Shopping for tofuneza or snake oil? Look no further than Bucerias


El Chabacano

Shopping at the small grocery stores in Bucerias may not be as attractive anymore since the large Mega Commercial was built just outside of town. While Mega offers every kind of cheese, cereal, canned goods and processed meat you may want, the smaller stores in town still have an offering of ordinary and unusual items for the visitors on foot and for those who aren’t into an expedition by car. I understand the convenience of using a supermarket, with one stop for everything on your shopping list, but I also like the idea of supporting the local, small business people who are losing sales to the large chain stores.

With an eye for the unusual and different, we explored four of the more interesting grocery stores in Bucerias: El Chabacano, Beto’s, La Abejita, and El Palacio Chino. All offered items or service not found at Mega.

El Chabacano, which means apricot in Spanish, has a good assortment of produce, with a walk-in cold room that helps the more perishable fruits and vegetables stay fresh in the summer heat. In addition to the usual, they will order almost anything in the vegetable and fruit world for you, from alfalfa sprouts to Portobello mushrooms, radicchio and tamarind.

The day we visited, their shelves included strawberries, purple grapes, coconuts, watermelon, eggplant and kiwi. I noticed the quantity and variety were not as great as I had seen before, now that high season is over, but they can only stock what they can sell. If they don’t have what you are looking for, ask for the list of produce for special orders

El Chabacano is located one block off of the lateral, downhill from the Chinese grocery store (not really a Chinese grocery store, but we’ll get to that later), on Calle Hidalgo.

Update: Chabacano has closed and, to my knowledge, does not have a new location.

Beto’s Mini-Super


Our next stop was Beto’s, almost an institution in Bucerias, and famous for its inventory of imported foods that we extranjeros think we can’t live without. The day we visited, Beto had his lights off, maybe to keep his power bill down, so photos were not easy. And I saw, to my dismay, that he has taken out a large selection of imported cheeses and other fancy foods that needed refrigeration and replaced them with what may be the largest selection of alcohol in town. I guess the winter visitors aren’t coming for cheese.

If your cooking tends toward Chinese or Thai, Beto has a very good selection of Asian products, such as fish sauce, Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste, plum sauce, dark mushroom soy sauce, oyster sauce, tempura dipping sauce and canned lychees in syrup.

We also saw Oregon brand canned blueberries and figs, and two kinds of European Dijon mustard. For the hard to please, there was molasses, Vlasik dill pickles, sweet pickle relish and maple syrup.

One item new to me was a jar of Tofuneza. Tofu what? Ingredients included organic tofu, walnuts, lime, chipotle chile and spices. It looked spreadable, and the label suggested using it as a dip or dressing. I’ll confess that I eat tofu, but it didn’t go into my shopping basket. Maybe next time.

And one item was really out-of-place — Pace Picante Sauce, the bottled salsa from Texas. Um … importing salsa to Mexico? What’s wrong with this picture?

Finally I got to the canned goods. On the shelves were Hormel Corned Beef, Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs (haven’t eaten those since I was too young to know any better) and a can of Chef Boyardee Pepperoni Pizzazarol. I try to keep up on all things in the food world, but I clearly missed this last one. The picture on the label didn’t resemble any food I know. If you are hungry, I recommend a street taco instead.

Beto’s is located on the lateral, just before the turn-off to Royal Decameron Resort, if you are heading toward Puerto Vallarta.


La Abejita

On to La Abejita, The Little Bee. The store front announces its wares, “Medicinal Herbs, Seeds, Cereals and Plastics”, and in those categories, they cover all bases. I really like this store. Its bins of bulk chiles, grains, seeds and nuts, jars of every spice you can think of, plus strange medicinal herbs and potions, are so extensive that I always find something new, something I have never seen before. And you have to admire a store that sells “Snake Oil”. At least they are up front about the contents.

One time, I came home with cocoa bean seeds, the raw stuff from which the finest (and not so fine) chocolates are made. Cocoa beans have a raw, bitter chocolate flavor, and are reputed to be extremely high in antioxidants. I add cocoa beans to smoothies or munch on them as is. I’ve even experimented with making chocolate candy by grinding the beans up and adding butter, agave syrup and coconut. (Godiva has nothing to worry about.) Don’t eat too many, as they are also high in theobromine, a chemical related to caffeine.

