Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mermaid of the Pacific

On Breed Street, just north of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, by the entrance to the Bank of America parking lot, a taco truck named La Sirena del Pacifico is parked. It specializes in seafood, or mariscos. On the front of the truck, a sign describes the seafood as prepared in the style of Colima.

Colima is a small state on the Pacific coast of Mexico, with great beaches for surfing, mountains, forests and parks, and the most active volcano in Mexico. Its city Manzanillo is Mexico's principle deep-sea port, handling international shipping - and it is an important fishing port as well.

Here, a shapely and beautiful mermaid, wearing a pink bikini top and a strand of pearls, displays a platter of fish tacos, as she lounges on the beach beneath a couple of coconut palms. Her muscular fish-tail with its large fins gives a sense of the power of this sea-siren.

Mermaids appear in folktales and legends of almost all the worlds cultures, from the Assyrian half-fish goddess Atagaris, to the mermaids of the cold Baltic Sea. In France they tell of the fairy Melusine, half woman half serpent. In Java there are legends of a mermaid queen, Nyi Roro Kidul and the Japanese tell stories of the ningyo, human-faced sea creatures. Gorgons or sirens appear in Greek mythology and the story of Odysseus.

The figure of a mermaid or La Sirena is a powerful one in the culture of the Caribbean, Mexico, and Africa. Brought by slave traders and merchant seamen, she is Mami Wata, the mother water of West Africa, who inhabits rivers and seduces fishermen and boatmen. Her image in popular culture has been shaped by a variety of sources. 16th century African artists and craftsmen saw the female figureheads of European sailing ships, and adapted the ideas to depictions of their own female water spirits. A German circus printed chromo-lithographs of a Samoan woman who had a snake-charming act - this image traveled back to Africa and shaped later images of Mami Wata. Indian immigrants to Africa brought pictures of Hindu gods that also influenced the way she was depicted.

She is Yemaya, the Yoruba mother-goddess of the ocean In Brazil she is Yemanja, celebrated by fishermen as the Queen of the Ocean. Sometimes a fish, and sometimes a scaled snake, she is Santa Marta la Dominadora, the saint who tamed a dragon. She appears in Mexican loteria cards as The Siren, and as an image for marketing.

She appears in many places, even unexpected ones.

She is powerful, sensual, seductive. Vain, she often carries a hand mirror to gaze into - or wears a pretty necklace, like our taco-truck mermaid.

But enough of this. Let's eat.

I love stepping underneath the blue shade of an unfolded awning of a taco truck, and looking up at the order window and the menu. La Sirena del Pacifico's menu offered a wide variety of seafood. There were cocktails of shrimp, octopus, clams, oysters, abalone, and campechana, or mixed seafood cocktails. There were fish or shrimp tacos, seafood soup, and tostadas with ceviche or shrimp or a mixture of both.

I ordered a taco de camaron - it was only $3.00, and I asked the proprietor if I could take pictures of his truck's paintings while I waited.

As I waited I realized how hungry I was - I had spent the day exploring, without stopping for lunch. When I got my taco, I took it to my car and opened up the styrofoam clamshell right there in the driver's seat. It smelled wonderful!

A thick blanket of crema mixed with a salsa rojo was spread over the shrimp and chopped cabbage that were nestled there on top of two corn tortillas. I squeezed a little lime on it, and stuck my fork through the sauce and brought up a shrimp.

They were perfect-sized shrimp - not too tiny, and not too big. Nicely breaded and freshly fried - they were still hot to the tongue and with a gritty bite, the fried cornmeal breading just starting to soak up the chile-laced crema and the lime juice. The cabbage was sweet and crunchy, a perfect contrast to the hot shrimp.

There must have been at least ten shrimp on my $3 taco. It was absolutely delicious!! I sat there in the parking lot, in my car, and ate, savoring each bite of fried shrimp, each creamy forkful of cabbage. Yum.

If you hear La Sirena singing alluringly to you - think about it. She may be serving tacos. That kind of enchantment is worth it.


KathyR said...

Yum! That looks amazing. And La Sirena looks like she could kick some butt with that fish tail.

Queenly Things said...

Tacos de camaron - love on a tortilla. Cocteles de camaron - with a squirt of fresh lime, heavenly. Abulon - for $4, amazing.

Liz said...

Oh my gosh. I bet that was oh so good. I used to get tamales at a place like that, they were the best I've ever had.

Cha Cha said...

My one true love in this life is FISH TACO. Your post literally made me drool. Yum!!

Trannyhead said...


That looks divine.

PS - I am revealing the meaning of the green beans in tomorrow (Thursday's) post.