Good food is the single greatest joy in life.
Intellectual endeavour certainly has its appeal, as does the other pleasurable pursuit that typically minds to come during discourse on the more exquisite ecstasies in existence. Still, for me, the first bite of something truly scrumptious is as good as it gets in this physical form.
You see, I am fully in tune with my inner child, and he is definitely a chubby kid…and so, when I got the opportunity to sample the wide-ranging wares of El Pitillal, a rare 9am wakeup call and 600 words or so were small prices to pay for 3 hours of curated culinary exploration.
The Vibes: For folks who rarely stray more than 5 blocks in either direction from The Pier, “Pitillal” is probably just that strange word they print on reciepts at the Wal-Mart near the marina. However, this city within a city is well worth discovery even if you don’t wander around the world looking for flavorful delights to shovel into your fat face as a profession.
Just a few minutes from the high-rise, high-dollar hotels on the waterfront lies a more typical representation of life in the area. This working-class community invites curious visitors and boarders of the wrong bus to partake of local culture, and like countless small towns across Mexico, is centered around a plaza in front of the main iglesia.
El Pitillal’s town square is the backdrop for everyday attractions including wandering musicians, cultural celebrations, and the occasional parade, but on this sunny Thursday morning I found myself at the nexus of the community under the taco tutelage of Shawnie, longtime local resident and master of the touring arts.
The rest of our group was a fun foursome from Indiana who had been in town just a few days, but had already picked up the local custom of drinking Electrolit after a long night of partying.
Clearly, we were all ready for a little something to eat.
The Vices: Okay, so correlation does not equal causation, and I get that, but the fact is that I have never started a bad day with carnitas. The first stop on our tour offered these tasty pork tacos along with fresh made agua jamaica, giving cause to consider once more just how the heck they make flower water taste like refreshing cranberry Kool-Aid.
Next up was a quick stop at a churro cart for a hot and sugary treat that somehow disappeared out of one hand before the other could reach my camera. Happens sometimes, man.
We walked through the streets lined with little stores specializing in just about every imaginable class of item: handmade huaraches and tortillas along with artisan aromatherapy candles, custom-designed fragrances, and mariscos freshly fished from all that water just a few blocks over. I made a particular note to return to the party supply store to find more fun and fabulous things with which to decorate myself daily.
After a quick carne asada at another nearby eatery, we arrived at a sit-down restaurant for the presentation portion of our tour. Shawnie put her extensive knowledge of food culture on full display, outlining the history of the region’s most iconic dishes as well as fun facts about the restaurants that served them. Shrimp and octopus tostadas were served with seafood consomme and a traditonal side of cerveza (full disclosure: the beer wasn’t included with the price of the tour, but this gig with the Tribune ensures I’m always good for at least 30 pesos).
Our tour of the town was more than just an eating experience, it also offered us an opportunity to reflect on the local way of life. One of our stops was at the famous San Miguel Arcángel Parish, home to an imposing 25-foot tall statue of Jesus the Christ ascending to the heavens carved painstakingly from a single tree. If I may say so, it was not only more flattering than the standard depiction, but highlighted a much better use for wood.
We witnessed the production of cheese tamales, ate tortillas hot off the presses–even better with a little of Jalisco’s own Valentina–and nibbled on just about every animal in the barnyard during this deliciously engaging three-hour tour.
Finishing up with fruity frozen treats at a paleteria was a perfect choice, and as I took another bite of my glowing green limesicle, I was reminded once again that everyday humans of today regularly eat better food than the kings of yesteryear.
That, my friends and followers, is a reason to savor this most unlikely lifetime.
The Verdict: Vallarta Food Tours offers an range of tour types, including edible excursions in Centro and booze cruises in Old Town. Still, for hungry travellers looking for a different angle on the local cuisine scene, a tour of El Pitillal is well worth setting your alarm clock for. Maybe I’ll catch you there…probably a bit later in the day.
The Details: Check availability, get ticket information, and purchase tickets by calling (US/Canada) 954 607-5633 or (Mexico) 322-222-6117. Advance purchase is required; tours usually sell out well in advance. Online at Vallarta Food Tours or catch them on Facebook.