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Beer and Tomato Juice

A concoction of beer and tomato juice doesn’t sound very appetizing. Does it?

I remember many years ago sitting in a bar in Michigan, and a guy who was just off of work was pouring a little can of tomato juice into a beer.

“Icky,” I thought.

“What’s it called,” I inquired.

“A poor man’s Bloody Mary,” I was told.

Not having any desire to try one. I just looked on with disbelief. What had I been missing in my short 22-year life span? That afternoon stuck with me, and I have since learned that the combination of beer and tomato juice goes by many names, depending on where you are.

Fast forward to Mexico, 45 years later. The beer and tomato juice concoction exists here as a Michelada. But, in Mexico they put their own twist on the drink. Instead of tomato juice, they use Clamato Juice, a mixture of tomato juice and clam juice.

“How in the world,” I ask myself, “did the Mexicans develop a taste for Clamato Juice?” I don’t know anyone who drinks it in the U.S. and only one person who used to. Somebody must drink the stuff, because Motts (of Apple Juice fame) or one of its predecessors has been making it for decades.

The only person I ever knew who was fond of Clamato Juice was my Dad. I never saw him drink it with beer, but he loved his bi-valves in any form, and was known to consume copious portions of fresh raw clams and oysters when available. In Wellfleet, Massachusetts at low tide, he would walk out on the flats and gather a slimy feast to down with his beer or martini.

I can still picture him holding a 3-inch long, recently shucked oyster he had harvested. He hoisted it over his open mouth, and let it slide down his throat. Last week I was walking along the shore of Lake Chapala watching the Pelicans fishing. The pouch below their beaks was translucent, and when they raised them, you could see the fish flapping inside just before it disappeared down the Pelican’s gullet. It reminded me of Dad.

Micheladas are very popular here. There are signs for them everywhere – at roadside stands, in the market, in storefronts, and in bars. The first time I actually saw someone dinking one was a friend, Brad, at the first CASA meeting I ever attended. There are many ways to make them, everyone has their own recipe.

What piqued my interest in trying one was when Bill, another guy I know, ordered a Michelada at Tom’s Bar. Ben, the bartender, made just like I would make a Bloody Mary (except for the beer and Clamato Juice). He added hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt and fresh lime juice to the Clamato, and then poured the fizzy beer into it. Some places even put chopped fresh veggies in it. Tasting a sip of Bill’s, it was actually pretty good.

Inspired, I went up the hill to El Torito Market and bought the ingredients I didn’t already have.

Michelada Ingredients

Michelada Ingredients

Micheladas have now become a regular late-afternoon treat, when I’m not enjoying a gin and tonic.

If he had ever had the chance to taste a Michelada, I think my Dad would have found a new use for the Clamato Juice he enjoyed. And it would have been the perfect accompaniment for washing down a slimy bi-valve!

Carnitas, Turkey, and all the Trimmings

Mexicans don’t like to miss their fiestas, and gringos don’t like to miss Thanksgiving. I missed turkey day when I was in Belize, but heard about how people got together to celebrate. I’m sure there was a restaurant or two that served a special dinner.

Yes, there are frozen turkeys available in places where you wouldn’t think you could find them. Especially around the holidays and where there are a lot of gringos. They are, however, rather expensive.

Here in Ajijic, Thanksgiving is “big” business. A lot of restaurants put on a feast for the Americans. Some even do it for the Canadians’ Thanksgiving holiday in October.

Well, I wasn’t going to be denied. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It just isn’t getting together with people you want to be with, it’s the food. While I’m not a big fan of turkey, as far as I’m concerned, the side dishes and dessert make the meal.

So, I asked a friend, Paula, if she’d join me to celebrate. By chance, I met Paula when I came down on my exploratory visit. She had already been here 2 months, had a car, and needed an excuse to explore the surrounding area. One day, we took a drive down to the western end of the lake and explored a good-sized Mexican town called Jocotepec (Joco for short), stopping for some incredible carnitas on the way back.

Carnitas are pork roasted for a real long time so it sheds and pulls apart. It’s eaten in several ways. Around here you’ll find it in soft tacos or on a roll (torta) drenched in a spicy sauce, almost like a French dip, called torta ahogada. The little roadside shop roasted its pork over wood. We had it on tacos, lean and smokey, with the usually accompaniments of cilantro, onion, and a choice of mild, medium, or hot salsa.

For our Thanksgiving meal, we chose a restaurant called Mannix, recommended by my landlady. There were 2 seatings, and since Paula was driving back to the states the next day, we chose the 2:00 pm seating. I ordered a Chardonnay, and Paula, basically a teetotaler, got mineral water. While waiting for whatever would happen next, we struck up a conversation with a couple at the next table from Connecticut. After what seemed like a long wait, we were brought botanas (canapés). One was a tasty bruschetta of tomato, onion, capers, and olives; the other was some sort of paté.

The meal was “served” buffet-style, and didn’t disappoint. The buffet table started with hand-carved filet and roast turkey. The sides included, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn soufflé, cauliflower and broccoli au gratin, crusty bread, and gravy. I was even allowed to go back for seconds (what would Thanksgiving be without them).

For dessert, there was a decent apple pie, passable pecan pie, and vanilla ice cream. We walked out around 4:30, full but not stuffed. All of that, for only 250 Pesos ($19 and change)/person. Needless to say I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day.

Mannix does Christmas too: turkey and roast suckling pig! We’ll see.