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food and travel

Memories of Mexico - Baja


Memories of Mexico - Baja

I land at midday at San Diego airport, welcomed by sunshine and a light breeze. Here I am in the second most desirable city to live in the United States. My husband greets me with a small Punto hire car, covered in dust, to take me on a weekend adventure.

We could, of course, stay in San Diego. Why not? It is a culturally diverse city, relaxed and creative. Here you can visit one of its many splendid beaches, like La Jolla or Mission Bay, or hop on and off the city’s tram service delving into diverse art galleries and stopping at places like award-winning Café Chloe for a light lunch and a glass of crisp white.

But, whilst there are so many activities and sights to see in San Diego I am in the mood for something off the beaten track. I need an adventure. And so, we leave the easygoing city of San Diego in search of fish tacos and unknown wines. To San Isidro border we head and continue south to the small cruise ship town of Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico.

Ensenada is a far cry from the sun loungers of Cancun. As you pass Tijuana and Rosarita you realize how much of an impact the recent war on drug cartels has made. Ensenada, however, is a welcome escape from the daily pressures of life and many people take a weekend break from San Diego to enjoy what is considered to be Mexico’s northernmost culinary mecca.

With both the Guadelupe and Calafia Valleys only a short and scenic drive away from Ensenada, Baja’s famed Ruta del Vino is a fantastic destination to visit with numerous wineries. Vinedoes L.A Cetto is considered a meeting place for local Ensenadenas and produces approximately 80% of wine that is exported from Baja. There are tours hourly of the wine-making facilities, including tours in English and a fantastic tasting experience with a charismatic and knowledgeable man whose family have been producing wine in the region for over 100 years.

Vinos de Dona Lupe, on the other hand, is a smaller producer and the only organic wine producer in Mexico. There is more to the experience of Dona Lupe than the wine. Here we were greeted by dancers and musicians who also sold their handmade jewellery and leather goods at small stalls. We enjoyed a lovely lunch here and visited the small shop attached which sells locally sourced organic snacks, dips and sweets. Sat beneath the fruitful vines overlooking the vineyard, we watched as families sipped on tastings and sangria and enjoyed the shade. 

Most importantly, however, were the many food stalls in central Ensenada. We were taken by friends Claudia and Jeremy to Mariachi Meno Meno, a renowned fish taco shack, close to the shipyard where they were dry docked. Here I am greeted with a small cup of spicy fish soup made with fish fresh from the local market across the street. The exotic clams and oyster gratin are two items not to be missed. And, of course, no Baja experience is complete without trying a fish taco– a battered fillet of fish, rolled in a warm soft tortilla. Before me on the table are a selection of condiments to add to my Baja fish taco experience. These included lime, cabbage, tomato salsa, red chilli hot sauce and a green habanero and tomatillo sauce that provides fresh zing and heat in equal quantities. My desire to experience a real fish taco was ticked off the list.

Next on the list is the Sabina Bandera Ensenada eatery La Guerrense. Included in Newsweek’s 101 Best Places to eat on Earth, one has to stop here and try one of her myriad of salsas and the selection of 15 ceviches, including the sea urchin ceviche tostada.

After wondering the main street of Ensenada, which really just contains numerous trinket shops for visiting cruise ship holiday makers, I returned to our villa on the beach in Baja Cove, about 40 minutes drive from Ensenada. Along the way we came across a man,  his dog and a donkey with spray-painted stripes ..... now known as a Zonkey....... the things people do. Close to La Bufadora, a local blowhole that draws in large crowds over the weekend, I relaxed overlooking the ocean, munching on cactus freshly barbecued.. 

It was very tasty...... thanks Mexico.





Discovering Kulfi

Discovering Kulfi




It was dusty, hot and the sights and smells so intense they were almost intoxicating…….. We had arrived in Varanasi. Being the first trip to India's Holy city, everyone had warned that being there during the Holy Week would be intense. After dropping our bags off at the hotel we gazed across the many ghats that lined the holy Ganga – a multitude of different coloured saris, walking, talking quickly, some men whacking clothing against concrete stones and washing, people doing daily prayers knee deep in water. A culture and landscape so far removed from Australia. We make our way out into the streets, dodging holy cows and their fresh dung which we later saw being shaped into patties and put in the sun to dry for fire material. Past the cute holes in the walls where fresh buffalo Chai was being served in small recyclable clay cups. Past the little tourist restaurants advertising ‘pizza’ made with chaat flour and Himalayan goat’s cheese. We emerged at a dusty square where fruit and vegetable stalls displayed papaya and mango and eggplants and spices. Children on their way to school. There was even the mandatory snake charmer! And then...... a man peddled past ringing his bell, a small icebox on the back of his bicycle – “Kulfi……Kulfi”….. Hot and craving something cold, we cautiously approach and with one lick discover a sweet cardamom and cinnamon- laced ice dessert never to be forgotten.  So refreshing and different. Some might call it ‘curry ice-cream’ – you either love it or hate it.

The following recipe has always been experimented with and changed to suit the occasion or desired flavour. The use of native spices like cinnamon myrtle, lilly pilly and pepper berry can be substituted for the traditional Indian spices of cardamom and cinnamon. Travel and discovery of other food cultures is an important part of every chef or cook's learning. With each trip, and the specialities discovered, we are able to return refreshed and inspired, ready to recreate and to fuse together international flavours to create ongoing reminders of the places we have been.

Classic Kulfi

Ingredients: Serves 4

         500ml of milk or buffalo milk

         100ml coconut cream

         1 tablespoon jaggery

         2 tablespoons demerera sugar

         6 cardamom pods, crushed

         1 cinnamon stick or piece of cassia bark

         handful of chopped pistachios or sandalwood nuts

         1 tablespoon desiccated coconut

         diced papaya half

         shaved fresh young coconut meat

         edible gold leaf and pistachios to garnish


1 Combine spices with milk and bring to the boil

2 Lower to a simmer, add coconut cream and reduce by half.

3 Add sugars and desiccated coconut and simmer for ten minutes.

4 Set aside to cool and steep for 30 minutes

5 Strain mixture, add nuts and cool completely in fridge

6 Pour straight into container and put in freezer. Remove every twenty minutes to crush up and prevent ice crystals. On third mix, pour into 4-6 dariole or kulfi moulds (if available)

7 Alternatively, churn mixture in an icecream machine until at a soft serve consistency then pour into moulds.

8 Place in freezer until firm

9 Turn out onto plates and surround with diced papaya (may need to dip in hot water)

Garnish with nuts, gold leaf and shaved fresh young coconut or whatever you fancy.