Cocao Beans

Today I came home with tequezquite, a mineral salt used since pre-Columbian times for leavening tamales. I read about this odd ingredient in Mexican cookbooks, which tell of using it to retain the color of nopales, and to soften beans. I know it looks like a rock from my drive-way, but I had to add it to my pantry. Who knows when I’ll need it for my next tamal making session.

La Abejita has a wide selection of herbal and medicinal teas, baking ingredients — including yeast for bread baking and flours, such as rye and wheat — pet food, plastic plates and cups, and candies. This list doesn’t begin to cover it. Every time I go, I find something new.

La Abejita is on the bay side of the lateral, just downhill from the post office, and one block from the main turn-off to the center of Bucerias where the taxis park.

Palacio Chino

Finally, we visited Palacio Chino. When we moved here, I was excited to see it, thinking it was a real Chinese grocery store. It turns out that the owner’s father, who built the store, was fascinated with all things Chinese, and even lived in China for a while. The architecture of the store, and even the construction of his tomb at the local cemetery, reflect this oriental interest. But they don’t sell Chinese food. The closest Asian thing I could find today was a game of Chinese Checkers. I read the name of the game, and thought it said, “Chinese Women”. The dictionary tells me that a Spanish translation for checkers is damas — your new Spanish word for the day.













Palacio Chino has recently been remodeled and this resulted in downsizing. The inventory is smaller than before, but has a few interesting items, such as coffee and other select food items …


… and useful kitchen gadgets, like a tortilla press and colorful citrus juice squeezers.

When you have had enough of the beaches and want to explore the streets of Bucerias, don’t forget the little grocery stores. They will appreciate your business, and you may find something you haven’t see before.

Update : Palacio Chino has closed and is now a paint store.


The final resting place of the original owner of Palacio Chino


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Sexy, Chocolate, Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Cookies

Easy recipe with photos for Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Cookies

Recently, I came across a blog called I Want My Sexy Back. It is actually a nutrition and physical fitness blog, but its author is a pretty smart cookie. He or she knows the one word that will attract the greatest readership. After six months of tracking my posts’ readership, I can say the second most powerful word is chocolate.

I want my sexy back as much as the next person, but this still remains a cooking blog and I have to call a spade a spade, though I will admit I have considered changing the blog title to Chocolate in Mexico. Instead, I have a recipe for very chocolate-y pumpkin seed cookies, cookies that feature two ingredients from the New World. I hope a few of the extra readers this recipe title attracts actually make them. And the extra chocolate and pumpkins seeds just might put a gleam in the eye when you share them with your sweetie.

Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Cookies                 makes 13 large cookies

  • 6 tablespoons (3 oz./85 grams) butter, cool room temperature
  • 1/4 cup  (2 oz./56 grams) white or light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, cool room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 oz./150 grams) sifted whole wheat flour (save the bran for muffins)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • optional 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 2 discs Ibarra chocolate (6 oz./170 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped*
  • 1/2 cup (2.3 oz./65 grams) pumpkin seeds, plus extra seeds for decorating cookies
  1. Read recipe through completely. Butter or spray a cookie sheet. Pre-heat oven to 375 deg. F. (190 C.).
  2. Cream butter with an electric mixer, about 1 minute.
  3. Add sugar and beat for a few minutes on medium speed until fluffy.
  4. Add egg and vanilla. Beat until well mixed.
  5. Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture in two parts, mixing just until all flour is incorporated.
  6. Stir in chopped chocolate and pumpkin seeds.
  7. Spoon dough onto a cookie sheet using a #30 (2 tablespoons/30 ml.) ice cream scoop, spacing 2″apart. Press 3-4 pumpkin seeds on the surface of each cookie.
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on whether you like soft or crisp cookies.
  9. Cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes to firm up. Transfer to a cake rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Sexy, Chocolate, Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Cookies


*Ibarra chocolate is lower in fat than most chocolates, so is harder to chop. To make this easier, soften the discs for 10 seconds in a micro-wave oven. Be careful not to melt the chocolate.

After years of bringing back Belgian bittersweet chocolate to my home in Mexico, I have found that Ibarra chocolate, the Mexican chocolate used for making hot chocolate drinks, is a very good substitute. If you have a good supply of Belgian chocolate, these cookies will be just as good, but I can say that Ibarra chocolate makes an excellent cookie. And Chocolate Mousse. And Kahlua Truffles. And Brownies. And even Hot Chocolate.

