Veracruz City: Mexico’s Culinary Gateway
Veracruz City—El Puerto—has been a melting pot of cultures for more than 500 years and a port oozing with history, where Spanish, European, and Asian goods first arrived. Hernán Cortés stepped foot on Mexican soil in 1519 along the Veracruz coast, forever changing Mexico’s culinary map. New ingredients fused with indigenous ones to create an entirely new cuisine. The ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques that arrived and departed from the port of Veracruz—the gateway for trade during the colonial period—resulted in a cuisine that reflects a broad mixture of indigenous, Spanish, African, French, and Lebanese cuisines. Perhaps the term mestizaje best represents the mixture of cultures that define and influence the regional cuisines of
The Sotavento: A Tradition of Fish and Seafood Cookery
The state’s low-lying coastal region, El Sotavento, is defined by bustling ports, large stretches of sandy beach, mangroves, and brackish lagoons. Alvarado is a fishing village where fish and seafood are major components of the local cuisine. The small town touts itself as the birthplace of the state’s iconic arroz a la tumbada—a soupy seafood rice dish. The region’s most popular preparation technique is undoubtedly “a la veracruzana”—a mixture of tomatoes, onions, garlic, manzanilla olives, and capers that is served with any seafood or fish and is widely popular both inside and outside of Mexico. Many variations of this basic recipe—that offer options with and without chiles, green peppers, and raisins—are reproduced throughout the state.
The Sotavento is a fun-loving place where locals appreciate the slower pace of a beach-going community and where impromptu street parties are the norm. People of all ages and walks of life are brought together to let loose to the rhythms of son jarocho, salsa, and danzón. Peanut-based liquors called toritos, and mashed fruit and ice refreshments called machacados help keep the locals cool, while street foods like volovanes and seafood cocteles give revelers energy to carry on throughout the day.
The Zona Totonaca: Home of Mexican Vanilla
The city of Papantla is the home of vanilla. Beyond the walls surrounding the city’s pre-Columbian ruins of El Tajín, Totonac Indians still harvest and painstakingly train the finicky orchids to grow and bloom the pistils that ultimately become fragrant vanilla beans. Interestingly, the vanilla bean does not play a large role in the local cuisine, as the Totonacs were more focused on harvesting and fermenting them as a commodity. Instead, the cuisine uses local foods like maize, pepita seeds, squash, and wild greens called quelites. The region is also home to the large oversized tamal, called a zacahuil, that is baked in a clay olla. Other popular dishes include frijoles con orejitas—black beans and pulverized pumpkin seeds formed into small “ears”—and regional tamales like pulakles, made with pepita seeds and black beans.
The Zona Central: Land of Coffee, Jalapeños, Moles, and Edible Flowers
The state capital, Xalapa, is surrounded by one of the world’s most famous coffee-growing regions. Xalapa has always been a transit point between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City, providing access to iconic Veracruzan dishes like pambazos, a soft sandwich filled with black beans, chorizo, and pickled jalapeños chiles; and the sweet onyx-colored mole de xico. Chile seco, the reigning chile of the Zona Central, is a term given to numerous dried chiles—mostly jalapeños—that fill the aisles of Xalapa’s markets and feature prominently in the local cuisine.
Papaloapan: Land of Seafood and Sugar Cane
Entering the quaint riverside hamlet of Tlacotalpan is like stepping into the past. Situated on a narrow finger of land surrounded by the massive Papaloapan River, the town gets its name from the Nahuatl word meaning “place between two rivers.” Pristine pastel-colored buildings with Spanish tile roofs, vintage cars, Caribbean architecture, and bicyclists are the norm in Tlacotalpan. Surrounded by sugar cane plantations, the region is known for its sweets. Many like dulces de cacahuate, a sweet peanut antojito, and almond macaroons known as mostachones are sold on the streets. Other popular dishes include molotes de frijol—fried plantain cigars stuffed with black bean paste; gallina en acuyo—chicken cooked in the herb hoja santa that is found in the Papaloapan River; and tismiche—fish larvae harvested seasonally from the Papaloapan River and eaten as a cold appetizer.
Los Tuxtlas: The Jungles of Veracruz
Numerous above-ground and subterranean rivers converge in Los Tuxtlas, the state’s southernmost region. There, the Lago Catemaco teems with rare birds, howler monkeys, eels, and other rare delicacies. Locals relish foods like tegogolos—a black freshwater snail that is transformed into coctel de tegogolo and sold by bicycle vendors. Wild cherry tomatoes and fiery chilpaya chiles form the basis of tachogobi, a sauce used to season the distinctive tamal de pepesca made from the area’s small, sardine-like lake fish. From the rich culinary traditions of the Lago Catemaco to the fertile jungle landscape of Los Tuxtlas, the bounty of the landscape is seen at local markets. Chayotes of varying textures and colors, fragrant leaves used for wrapping tamales, fiery chilpaya chiles, and edible palm fruits called chochos speak to the novelty and diversity of the region’s gastronomy.