Veracruz offers a limited range of restaurant options, most of those open in the evening cradle the Zocolo (central square) and are empty much of the time, their menus a simple mix of Americana and Mexican stables, they don’t appeal much, The interesting local venues have a habit of opening weird hours, closing at 7pm, rendering the few appealing options closed when I want to eat.
There are a couple of Veracruzian restaurant icons, both open for over 70 years, these local institutions are open long hours and were packed most of the day, and through much of the night. Many of the local reviews confirmed most of the venues in town could be less than ok, I found myself returning to these local stalwarts because it was better than ok, not great but pretty ok. I liked the fact the restaurants were long serving members of the community and they served the local-esque food I wished to eat and preferred ok to a possible negative experience. Veracruz is one of the few places I have travelled to where I settled for, and returned to a venue more than once for simply ok food.
One of my first dishes was carne ala tampiquena, or meat of the parish as it would be translated to. This compound dish is not all that complex, but filled with symbolism, with each of the components representative of a part of the Huasteca region of Mexico. It consist of a strip of grilled beef, black bean puree, white cheese, guacamole and what should be green enchiladas, my enchiladas had red sauce for some reason and the chef had included fried plantain. I didn’t mind, it was quite delicious and as hearty and filling as it looked.
A couple of the dishes I ate here were remarkably plain, the Spanish tortillas, both classic and with peas did turn out to be good examples of a tortilla but nothing all the exciting. The racion de pavo ensu jugo, portion of turkey with juice, was served with chips and little else, it was flavoursome enough but so dreadfully plain. On reflection I am not entirely sure what I was expecting to have placed in front of me, it certainly fit the menus description adequately.
Then there was huevos a la Malaguena, eggs in the Malaga style, and that was a surprisingly tasty dish that I really enjoyed. Sure it looked a bit like a melted children’s toy topped with peppers and palm hearts, yet underneath the contorted surface of the baked eggs the ceramic dish was laden with bacon, ham, sausage, peppers, mushrooms and onions bound in a rich tomato sauce.
After one of the meals when I hadn’t over eaten I did enjoy a portion of flan napoleon, I do like a flan and this was an example that I liked. Though I am much more accustomed to eating individual portions of flan, this wedge cut from larger flan was a little denser than I have eaten before. The burnt sugar taste and rich creamy body almost have enough resistance to be considered a light chew, I really enjoyed that element of it.
The delicious flan was not the only sweet items I ate while in Veracruz, indeed the city has the prestigious title as the only place in Mexico, so far, that has a source of freshly fried churros. The small street cart made me happy, I do love a good churro, but those that have been pre-cooked seem to develop a stale taste as they cool, their texture goes a bit beyond firm. My immediate thought when I saw the stall was yes! fresh fried at last. As I watched the thick dough fry in the hot oil, I dreamt of the crispy, overly hot exterior, the crisp granulated sugar and the lashings of sweetened condensed milk that would be drizzled over the top. I was happy to not be disappointed.
The sense of child-like glee I enjoyed at the prospect of freshly cooked churros was relived at a Boca de Rio restaurant the following day when a street vendor approached our table, his rather attractive sweet platter of delightfully cheap confectionary items was impossible to resist. The platter has completely filled with mostly coconut, tamarind or dulce de leche based items, or one like him I tried a few tooth melting item. How could I not?
The tamarind ball, was little more than sour tamarind and granulated sugar, reminiscent in flavour of the sour candies I enjoyed eating as a child, the texture was pure granulated sugar, I was under no pretences about the degrading health of my teeth as I ate the sweet.
The coconut stuffed fig was no less sweet, the sweetened condensed milk pound shredded fresh coconut was good, better than an coconut ice I have ever eaten, the fig was candied with a firm texture and wonderful sheen, it hadn’t retained much of the fig flavour I had hoped for.
My final item was a dulce de leche fudge, it tasted exactly like any other simple fudge I have ever eaten, with a crisp shell and meltingly soft interior.