Dinner at the Bent Taco

Bent TacoWe had dinner at the Bent Taco on Pine Street last night. Collingwood’s nuevo-Mexican restaurant is not exactly Mexican but influenced by it, and in a good way. Food was excellent. If you haven’t been there, you should go. Very popular place and I wondered why it took so long for us to get there.

Don’t go expecting traditional Mexican fare (hint: go to Mexico and get outside your resort for that!) You won’t get huachinango a la Veracruzana or Oaxacan tamales here, but you will get recognizable choices like tacos, burritos and tortas (the latter sadly red meats only, no fish or chicken or veggie options – there are some veggie choices in the tacos and burritos, though).

Go expecting food that pays tribute to Mexican style, tastes and flavours but with local flare and inventiveness. (Another hint: Taco Bell is NOT Mexican food, so open yourself to new ideas if that’s all you know).

There are homemade loteria cards posted around the restaurant as part of the theme. That caught my attention. See how many you can spot (and where possible get up close to see what they are). If you don’t know what they are about, ask your server. Or look them up online ahead of time. I hope one day the restaurant expands on that element – maybe a game night. Or a tequila tasting night that incorporates the cards…

No pico de gallo salsa at the table. This is a common side dish in many Mexican restaurants and when we’re down there we eat it by the shovelful – at least when it’s fresh. With Ontario’s great tomato crop this year, it might be the perfect time for them to develop their own (hint, hint). But also for you, dear reader, to give it a try. And you can add it to scrambled eggs to get a good huevos a la Mexicana for breakfast.

Most places we visit in Mexico offer two sauces on every table: a red (roja, which has a broiled tomato base and often has chipotle and/or ancho chiles for a smoky overtone) and green (verde, made with roasted tomatillo and jalapeno chiles; not as hot as the roja) sauce. Neither is usually hot enough for my taste and I often have to ask if there is something ‘mas picante’ in the kitchen (there often is, but seldom served to gringos).

But don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t detract from the BT’s food or service. Just that if you go looking for some traditional items, you won’t find them (yet). The BT’s hot sauce is good, but I would like to see more options in their salsas.

Bent Taco makes their own hot sauce however, a roasted garlic habanero, which is also very good although not quite as hot as I like (hot enough for Susan). Food at BT is not spicy, BTW, so you might enjoy some of this hot sauce as a garnish. I went through one of their small bottles of it with my meal.

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Mazatlan, 2016

Mazatlan
Hotel Playa Mazatlan, front

We hadn’t been back to Mexico for at least six years and we missed it. We missed the climate, the culture, the food, the people, the music… Mexico has a dear place in our hearts from more than three decades of visiting it.

For more than a decade we had been going to Zihuatanejo every February, staying in a house that was only a 10-15 minute walk from the downtown. Over the years, we met a lot of people, made friends with locals, with three generations of family that owned the house, and got to know the city pretty well. But after our long absence, we decided to try some place new: Mazatlan, a city much further north along the west coast, roughly on the same latitude as Cabo San Lucas in Baja.

Mazatlan
Downtown (el centro)

Mazatlan is much bigger than Zihua: about 500,000, and is a bustling, active municipality, not just a resort. Yet it didn’t seem overly crowded or busy. The usual traffic mayhem was on the main roads, but the core area was quiet and relaxed.

Although the area was known to the Spanish as early as 1531, it wasn’t colonized until the early 19th century when it was opened as a small port. It was never very large, and mostly remained an industrial city, until the 1940s, when tourism gave it a boost. Over the past 50 years, the population grew substantially.

It’s also known for the fishing. Mazatlan is the shrimp capital of the world, and you can get shrimp in so many varieties, sizes and dishes, I couldn’t begin to cover them all here. And the main Pacifico brewery is there, so you know the beer is always fresh. Well the Pacifico is.

Mazatlan
Near the Plazuela Machado

There is a large and attractive heritage zone in the core, of mainly 18th century buildings, punctuated by tiny plazas and parks, with narrow streets.

There is a core group of Canadian volunteers who help tourists find their way around, and provide free maps. You can find them in the plazas. Nice folk.

The majority of the downtown buildings are extremely well kept and attractive. They still function as businesses, residences and government facilities. Surprisingly, a lot of the restored buildings are apparently owned by Canadians, who also seem to make up the majority of the tourists to the city. That surprised us.

The core area is clean and attractive. Lots of small shops, galleries, bookstores and services.

Mazatlan
Hotel Melville

One place we wanted to see in particular was the Melville Hotel, a small boutique hotel that boasts a plaque saying Herman Melville stayed in Mazatlan in 1844 (although the hotel was built in the 1870s). It reflects the traditional Spanish style – high ceilings, tall doors, central courtyard – and has rooms named after famous artists, writers and photographers like Jack Kerouac, Pablo Neruda and Anais Nin. Whether they all stayed in Mazatlan or even the hotel, I wasn’t able to learn (although I knew before that Kerouac stayed in the city briefly in the 1950s). Some day, we hope to stay there, too.

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Loteria de Camacho

LoteriaEver since I first visited Mexico, more than 30 years ago, I’ve been fascinated by its culture. It’s beautiful, exotic, alien, yet also comfortable and attractive.

One of the things that have intrigued me since the start is the lottery game: loteria de camacho.

I’ve seen it for sale in many stores, and played at street vendors and booths at local fiestas. from boxed games to plastic pouches, it can be found in almost every Mexican store. It’s more than a simple game: the set is used to teach literacy, history and writing, too.

From the first time I saw these pictures, my curiosity was aroused. They struck me as symbols of a Jungian nature, or something from Joseph Campbell: icons of the collective, mythologic unconscious. You can see the whole set on may sites, including this one.

Over the decades, I’ve brought back several versions of the game, the latest being from our recent trip to Mazatlan (bought in a small farmacia near the hotel).*

While all of the images in the decks are similar, the artwork can be quite different, and very compelling, depending on the deck. There is a new (nuevo) deck that I have not found, but will search for in my next visits.

Sets usually include a deck of cards, several playing mats as per the image above (10 mats is common, but I’ve seen sets with fewer and more), plus a sheet for tracking what’s been played (sometimes just a blank grid with numbers).

In play it’s similar to bingo, although the winning patterns aren’t all identical. What continues to captivate me is the images.

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