Baja California, it must be said, has not always been widely recognized for its fine cuisine. The region's most famous culinary contribution is one that few people tend to associate with it--we're talking, of course, about the Caesar salad, supposedly invented in Tijuana in 1924. However, until just a few years ago really, Baja California cuisine was most widely understood to consist of fish tacos, cheap beer, and well... that's about it.
But flash forward to 2015, and the game has changed drastically. Baja California cuisine is now placed firmly on the map--and not just in Mexico or wider North America, but all around the world. This can be attributed in large part to the explosion of one specific culinary style--Baja Mediterranean, or "Baja Med" for short.
Baja Med, the New Baja California Cuisine
According to Miguel Angel Guerrero, fourth-generation Tijuana chef and local celebrity in his own right, there are three essential elements that make up Baja Med cuisine. Here they are, as most would agree is their order of importance:
1. Mexican Influences. This of course makes sense, because it's still Mexican food that we're talking about here!
2. Mediterranean Influences. These exist due in large part to the sections of Baja California that feature a Mediterranean climate--most notably the Valle de Guadalupe of course! The wines, olives, and unique herbs and spices produced in the valley make it perhaps the spiritual heart of Baja California cuisine.
3. Asian Influences. Baja Med's Asian influences are probably the cuisine's "wild card," and they're generally the style's least immediately recognizable roots. However, parts of Baja California have surprisingly large Asian--and more specifically, Chinese--populations, and their traditional cooking has been incorporated into Baja Med as the final ingredient.
What Kinds of Ingredients Are Used in Baja Med Cuisine?
This is an excellent question, because the fresh local ingredients unique to the Baja California region are what truly make Baja Med cuisine so special.
One could make the argument that the most important ingredients in Baja Med cuisine come from the sea. Fishermen working out of Ensenada bring back mussels, clams, oysters, and shrimp, not to mention tuna and other fish incorporated into the cuisine's iconic dishes. From the port city, these ingredients get sent throughout the region and even further abroad.
Of course, ingredients coming from the Valle de Guadalupe also play an integral role in Baja California cuisine. Besides (naturally) the wine, the valley is also the primary source of the olives and olive oil that play such important roles in the local food and restaurant scene.
Other ingredients employed tactfully in contemporary Baja Med cuisine include traditional Mexican cheeses and mole sauces, Asian staples like lemongrass and scallions, and produce unique to various parts of Baja California including tomatoes, strawberries, guava, and dates.
So are you starting to get the idea? Before we sign off, we'll leave you with some images of iconic Baja Med dishes. Where applicable, click through to check out some of Baja California's most iconic restaurants: