By Aran Shetterly September 16, 2010 - 16:46
You might never have heard of Champotón, Campeche. In fact,while most of you will have heard of the Mexican State of Campeche and its capital city of the same name, my guess is that few will have visited. I'll write more on Campeche in a later post. For the moment, I will say that it is a gem of a city, well worth a visit.
Champotón, population less than 30,000, is the state's third biggest "city." A Spanish expedition, lead by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, landedin this Mayan settlement in 1517. Today, it's a sleepy little fishing town whose main road runs by an old Spanish fort and right along the seawall that protects the town when the Gulf gets rough. On one side of the street the fishing boats are lined up along the rocky shore below the seawall. On the other are the restaurants. You get the idea. It's all about fresh seafood.
On the weekends the restaurants fill up with day trippers from Campeche City; during the week, they are pretty quiet.
We chose a restaurant called Los Pelicanos and made it to a table just before the kitchen closed. I ordered the Filete de Pescado a la Veracruzana, a fish fillet smothered in asavory sauce of tomatoes, onions, olives and garlic. The serving that appeared was easily big enough for two. A large fillet of red snapper had been lightly battered and fried and then generously smothered in the "Veracruz sauce."
Sometimes, the fish in this dish is nothing more than a vehicle for the condiment. For a la Veracruzana to really work the sauce has to be savory (bay leaves are key) and fish has to have presence. To my mind a fairly thick piece of flaky white fish works best.
In the port of Veracruz I've sampled a deliciously gourmet version of Pescado a la Veracruzana that was cooked "empapelado" or with the sauce and the fish baked together in a tinfoil envelope. But, for a hearty, big flavored meal, the Los Pelicanos version can't be beat.
Margot ordered the shrimp cocktail. It too, was a generous serving that came on a plate rather than in the more typical cocktail glass. The shrimp were small, succulent gulf shrimp in a light bath of lime and olive oil, with a touch of onion and cilantro. It was a perfectly simple, fresh dinner.
Driving from Campeche City to Champotón takes about 45 minutes. Another 15 to 20 minutes along the road south, brings you to a mammoth real estate development called CampechePlaya, brought to us by the Spanish developers, Grupo Mall. When (and if),the Campeche Playa development takes off, with its estimated 3,000 real estate units, plus hotels, etc., it will most likely have a gentrifying impact on Champotón.
For now, Champotón is a great place for eating hearty servings of seafood prepared with a regional - Gulf, Yucatan -- touch.