“Sifted whole wheat flour” means that you sift the flour first, then measure it.

Searching out organic ingredients is worth the extra effort and expense for both flavor and health. These cookies are made with organic cane sugar from Costco, organic butter brought to me from Trader Joe’s in Portland by my dear friend Dawn, and organic eggs, bought from our friends Coca and Capi, who have free-range chickens on their ranch in Jalisco. I look forward to the day when I can buy organic whole wheat flour in Puerto Vallarta.

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Baja fish sandwich with chipotle tartar sauce for cinco de mayo

Recipe with Photos for Fish Sandwich with Chipotle Tartar Sauce

Flounder doesn’t show up that often at the La Cruz Fish Market, so when Russ saw it there this morning, he bought a kilo. I was working in my kitchen lab, perfecting fish sandwiches on bolillos (Mexican yeast rolls) when he came back, bag in hand. It hadn’t been that long since breakfast, but the idea of fish sandwiches featuring flounder suddenly worked up the appetite. Freshly baked bolillos and chipotle chile would help us celebrate Cinco de Mayo in our own small way, but where it counts — at the kitchen table.

If you don’t find flounder (lenguado in Spanish) at your local fish market, any boneless, white fish fillets will work well for this recipe. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Guide (see Link at top of page) to help you make an ocean-friendly purchase or to find other resources to help make wise decisions, see The Pescatarian’s Dilemma.

You don’t want fish bones in a sandwich. To detect bones, run your finger tips across the fillet surface. Remove bones by grabbing the ends with fine pliers or tweezers and gently pull them out.

Fish Sandwich with Chipotle Tartar Sauce

The elements for this recipe are tomatoes and lettuce, chipotle tartar sauce, toasted Mexican bolillos or other rolls or bread, and sautéed fish fillets.

Chipotle Tartar Sauce makes enough for 3 sandwiches

  • 1/2 cup (120 ml.) mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons (11 grams) canned chipotle chile with adobo sauce, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons  (30 ml.) onion, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) dill pickle, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) dill pickle juice

Blend all ingredients and refrigerate. Be sure to mince chipotle chile finely, as large bites of heat may surprise the unwary diner.

Sautéed Fish Fillets

  • 6 oz. (170 grams) fish fillet per sandwich
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) flour per fillet
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 bolillo, or yeasted bread roll, or 2 slices of whole grain bread per sandwich
  1. Mix flour with salt and pepper. Dredge fillets in flour, coating the entire fillet well. Shake off excess flour.
  2. Heat skillet over medium heat and add vegetable oil. When oil is shimmering, place fillets in pan and sauté 8-9 minutes per inch of thickness, turning  halfway through cooking time. Do not over-cook.
  3. While fillets are cooking, cut bolillos or rolls in half, brush with olive oil and toast in a hot skillet, cut side down, until golden.

Spread each half generously with chipotle tartar sauce, arrange tomato slices, lettuce, and fillet on toasted bolillo and top with remaining toasted bread. Eat while hot.

Freshly baked bolillos


Here’s a little run-down on the history of Cinco de Mayo. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French in a bloody effort to end French occupancy. That day, they won the battle, but not the war. It would take another five years for the French to withdraw, leaving behind the luckless Emperor Maximilian. Cinco de Mayo is usually a quiet day in Mexico. It is the Hispanic communities and the grocery stores in the US that commemorate this day, the Hispanic communities with fiestas, the grocery stores with beer and salsa specials.

Cook fish 8-9 minutes per each inch of thickness. Undercooked fish can always be returned to the skillet; overcooked fish is a tragedy.

Chipotle chiles, which are dried, smoked jalapeño chiles, come canned in adobo sauce. The sauce ingredients are tomato, vinegar, garlic and spices. It is muy picante and adds a unique mexicanismo flavor to dishes.

Whoops, I see a little photographic faux-pas. Cinco de Mayo celebrates a Mexican victory over France, and the tablecloth motif in my first photo is of fleur-de-lis, the symbol of France.

