Break out the vino mexicano, it's Christmas in Baja California
Break out the vino mexicano, it's Christmas in Baja California
Bill Esparza

Christmas in Baja: How our Favorite Chefs and Traditional Restaurants Celebrate La Navidad

Baja California is a state that has one of the closest relationships with the United States, especially with us Alta Californios--the cross border culture is alive with tourism, shopping, commuters going both ways, and industry. Many of the chefs have a cross border lifestyle having raised their children on both sides of the border, so items like turkey, and ham--traditional U.S. holiday foods--end up on the Christmas menu. Yes, Christmas, because in a still very Catholic Mexico, Feliz Navidad is spoken.

Take some Mexican and U.S. traditions, and throw in the cache of Baja ingredients from land and sea, and you've got yourself Christmas in Baja California. Here is how 4 star chefs and traditional restaurateurs will be dining with their families on la Nochebuena and la Navidad.

Tijuana Si!:  1) What you will be cooking for Christmas and Christmas Eve? And, how does your family celebrate Christmas?


Since I've been doing a lot of with SmartFish in Sustainable Fisheries in Baja, this Christmas Eve I'll be preparing a line-caught Yellow-tail from Abreojos in 10 different preparations from soup to ceviche to asado.  Christmas day, we will be eating MSC certified lobster from Isla Natividad (in fact I'm bringing the lobster myself as I am writing this mail from the island finishing a week of work with the Buzos y Pescadores Cooperativa on the island)  We will start with oysters on the half shell with mignonette (muy frenchy) from Magdalena Bay and  Cabrilla arenera, or spotted sand bass (from Lopez Mateos) rillette, and finish with the lobster, two ways!

Growing up [in Atlanta], we always had standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding on Christmas eve.  (then a cardiologist exam on the 25th! My father would read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and we would leave cookies and milk for Santa.  Of course they would always be gone in the morning!

Luis Fitch (owner of Tortas El Turco)

Turkey, Ham and Tamales! We celebrate on the evening of the 24th with food, drinks and music! 

We have a special family reunion a few days before Christmas so that on the 24th we are able to spend the evening with our wives/husbands families.

Chef Benito Molina (Manzanilla)

Well the menu is quite extensive, there will be for appetizers: abulon al chipotle con aguacate (abalone in chipotle with avocado), angulas (baby eel ) con chiltepin (dried chiles) over toasted bread, oysters and Manila clams on the half shell with habanero-lime sauce.Main courses:  bacalao, turkey, pig's leg (that was fed buttermilk from Marcelo's (Ramonetti cheese) cows in Ojos Negros, nice eh?) Romeritos con mole, and desserts. Mezcal, wine, champagne, beer, [and] ponche (traditional warm tropical fruit punch).


2) When I was a little kid I spend most Christmas with my grandparents Dubost, on my mothers side , but we would go to my grandparents Molina before dinner and it was two different celebrations, on my mothers side it was much more traditional Turkey stuffing etc., . romeritos (often called Aztec spinach) con mole. My uncle, who is a marine biologist would bring fresh oysters, shrimp and fresh fish from the Pacific. At the Molina's, it was much more Spanish, my grandfather was from Cadiz so there would be angulas (eels), suckling pig, bacalao (salted cod), duck. I would wander into the kitchen following the incredible aromas and be amazed of how many persons were working with such wonders. Over the years, bacalao made its way into the more French/Mexican/American Christmas. 

Tamales made by my mother, daughters, and granddaughters--its a tradition that the girls of the family get together and make tamales on the 23rd for dinner the 24th. Another tradition is we get together the 25th to eat breakfast that must include skillet-fried tamales ( [they] must have a nice brown crust) with an egg on top. 

Tijuana Si!: What are the essential foods and drinks you have to have on Christmas?

Deckman: OYSTERS! [It] reminds me of my 10 Christmases I spent in Europe cooking. BUBBLY!  This year it will be Espuma de Piedra Blanc de Blancs (sauvignon blanc méthode champenoise) from Hugo D'Acosta at Casa de Piedra.  

Fitch: Tamales and Tequila!

Molina:  Today I cannot imagine a Christmas dinner without bacalao, the traditional bilbaina, (Bilbao style) style has evolved in a Mexican version with dried and pickled chilesMezcal, abalone, Champagne, oysters, Manzanilla (sherry), angulas  Soy un atascado, what can I do?--I love excess, jajaja.

Plascencia: We will always open our best Baja wines at dinner. And drink carajillos after dinner (licor 43 with coffee). We eat traditional turkey with relleno de carne (beef roll), gravy and mashed potatoes, [too].

It all sounds delicious--4 Baja celebrations that incorporate a little bit of both sides of the border; that's how to celebrate Christmas, Baja California style. 

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