Postcard from Campeche, Mexico: With abundant seafood, an ideal place to spend a meatless Lent

For anyone giving up meat for Lent, Campeche City would be an ideal place to spend the 40 days. Seafood is inexpensive and abundant. Finding fresh ceviche is no problem, and the huge shrimp are wonderful. A local favorite preparation is coconut shrimp, but menus offered many other options. Likewise, pulpo was prepared in vastly varying recipes.

My absolute favorite seafood dish was the stacked salpicon de mero (a fish confusingly translated sometimes as grouper and sometimes as Chilean sea bass) offered at La Parrilla Colonial. Our top vote-getter for shrimp was a grilled wheel of shrimp topped with a cheese and spinach sauce served at Bavit 59. Other standouts included the cubes of ahi tuna topped with avocado at Bavit 59; camarones de coco and tostadas topped with pulpo al achiote at Restaurante Don Gustavo; and the achiote tuna tacos at La Parrilla Colonial.

And then there is dogfish. Americans have been slow on the uptake to eat dogfish, even though the small shark is commonplace from Maine to Florida. Fishermen harvesting them on the East Coast ship them off to England. The English apparently do not possess the same degree of seafood snobbery and gobble them up in pubs frying them for fish and chips. This lack of a market in the United States probably is a good thing because it takes a long time for these spiny dogfish to make babies; their gestation period is 18 to 24 months.

In Campeche, however, dogfish or cazon, is celebrated and used in numerous traditional dishes. Pan de cazon resembles stacked enchiladas. Black refried beans are spread on multiple layers of corn tortillas, topped with stewed, shredded dogfish and then covered with a tomato sauce prior to baking. Another centuries-old recipe features chiles xcatic, a regional yellow pepper, filled with stewed cazon. Although flavorful, we were not bowled over by either of these complex preparations. But this was not because of the flavor of dogfish. The cazon dish most to our liking was the simplest one – fresh dogfish tacos. We enjoyed these as an appetizer at Los Delfines, one of a strip of casual seafood palapa restaurants clustered together on one end of the malecon, a concrete boardwalk stretching miles along the bayfront.

We did eat meat several times. The Mister was smitten by the chicken with chaya, Mayan tree spinach, at La Parrilla Colonial. In addition to an elevated preparation of cochinita pibil, the kitchen turns out a flavorful taco al pastor for less than $1. Luan Restaurante Café offers a remarkably good milanesa telera, similar to a bolillo, but the cafe’s hours varied wildly. We broke away from regional specialties several times to enjoy Italian food at Scattola 59.

Both Luan and Scattola 59 endeared themselves to us because they carried multiple bottles of reasonably priced red wine. Some of the best restaurants in town made us feel as though they were conning tourists, as in us. They regularly claimed to be out of wines we ordered, with the only ones available as substitutes priced $5 or even $10 more. This touristy treatment made it hard to feel at home in the place we were staying for three weeks. A waiter at a boutique hotel should not be expected to beg customers to post positive reviews on TripAdvisor. And, in addition to upselling wine at another restaurant, the Mister had to endure a 15-minute parade of expensive Tequila offerings before finally being served the one he originally requested, strangely presented perched in a Johnnie Walker glass.

Aside from warning you to beware of or prepare to endure those peeves, we’d recommend any of the mentioned restaurants. The food in Campeche is distinctively different – in a good way – from any other place we have been in Mexico. Sure wish I’d encounter salpicon de mero in San Antonio.

Postcard from Bologna, Italy: We did eat at more than one restaurant

Rightfully, Bologna is renowned for its food. And, although this postcard is a bit belated, I’d hate to leave one with the impression our only recommendation for those traveling there is E’ Cucina Leopardi. We truly did venture away from our favorite spot… sometimes.

The lack of pretension accompanied by a comfortable, casual hospitality made the small farm-to-table Osteria Marsalino a favorite. Bruschetta and daily pastas were ever-changing based on what was fresh and the chef’s mood. Our food always was perfect, and the complimentary aperitif at the end of the meal contributed to our loyalty.

