Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kokopelli Tacos de Mariscos

Last weekend I attended the Batalla Culinaria that was part of Tijuana Innovadora 2012. Think Iron Chef, Mexican style with two teams of four chefs from both sides of the border participating.

As much fun as it was, the only folks who got to sample the food were the judges and I wasn't one of them. By the time the event ended--close to 2 p.m.--I was famished. The group I was with from San Diego headed out to return home, but our guide, event volunteer Genaro Valladolid, made a brilliant stop--at the street taco vendor Kokopelli.

Run by three graduates of the Culinary Art Institute in Tijuana, the permanent stand with the Baja vibe opened just last December and sells eight types of seafood tacos, plus a vegetarian one made with Portobello mushrooms--all on average for about $2 apiece. They also spice it up with a variety of sauces and other housemade condiments, like pickled onions.

Oso (yes, he goes by just that name, apparently), started us off--or perhaps tested us--with this queso fresco "surprise" taco.

Now, look closely on the right. No, you can't really see what it is. So, here's one that's open:

Look again. Yes, those are fried crickets nestled among the cheese and avocado slices. And, yes, I was that hungry. It looks bizarre but it was a delicious taco. (Actually, it turns out he thought our group was another called Club Tengo Hambre that was also there. No matter; it was fun.)

Now, while none of the rest of the tacos are what we'd think of as traditional, none of the rest had ingredients that most Americans would find particularly, well, off putting. In fact, the cooks of Kokopelli have a wonderfully deft and creative approach to the taco and the flavors are remarkable.

Oso sauteeing shrimp
Take, for example, the chewy octopus marinated in Mexican pesto or the shrimp in adobo. Or the Rasta, shrimp cooked in chimichuri with black olives.

There's a crispy corn tortilla smothered in a sole or flounder ceviche with squid ink and Asian spices that many in our group ravished (believing it was lengua).

My favorite, however, turned out to be the "Poblano," smoked marlin mixed in cream with corn and mushrooms, stuffed in a grilled red poblano chile, and topped with avocado slices. It felt and tasted rich and decadent.

Kokopelli is a pure street experience, including a random street guitarist playing, what else, La Bamba. You can find it open on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Calle Ocampo, between Blvd. Agua Caliente and Calle 11 in downtown Tijuana.

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