"Exploring Baja California, Mexico" is part of a series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the series here: Mexico Trip Recap.
Last week, I ate a freshly caught, gigantic spider crab at a little fishing village in Mexico and it was effin' amazing.
Mexico has climbed its way to the top of my favorite places list. The bright culture, artistic charm, relaxing vibe, and most of all, the affordable fresh seafood has got me hooked like rock cod on a fishing pole.
Before our trip, the thought of traveling to Baja California, Mexico never really crossed my mind until after my friend, Sandy (Foodhoe), raved about it after visiting a couple of times for fresh seafood. I was inspired by her and determined to have the same experience as she did. Thanks to her two amazingly-documented blog posts, a seafood feast in Popotla, BC and Baja Road Trip: epic seafood in Ensenada, we had an incredible trip filled with the freshest seafood that anyone could possibly hope for.
Our first stop was Popotla, a small fishing village located south of Rosarito Beach, right next to Fox Studios, where the famous movie Titanic was filmed.
As soon as we drove past the arches and into Popotla, a security guard stops to greet us to ask about our intentions. We continue to drive along the the dirt path road and a swarm of people suddenly rush over to our car to tell us where to park and try to get us into their restaurants. I don't know how many times we had to say, "No. Gracias."
Because of this, I would strongly advise anyone visiting to not drive all the way through and to instead park parallel to the dirt road, immediately after passing the arches - it's free. It was our first time visiting and we didn't know any better, so we paid to park in the lot on the left side. It was legit - they gave everyone a little dashboard ticket as proof of payment.
Once parked, we pass through all the restaurants to head over to the beach, constantly saying "No. Gracias." to everyone trying to get business from us. We were on a mission to find and pick out our own crab and have a feast on the beach.
The beach is full of vendors and fisherman selling fresh, locally caught fish by the hour. This is seafood heaven right here! There was a very diverse selection - grouper, snapper, bass, cod, corbina, halibut, yellowtail, shark, urchin, crabs, clams, mussels, and oysters.
The seafood selection on this table is really impressive - check out that dogfish shark sitting on top of the pile of spider crabs. The fish on the table were still alive and breathing. It's no surprise that pretty much anything goes in Mexico!
A Live Sturgeon Caviar Extraction
We witnessed a fascinating extraction of caviar from this huge beautiful sturgeon. If you click the photo to enlarge and look closely, you'll see the egg pouch and some of the eggs. The roe was sold the moment it was extracted. I was insanely jealous and wanted a spoonful to taste.
I never knew how beautiful a sturgeon's patterns were until I saw it laying there. The pattern of the fish is almost like a sacred geometric tattoo.
Hello Gigantic Marcianos (Spider Crabs)!
The main reason why people come to Popotla is for the spider crabs. These huge monstrous looking crabs are plentiful and sold at numerous stalls. We did a walk through all the vendors, picked out a gigantic crab, purchased it and got paired up with a restaurant to have it fried up.
That huge crab is going to make someone very happy.
A table full of spider crabs and jars filled with sea urchin.
This is the gigantic spider crab we selected. It's about to get broken to pieces, fried up and devoured. The prices vary by size. For the crab we selected, the price was 183 pesos ($12). While that's cheap for us, I'm willing to bet that's the price charged to tourists.
Our spider crab was cracked alive right in front of us. The edge of the table was used against the crab's head nook to detach the body. I was hoping they could do something delicious with the crab's tomalley, but they discard that part and told us that it's not something they eat. It's such a shame to throw away my favorite part of a crab.
The Amazing Fried Spider Crab Feast
Our fish vendor paired us up with Mariscos Espana, one of the oldest established restaurants in Popotla that offers beach-side seating with a phenomenal view. On Saturday afternoon, the place was completely empty, so we had the place to ourselves.
While waiting for our spider crab to get fried, I spend some time taking photos of Patrick. I caught him mid-way laughing at something I said to him - this was my favorite shot.
We sat down to enjoy a couple of beers, house made chips and salsa while admiring the view. In about 15 minutes, our server comes out with a huge plate of fried crabs and a jolt of excitement runs through my entire body.
These heavenly crab parts are deep fried and finished with garlic butter.
The claws are gigantic, nearly as big as my hand. We used a wooden board and a large rock, about the size of a big avocado, as a tool for cracking the crabs. (Hint: The trick is to do it on the edge of the table where the leg is).
We also requested for salsa diabla, made primarily with Guajillo peppers, which goes wonderfully with the crab. The combination is orgasmic - lovely savory sweetness from the wonderfully meaty crab meat paired with a smokey chile sauce that really opens up the brightness of the crab.
This crab is truly the best I've ever had in my entire life. There's nothing that even comes close to the wonderful texture and flavor of a spider crab. Our bill at the restaurant was about 229 pesos ($15) for the chips and salsa, two beers, and preparation and frying of the spider crab. It seems like these restaurants charge the frying price based on weight of the seafood you bring in.
In total, this experience cost us only 412 pesos ($27). I wanted to come back again for dinner and still cannot stop obsessing over how delicious it was.
Magical Seafood Cocktails
Shellfish and seafood cocktails are also very popular in Popotla. Shortly after we finished our crab feast, we went to explore what the other vendors were offering and spotted a table specializing in exactly that. I was full, but I had to get something.
Inside this plastic cup is a magical cocktail mix of mariscos for only 91 pesos ($6) - fresh oysters, chocolate clams, blood clams, octopus, and shrimp that's wonderfully savory and briny.
100% Elote Tamales: Where Have You Been All My Life?
There are many different types of tamales, but I've never had the type made of fresh corn kernels. Tamales Popotla has introduced a new world to me - a tamale with a texture that's fluffy, almost cake-like and each bite is like eating a mouthful of rich, wonderful corn. It's almost like cornbread meets masa dough. I would highly recommend the two we tried, sweet corn and cheese with chilies. It's priced at 15 pesos ($1) each.
As we were leaving, I was mesmerized by this ice cream cart and had to get a popsicle. Luckily he wasn't around when I was a kid because my allowance would go straight to him.
Our visit to Popotla was truly an amazing experience and I cannot wait to visit again. If I lived in San Diego, I would cross that border frequently for Popotla's seafood. I'm still dreaming about that crab!
You can thank Sandy (Foodhoe) for Popotla's GPS coordinates: 32.282065, -117.034997
Popotla opens daily from around 9:30 until mid-day, restaurants may keep later hours. (Source: Bill Esparza of OC Weekly)