If there is any one thing that comes to mind when people think about Baja, it might very well be the abundant availability of fresh seafood. And when it comes to sheer variety of product, Ensenada’s Mercado Negro has them all beat. In fact, this also happens to be the largest seafood market in all of Baja California.
Conveniently situated adjacent to the rich waters of the Pacific Ocean just to the west and the shrimp laden northern Sea of Cortez barely over 100 miles to the east, the Port of Ensenada is located in an enviable position when it comes to accessing a wide variety of tasty fish, mollusks and crustaceans.
The mercado is located on the waterfront right next to the malecon, about half way between the Port Captain’s office and the Ventana Del Mar flag plaza. Since local fishing boats dock nearby, they have become an ongoing source of fresh product that can be off loaded to the double row of open air stalls where it can be immediately offered for sale to potential customers passing by.
Although a bit industrial in its appearance, the mercado de mariscos has now been catering to the needs of local restaurateurs and seafood gourmets for many decades. Originally established back in 1958, it has continued to grow in size and popularity as the years have passed. Today, it has also become regular stop off for tourists and other visitors to the region who are in search of a unique experience.
Depending upon the time of year, there can be a tantalizing selection of bivalve mollusks such as oysters, cockles, mussels, chocolate clams, Pismo clams and steamers ready to be taken home and enjoyed. Much of the shellfish these days are raised in aquaculture operations in nearby Bahia de Todos Santos and Bahia San Quintin as well as being taken from the wild.
There are also several sizes and varieties of shrimp that are generally on display as well, in addition to plenty of halibut, rock cod, lingcod, sea bass, croaker, perch, swordfish and shark that are seasonally available.
Just as in stateside fish markets, it is up to every consumer to make sure that they are knowledgeable in regard to the freshness and overall quality of the products they are buying in order to ensure their satisfaction. For instance, it is almost always better to buy a whole fish and have it cut up to order rather than to purchase fillets so that you can better determine the species and condition of the product.
Always make sure that a fish has bright, clear eyes, bright red gills, firm flesh that rebounds when poked and no offensive odor before committing to buy it. When it is available, one of the best values pound for pound is the California halibut, often referred to as ‘lenguado’ in Mexico. This delicious member of the flounder family is mild and flakey, and can provide up 70% of its body weight in boneless, skinless fillets when properly dressed out.
If looking at all of this wonderful seafood begins to stimulate your appetite, there are numerous small seafood stands and mini restaurants surrounding the mercado that offer everything from clam cocktails and shrimp tacos to dense seafood stews and crisp ceviche tostados at nominal prices. Don’t be taken aback by the somewhat assertive manner in which many of the waitresses stand outside these eateries and unabashedly bark out encouragements to sample their cuisine; there is, after all, vigorous competition for your patronage.
And since the market is located only about a block away from busy Boulevard Costero, you can conveniently wrap up your seafood excursion by picking up a few souvenirs, enjoying a cold margarita or taking a stroll around the picturesque public plaza or nearby Cruiseport to capture a few photo memories to top off the day.