Traditions

Tired of Sport Fishing?
Try the Veracruz Seafood Market

Photos and Text by John Todd, Jr.

R.I.P. The Veracruz Fish Market--See Update Below

Update: February 1, 2007
For a long time, the city authorities have been trying to get the Veracruz Fish Market to move out of the downtown area. The reasons were poor sanitation, the building was in bad condition, etc.

The shopkeepers resisted these efforts for a long time, but to no avail. In 2006, the city began construction of a new fish market located in the near downtown area next to the Pemex tank farm. The shopkeepers didn't like the new location and resisted all efforts to move.

Evicted by the Riot Police
So last night at midnight, the last people holding on to their shops were forcefully evicted by the Veracruz Riot Police. You can read about it in this article in Notiver.

When the dust settles, I plan to visit the New Fish Market and talk to my shopkeeper friends to see how they like it. And maybe I'll have a shrimp cocktail, and see if the price is still $17 pesos.

A Friendly Wave
As a Former Angler
I used to be an angler until I came to Veracruz.

I learned to fish for perch and catfish with worms as a kid in the small creek a block or two behind our house. Later I learned how to fly fish in the mountain streams of Colorado in the summer time.

Then, I graduated to salt water fishing using live and dead shrimp in Port Aransas and Corpus Christi. Texas.

I never got to deep sea fishing because no matter what I do I still get dreadfully seasick and donīt enjoy it. Over the years, I have done a lot of fishing.

At 6 AM in Veracruz
The Veracruz seafood market is a beehive of activity early in the mornings. From about 6 AM on, when the trucks bringing in the overnight catches begin to arrive.
Pescadería Building
Fresh From the Sea
In the mornings when I walk by the seafood market, I enjoy hearing the music.

Sultry and tropical rumbas, cumbias, and cha-cha-cha.

Most of the music sounds like it must have been popular in the 1930īs and 40īs, and kind of sounds like the music of Havana during those years.

At the entrance of the market are people selling chile habanero which is the hottest variety of chile pepper known to man.

They give a great flavor to the seafood soups popular in Veracruz.
Corner Restaurant
Havana Style Chiles
Entrance
A Special Moment
The rays of morning sunlight before it really gets hot quickly dries the freshly washed pavement as people open their shops.

Men begin to unload from the trucks the red boxes of all kinds of seafood packed tightly in ice.

The buyers for the local restaurants, hotels, and shops, as well as others planning events come by to look at the overnight catch, and buy the best at wholesale rates.
Unloading Small Trucks
Men in wheelbarrows wheel the fish and shrimp ahead of the buyers.

By by about 8 oīclock everything has been sold, and the seafood shops are open for business.

Favorite Cooking Hints
The people in the shops also know how to prepare the fish and shrimp.

They can also give you tips on which type of fish is best for a stew, frying, enpapelado (baked in a bag or aluminum foil), or even raw as in a ceviche.
Entrance
Entrance
Wheelbarrows of Seafood
How to Prepare the Seafood You Buy
These guys are the experts on how to prepare fish for any size function.

All you have to do is ask.

Sometimes you don't have to ask.

While they are wrapping your purchase they may ask if you are planning a special dinner.

Then they may give you some new ideas on special local spices to add.
Blowfish
The Shops
Many of the shops are old family businesses and have old photos from Veracruz on the walls.

The Experts
As for fish, you can buy it whole and take it home to clean.

Or you can pay one of the helpers a little bit to gut and scrape the scales or prepare in filets, just as you wish.

All you have to do is take it home, add a few spices, and cook it.

These guys love seafood.
Where to Start
Browsing the Shops
Prices donīt vary too much.

You can haggle for a couple of pesos, but the prices are pretty much firm according to supply and demand.

I used to think they raised the prices because Iīm a gringo, but I saw other customers willingly paying the same prices I had been quoted.

They want to sell.

Salesman and Shrine
Business Shrines
In every shop is a shrine to someone.

Perhaps to have a seafood shop is an act of faith unto itself.

The salesmen and owners are nice and pleasant to everyone, and try to please.

Seafood
As I wandered around looking, I was amazed at the wide variety of seafood.

Red Snapper, octopus, and of course, shrimp. Of all sizes.

Flounder
Gulf Coast flounder has delicate meat and is delicious!
Red Fish
Gulf Coast Flounder
Boxes of Fresh Shrimp
Self Service Shrimp
Silver Fish to be Dried
Minnows
No fish is too large, or small.

These look like the little fresh water charales from Lake Catemaco.

People dry or smoke them in salt. They are eaten whole like potato chips.
Squid and Octopus
Squid and Octopus
Squid and Octopus arenīt too bad especially when you add the spices.

