For generations, the fishermen of Loreto have buried their hands in the sand in search of treasure. Although Baja has its fair share of pirate stories, this particular treasure isn’t gold, jewels or in a chest. These gems are as big as your hand and brown like chocolate. Almejas chocolatas are well known because of their size. They are not your average clam, as they can get as large as six inches wide and can only be found in the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez. Finding them is only part of the magic, the ritual that follows is a tradition that honors fishermen and traditional Baja recipes to this day. We spoke to Isidoro Mendez, Food and Beverages Director in Villa del Palmar at Islands of Loreto, about the fascinating way these clams are prepared.
Loreto has stolen Isidoro’s heart. He moved because of the job offer a couple of years ago but stayed because this corner of Baja has turned into his dream home. This land has that effect on people. Among the surprises he found is the Almeja Tatemada ritual. As a foodie himself, this celebration piqued his interest because of how long it’s been done and how mouthwatering the recipe is.
Fishermen need nothing more than their snorkel and their hands to retrieve the clams. On some occasions the tide is so low that they can walk on the sand and find them easily by stepping hard and noticing if a spurt of water emerges from the ground. Years of tradition have trained their eyes to easily spot them. The abundance of this species allows over one hundred clams to be gathered for the ritual.
“The first step is to make a square, or sometimes a circle, on the sand and to place the almejas chocolatas one next to the other. Then, they are covered with a special kind of gravel” Isidoro told Destino. “Then, we find chamizo or romerillo which is like the tumbleweed you see in Western films. The gravel is covered by this dried out plant and then set on fire, roasting the clams, which is how the smoked flavor is achieved” he added.
After about forty minutes, the clams are once again dug up, cleaned up. “If they were cooked correctly, they’ll open up by themselves,” said Isidoro. To accompany them, you’ll usually find flour tortillas, mustard and mayonaise dressing and lemon. “It is an amazing ritual to witness,” he added.
This recipe is part of the prehispanic historical legacy left by the first settlers that arrived in Loreto. Scientists have been able to discover a lot of information about their eating habits by finding large quantities of shells buried in the sand. Clams and molluscs in general are an important part of this region’s diet. Although the almeja tatemada ritual is usually saved for a special occasion or visit, it is common for Loretan families to enjoy this delicacy on any given sunday.
As an avid promoter of Baja’s gastronomy, Isidoro’s dream is to shine a light on Loretan cuisine around the world. Given the circumstances in which the clams are retrieved and prepared, his goal is to have the almejas tatemadas awarded designation of origin. To achieve this, Loreto hosts the Almeja Chocolata Gastronomic Festival in June. For two days, chefs from Loreto, and all over Baja, show off their recipes with different types of clams, fish and other local delicacies. However due to its flavor and indigenous tradition, the star of the show is the almeja tatemada; a true symbol of Baja California Sur.
There’s a variety of ways in which you can prepare the gems found hidden in the sand in this corner of the world. Isidoro Mendez is passionate about celebrating food and offering tourists a unique dining experience at Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto. Your visit to this magical town is a unique opportunity to taste the best Mexican food and specially, this rare treasure that can only be found in Loreto.