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An Incomparable Dining Event at the International Altruism Festival, Puerto Vallarta

Paella by Chef Eiseo at Piaceres Restaurant, Holiday Inn

Once a year, we who live in the Puerto Vallarta area have the opportunity to eat the most exquisite food from the finest of restaurants, all in one location and as much as we can eat.  And all this for under $30. For gourmands and foodies, it doesn’t get any better. The icing on the cake, pardon the pun, is that not only do we sample unparalleled dishes, we do so knowing that 100% of the price of entry to the International Altruism Festival goes toward local, non-profit organizations who are doing their best to improve life for people, animals and the environment in the Bay of Banderas area.

I offer these photos as a feast for the eyes for those of you who did not attend. Be there next year, and you will also experience this as a feast for the palate. For those of you who were eating alongside me, you can relive your favorite bites and savor the memory.

Pear salad with honey mustard vinaigrette, tuna with mustard sauce, shrimp crêpe, Chef Miguel Angel, La Cruz Bistro and Grill/Frascati Restaurant, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Portobello mushroom with lobster salsa and pizza, Chef Bernhard, Trio Restaurant

Corn soup with huitlacoche, La Estancia Restaurant, Marriott Casa Magna Resort

Apple slices with prosciutto, Pan & Que?

Short rib with endive, Vista Grill

Scallop ceviche with beer foam, La Kliff Restaurant

Enfrijolada, La Estancia Restaurant, Marriott Casa Magna Resort

Sope Pescado, Ikuai Restaurant, Marina Riviera Nayarit,  La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

Barcelona Tapas

Tino’s Marisco

Did you save room for dessert? Good. Grab a napkin so you don’t drool on your keyboard.

Torta de chocolate with nuts and cream, Kaiser Maxamilian

Pie in the Sky, Bucerias and Puerto Vallarta

Fondants Pastelaria Gourmet

Vista Grill

La Palapa

Fondants Pastelaria Gourmet

Tikul Restaurant

Fondants Pastelaria Gourmet

Fondants Pastelaria Gourmet

Los Chatos

The International Altruism Festival is organized by the U.S. Consular Agency and the Casa Magna Marriott Resort and Spa in Puerto Vallarta. Held every May, it is a sold-out event. Snap up your tickets next April at your first chance. All proceeds benefit twenty-four local, non-profit organizations that work to improve the quality of life on the Bay of Banderas.

See you next year!

International Altruism Festival, Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta, May 2010

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Ibarra Chocolate Brownies Filled with Walnutella

Ibarra Chocolate Brownies with Walnutella

Ibarra Chocolate Brownies are really brownies with panache, not ganache. Ganache is made with equal amounts of melted chocolate and cream. The brownies I made today, to thank my friend Chris for helping me complete my move to WordPress, are filled with little puddles of  Walnutella, a chocolate spread I invented the other day using creamed walnuts, instead of hazelnuts, and mixed with melted Ibarra chocolate. It doesn’t count as ganache, as there is no cream, so I’ll call it panache instead.

My recipe for Ibarra Chocolate Brownies was inspired by Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe for Barcelona Brownies. I used Mexican Ibarra chocolate, less sugar to compensate for the extra sugar in the chocolate, and cinnamon for a mexicanismo flavor.

Chris was working on my blog, helping finalize the move, and he saw the brownie post from February while navigating. “You don’t have any of those around still, do you?” he asked. Nope. But I do now, and they are all yours.

Notes on Ibarra Chocolate:

Ibarra Chocolate, made by Chocolatera de Jalisco, is a common “table chocolate”, used for making the beverage, hot chocolate. In Mexico, it is found in almost every little grocery store; out of Mexico, you can find it in gourmet food stores and on the Mexican aisle of larger supermarkets. Ingredients are sugar, cocoa paste, soy lecithin and cinnamon.

According to Diana Kennedy, women of Oaxaca (and, I’m sure, other towns of southern Mexico) would take their cocoa beans to the local grinder and, using their own proportions of cocoa, sugar and almonds, would have their cocoa paste freshly ground. Then it would be a simple step to add the paste to hot water or milk for a cup of hot chocolate.

Today’s modern mexicana, pressed for time and preferring the fast and easy way, can buy Ibarra chocolate powder for making hot chocolate. Unfortunately, it contains artificial flavoring. Would the mujeres of Oaxaca disdain my use of store-bought chocolate tablets, as much as I disdain the use of powdered chocolate drink mix? Maybe.

Cocao seeds, ready to grind

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