Just two direct-flight hours from Houston, Puerto Vallarta is a little gem on the Pacific coast. And if you booked to go now, you could make it for the Ceviche & Aguachile Festival, scheduled for January 26-27 in Parque Lazaro Cardenas, right by Los Muertos Beach in Old Town Puerto Vallarta.
One of the participating chefs is chef Chef Josue Arana from restaurant Lamara. I met the chef last October when he and two other chefs created ceviche and aguachile as we (a group of food and travel writers on a media trip) sailed along Puerto Vallarta’s beautiful coast where green mountains frame a sparkling blue bay. His vegetarian creation of coconut, cucumber and jicama, along with lime juice, red onion and habanero stood out: bursting with flavor the surprise was also in the absence of seafood. Chef Arana explained the dish was inspired by his dad: when he developed an allergy for seafood the young chef knew he wanted to treat him to the flavors of aguachile that his dad was so fond of, minus the seafood that now made him sick.
Aguachile is traditionally made with raw shrimp, cucumber, red onion, lime juice and fresh chili (from mild to fiery hot). The dish originated on the Mexican Pacific coast, making it a dish local to Puerto Vallarta. Literally meaning ‘water’ and ‘chili’, the name relates to how the chilies are prepared for the dish: mashed fine with a little water.
Watching three local chefs each prepare their versions of aguachile and ceviche was also a brief lesson what makes this dish differ from ceviche, other than the water-mashed chili: aguachili is mixed very last minute and served immediately. That means the shrimp don’t really cure in the lime juice, and are quite raw when served.
Chef Armando Mata (Mauricio’s, located at Carretera A Las Palmas # 176 C.P.) kept his version strictly traditional by carefully cleaning and arranging raw shrimp only to be mixed with lime juice and chili at the very last minute. He even arranged raw shrimp–fresh from the bay, cleaned and sliced–on a platter to try: squeeze a little lime juice on, add a slice of tomato, a drop of hot sauce and eat as is.
Chef Diego Lopez (Tuna Azul, located at Francisca Rodríguez 155, Altos. Olas Altas in Puerto Vallarta), in turn, created a ceviche of tuna that stood to infuse before he topped it onto a crispy tostada, smeared with a thin layer of guacamole. A sprinkle of toasted black sesame seeds completed the irresistible bite.
In addition to his delectable coconut-jicama aguachile, chef Arana (Lamara, located at Francia 199, Versalles) tossed raw shrimp with fresh herbs, pineapple and, yes, a ‘water-chili’ that packed a good punch, balanced with the refreshing crunch of cucumber and raw onions.
At the third annual Ceviche and Aguachile festival, these three chefs – along with others – will bring both traditional and innovative versions of ceviche and aguachile. The park has a beautiful setting right by the beach overlooking the ocean, and of course: there will be music and other performances. For more information, check here.