Fresh organic products are stressed at the always bustling Alce Nero Berbere. One lunchtime option is to order the daily vegetable assortment, consisting of five or six separate small plates of varying salads, greens, beans and/or roasted seasonal fare. There is a movement afoot among chefs in Italy, which we first encountered at Borgo 20 in Parma, to fret about digesting pizza dough. Although we never have noticed this to be a problem, we certainly again enjoyed the results at Berbere.

This is Berbere’s complex explanation of what makes the restaurant’s pizzas so “light” and good:

One of the principal characteristics of Berberè pizza is the substitution of leavening with natural maturation: we don’t use chemical yeast, but rather living sourdough. This maturation process lasts at least 24 hours at room temperature and not in the refrigerator (hence it is “slow” pizza). Thanks to the skill of our pizzaioli and their passion for what they do, the quality of the base dough obtained with the starter and semi-whole grain stone-ground flours guarantees a high digestibility and a distinctive flavor, while the selection and mixture of flours other than wheat (spelt, enkir, kamut) offers alternatives that are interesting and diverse from an organoleptic point of view. Berberè’s pizza is therefore lighter, healthier, and better. And to optimize the digestibility of the pizza, the chefs at Berberè have successfully experimented with an innovative fermentation method, completely free of yeast, based on the physical process of starch hydrolysis.

We followed a herd of locals to get the prosciutto in which residents of Emilia-Romagna take such pride. After ordering an appetizer plate laden with the thinly sliced ham, we ordered what we thought was a plate of grilled vegetables at Pane Vino e San Daniele. What we didn’t realize is that bountiful servings of prosciutto cover everything on almost every dish, including the vegetables.

Of course, we enjoyed many pizzas, grilled vegetables, pastas, risottos and panini elsewhere in our wanderings throughout our month-long stay. But, not to offend the Bolognese, we did break away from the regional cuisine several times. For Indian food. Ristorante Indiano Taj Mahal rewarded us well for it. The Indian dishes were much better than what we have encountered in San Antonio and, as a bonus, represented an incredible bargain. And the owner was so friendly and gracious for our patronage.

Jumping back now to our task at hand, figuring out where we want to eat lunch in Campeche. A whole different world.

Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Meals for when you’re staying longer than a few days

Having already raved about our four favorite restaurants in the historic center of Guanajuato, thought we would share some other photos of meals for you to ponder if you are staying more than a few days. As we set up headquarters there for a month, we sampled a number of places.

When we wanted a fresh and light change of pace, we headed to the new location of Delica Mitsu on Del Tecolote. The bowls were ample and good, but the Japanese bento-style assortment beckoned us several times. We’d each go to the glass case and point to the five things we wanted plated for our lunch. No alcoholic beverages are available, but loved being able to get an intensely flavored iced jamaica (hibiscus) tea without sugar.

Another unexpected spot was Habibti Felafel. The interior was welcoming, but we ordered falafel to-go, the best falafel we have ever tasted, to eat wrapped in lettuce on our rooftop patio. Centro Bharati on Plaza Baratillo was the place I finally found a rustic loaf of multigrain bread to my liking. On weekends, a chef offers a pop-up to-go fresh paella stand in a doorway on Calle del Truco. Hard to beat the price by the kilo.

Any bar on the Jardin de la Union offers great people-watching, but you are mainly watching tourists and vendors trying to hawk things to you and other tourists while listening to the same mariachi songs over and over. It’s a festive atmosphere best enjoyed in small doses. Heading down the street, La Santurrona Gastropub has only a few outside tables adjacent to the Church of San Francisco. If you are lucky enough to snag one, you can escape the vendors and watch a continual parade of locals out for afternoon or evening strolls. The fries are tasty, and my sandwich overflowed with grilled vegetables.

Having developed a little gelato habit in Italy this summer, we dropped by Estacion Gelato to satisfy our cravings. The Mister was partial to the affogata (sort of an espresso float) with a scoop of canela gelato.

Am throwing in a few other photos from places worth trying, but where we had a dish or two that talked us out of enthusiastically recommending them.