The Spanish word mariscos translates to seafood or shellfish in English and refers to any one of a number of edible marine animals such as shrimp, clams, crab, mussels, lobster, octopus, squid, oysters and other species of mollusks and crustaceans.
Though fish (pescado) is not technically seafood, fish species are usually served alongside shellfish dishes. The two types of food are often lumped together in the same category on restaurant menus and signs and in cookbooks as pescados y mariscos (fish and seafood).
Mexico has over 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) of shoreline on two coasts, so naturally a great amount of fish and shellfish is processed and consumed in the country. Mexican cuisine offers a great variety not only of seafood species but also of preparation methods: cocktails, ceviches, soups, and baked, fried, and grilled dishes.
Many thousands of seafood eating establishments exist in Mexico, ranging from rickety seaside stands or popular market stalls – often called coctelerías or marisquerías – to five-star restaurants in large urban areas far from the coast such as Mexico City.
Mariscos are prepared and consumed in such a variety of ways and in so many diverse seaside communities in Mexico that it would be impossible to create a complete list of Mexican seafood dishes. A handful of iconic dishes is described below.
Tampico Stuffed Crab (Jaibas rellenas)
- Seafood is so important to Tampico, a port city in the northeast Mexican state of Tamaulipas, that the locals informally call themselves jaibas (crabs). For this dish, crab meat is sautéed with onion, garlic, tomatoes, and chiles, then stuffed back into its shell, which is then breaded and fried or baked.
Oyster Soup from Nayarit (Sopa de Ostiones)
- Nayarit is a state about halfway down the Pacific coast of Mexico. An exquisite oyster soup is prepared by starting with a simple aromatic, herby broth (made with onions, celery, bay leaf, oregano, cilantro). Shortly before serving, raw oysters are carefully added and simmered just long enough to be cooked without turning hard.
Abalone in Baja California
- Considered a delicacy in Asian countries, abalone is commercially fished off the peninsula of Baja California in northwestern Mexico. Though frozen and canned for both domestic consumption and export, abulón is most often consumed there raw in a ceviche-like preparation.
Arroz la Tumbada from Veracruz
- A long, thin state on the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz is known for many of its seafood dishes. Despite the name Arroz (Rice) a la Tumbada, this dish is actually a wonderful, tomatoey, mixed seafood broth containing shrimp, octopus, and crab – and yes, rice.
- This state is also famous for its Veracruz-Style Red Snapper (Huachinango a la Veracruzana), traditionally the whole fish served in a sauce of tomatoes, chiles, capers, and olives. The mix of ingredients in this preparation illustrates the marriage of European / Mediterranean elements with New World ingredients that have made traditional Mexican cuisine so distinctive.
Squid and Octopus in the Yucatan Peninsula
- These two invertebrates are fished in the waters of the states of Campeche and Yucatán in southeastern Mexico, and there are many ways to prepare them. One of the most traditional is en escabeche, or pickled in a solution of vinegar, water, salt, and herbs and spices. Another well-known dish is octopus cooked in its own ink (pulpo en su tinta). More about Yucatan cuisine.
Aguachile from Sinaloa
- The state of Sinaloa, in western Mexico, has plenty of Pacific coastline and exports a great number of shrimp. Aguachile is made with raw shrimp, fresh hot chile peppers, lime juice, and water; it is frequently served with fresh fruits or vegetables such as cucumber or melon.
- Somewhat more elaborate is the Sinaloa-style shrimp cocktail, which combines cooked shrimp, tomato-clam juice, onion, cilantro, chopped cucumbers, and several types of chile peppers and/or hot sauce.
Acapulco’s Resuscitation Aid
- It’s no surprise that a big tourist town like Acapulco, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, would be known for its restorative seafood cocktails. Vuelve a la Vida (which translates as “come back to life”) is one such concoction. Consisting of a combination of seafood species—shrimp, octopus, snails, oysters, and fish is a typical mix—plus chopped onions and cilantro, chile peppers, tomato, avocado, and a combination of lime and orange juices, it is purported to reanimate partyers who have over imbibed the previous evening, as well as those who are suffering from a broken heart.