Live Crabs

Crabs
They sell live crabs all tied up in what looks like palm strings. They can live a long time out of water.
Large Fish
Fish Display
Weighing In
Fishermen Waiting for Money
Shrimp Prices Are Good
Shrimp is Plentiful
If you like shrimp, they come in all sizes, and have different prices according to the selection.

Shrimp prices also vary according to season.

Right now the peso is around 11.50 to the US Dollar.

You can check out the prices.

Fat Eels
The Second Floor
From the street there is a stairway leading up to the second and third floors.

I had never been upstairs before and was curious.

What I found was a market that sold a little bit of everything from tomatoes, cilantro, and other vegetables, juices, as well as some of the more exotic forms of seafood like eels.
Fileting Fish
Fresh Natural Juices
Family Size Table
The Third Floor
A lot of people in the rest of the world arenīt aware that Mexico has one of the widest varieties of ways to prepare all kinds of seafood.

I have never seen anything like it.

Fishermanīs Wharf in San Francisco has some good steamed crabs, but it doesnīt approach the quality of the seafood you can get in Veracruz, even at the most common market.

Red snapper, shrimp, octopus, big fish, little fish, stews, sauces, fried, baked, caviar, and even spiny sea urchin stew.

Itīs all great!

The people of Mexico are accustomed to getting good seafood in their restaurants here.

Somehow they havenīt been able to export it. Maybe the missing ingrediente is cilantro.

Menu and Prices
Indian Girls
Restaurants
The Best Kept Secret in Veracruz
I went up to the third floor expecting more of the same but found a bunch of small restaurants and fondas.

I was welcomed by the employees and invited to sit down.

I looked around and saw large families, and some of the street people you see around town.

Then I noticed the prices. $17 pesos for a coctail de camarones or shrimp cocktail. The cheapest one in town!

This is probably the freshest seafood in town, and at the lowest prices.
Viagra de Veracruz
It came from downstairs in the market.

Someone later told me the third floor is one of the best kept secrets in town.

Clean Restaurants
Although there must be 25 restaurants in the wide open space they are all clean and fresh looking.

Another thing I noticed was that in spite of the large number of people, TVs, and tropical music, it seemed quiet and peaceful.

A great place to enjoy all kinds of seafood.

A natural version of Viagra is Sea Urchin Stew. It tasted kind of like a shrimp cocktail.
Fresh Shrimp and Red Crabs
No More Sports Fishing
Sometimes when I look at my fishing rod and tackle box in one corner of the storeroom at home, I wonder if I will ever want to go fishing again.

Now that Iīm in Veracruz, fishing is not the same anymore, but now I enjoy sitting down to a great seafood dinner, starting with fresh jumbo shrimp, then a spicy caldo de camarón with a couple of droplets of fresh lime juice, and the main course huachinango a la veracruzana(Red Snapper), followed up with some heavy aromatic Mexican coffee.

From now on I think Iīll let someone else go catch the fish.

Update on the Fish Market Restaurants

The New Location
An Unexpected Surprise
Several weeks had passed since the Fish Market was somewhat violently moved.

None of the businesses there wanted to leave.

It was centrally locally downtown for both customers and suppliers.

I had been out of town for several months on a project and drove by the old fish market and saw the demolitions crew at work.

I would miss having a mid morning shrimp cocktail downtown.
El Mercado de la Concordia
Business at the Port of Veracruz
One morning I had some business at the port of Veracruz, and while I was waiting for my appointment, I started talking to the security guard.

I had noticed my old parking lot across the street from the post office was now a market of some kind.

The security guard told me it is where they moved the restaurants from the fish market.

They hadnīt disappeared!

After the appointment, I walked over to take a look at the New Fish Market Restaurants. It was actually better than the old one.
Lots of Good Service
Spacious on the Inside
A Wonderful Shrimp Coctail
(Veracruz Style, Of Course!)
Spacious and Clean
As I walked in the front entrance on the railroad station side, the first thing I noticed was all the free tables. And the cleanliness.

I stopped and talked with Doņa Isy at her restaurant near by and she greeted me with a wide smile. It looked like she was happy with the change.

If you are looking for the old fishmarket restaurants, they are now located about two blocks from the Zocalo, between the Holiday Inn and across the street from the Post and Telegraph offices.

The next time, I am downtown to check the mail, I think Iīll stop off and order a shrimp cocktail in a bola glass. Come to think of it, I need to check the mail more often.

I also need to go check out the New Fish Market which is another 10 minute drive from there.

Back to the Traditions Section