tour to four of his late-night favorites.

Our first stop was at the only craft microbrewery in Mazatlan: Cerveceria Tres Islas, named for the three islands visible from the city.

Sopa-style tacos cooking on a flat top grill. Photo by Teresa Farney 

"This is what chefs do here after work: Fill up on tacos and beer," Porteous said.

Then we hit his favorite taco stand and dove into a huge serving of tacos de adobada.

"Adobada is Spanish for marinated," Porteous said. "It's common in Mexican cuisine and is usually pork marinated in red chili sauce with vinegar and oregano."

Alastair Porteous, chef and owner of WatersWater's Edge Bistro in Mazatlan, Mexico offers taco tours and cooking classes. Photo by Teresa Farney 

The tacos were classic - two soft corn tortillas slightly warmed on a grill and topped with flavorful marinated pork and fresh shredded cabbage. Several salsas served on the side included the very spicy and delicious guacamole cream sauce. I plan to add it to my taco bar.

Before our next stop, Porteous warned us to pace ourselves because of the huge portions we'd be offered.

This place served papas locas (crazy potatoes) - baked potatoes crushed on the grill and topped with caramelized grilled onions, chopped seasoned beef, a squeeze of sour cream and fresh coriander. They're served with handmade corn tortillas to scoop up the deliciousness. They were amazingly good and very filling. Grilled potatoes and onions will appear on my Tuesday Taco bar, too.

On the final stop, I had a sope. A thick corn tortilla with pinched edges made a pie-shell-like bowl, cooked until the bottom is very crunchy. The bowl is spread with pork lard, melted white cheese, grilled steak and chopped fresh cabbage. Roasted tomato sauce completed the tasty treat. Visit thewatersedgemaz.com.

A "Breakfast Bites" tour with Maaike Hoekstra, owner of Flavor Teller, took us to downtown restaurants, fish mongers and markets.

"In Mexico, we have breakfast twice," Hoekstra said. "First coffee and sweet bread, then between 10 and 11 a.m. we have eggs and meat."

We jumped on the back of a red truck and made seven stops - first for tacos dorados.

"This (food) truck is only open for breakfast and serves crunchy fried tacos, which are only eaten in the morning," she said.

They're filled with potato and meat or cheese plus three toppings, such as marlin, fried pork or machaca, dried beef that's shredded and spiced. Our taco dorados consisted of two corn tortillas folded over a strip of deep-fried cheese. We chose our toppings and added salsas, fresh onion and cilantro.

"Spice up your taco with one of the several salsas, especially the cucumber salsa - my favorite," Hoekstra said. She was right. The cuke salsa was best with the crispy taco. I'll need a recipe for that too.

We wrapped up the tour with a liquid dessert at the Cerveceria Tres Islas again - imbibing deep, dark, rich, chocolaty flavored stout. Visit flavorteller.com and facebook.com/cervezatresislas.

Culinary classes

Ana Paola Osuna, operates Tomatl Experiences cooking classes in Mazatlan, Mexico. Photo by Teresa Farney 

Porteous, of Water's Edge, taught how to make a taco without a tortilla.

"As we get older, it becomes harder for us to digest gluten in flour," he said. "So today we will use a jicama for the 'tortilla.'"

"Pick the largest round jicama you can find," he said.

The jicama was peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandolin, creating perfectly round discs, which were parboiled to soften for easy folding.

Carrots cut into matchstick-sized strips were mixed with shredded cabbage for a slaw. The discs were topped with a few poached prawns, the slaw and thin slices of pickled cucumber. This was a refreshing first course.

Softened jicama slices will definitely appear for tacos at my place.

Another class - from Ana Paola Osuna of Tomatl Experiences - showed how to make different taco styles from one dough.

Edvin Jonsson, owner and brewer of Cerveceria Tres Islas, is the only craft brewery in Mazatlan, Mexico. Photo by Teresa Farney 

"In Mazatlan we mostly use seafood in tacos," she said. "And we make the tortillas thicker because we like to serve them in a bowl with soup or broth over them. Today we're going to make tostados with refried beans and shredded beef."

We made corn tortillas with masa. They can be fried or baked. Osuna chose fried, and they were delicious.

We topped the crispy tortillas with refried beans, seasoned shredded beef, pickled onions (thin sliced red onions soaked in lime juice), crumbled queso (cheese) and cilantro.

"Now you want to put plenty of broth over the taco so the tortilla can soak up the flavors," she said.

It was fantastic, albeit a five-napkin affair.

We also made gorditas - meaning little chubby girls or this pastry, using much thicker tortillas split and stuffed with shredded chicken and cheese.

Taquitos, rolled and fried tacos, were served with tomatillo broth sauce.

"In Mexico we joke that we have a vitamin T diet," she said. "Tacos, tostados, taquitos and tamales - all made with corn masa."

Visit facebook.com/Tomatl Experiences.

These are some highlights from Mazatlan. I brought home not only new ideas to jazz up my taco bar, but also a dose of Mexican history. If a trip to Mazatlan is on your bucket list, I highly recommend these excursions.

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