Don Bauder 7:35 p.m., June 19
Cauliflower ceviche at the Vegetarian Cuisine & Arts Festival in Tijuana
The second bi-annual veggie fest at Margarita's Village offered clever Baja Med cuisine
If the words “Tijuana vegetarian food festival” evoke images in your mind of, at worst, rows of bean and cheese burrito vendors or, at best, Pokez-style potato flautas, you aren’t alone.
In fact, just about everyone I mentioned the event to scratched their head and laughed a little.
But then, they haven’t been paying attention.
Tijuana and surrounding cities are world-famous in foodie circles for their gourmet Baja Med cuisine, a fusion of Mexican, Mediterranean, and Asian influences that coalesce into creations such as escargot pizza, duck tacos, and manta ray soup – all, of course, paired with a glass of Valle de Guadalupe wine.
While the rather open-ended Baja Med genre often relies on seafood and specialty meats, vendors at the second bi-annual Vegetarian Cuisine & Arts Festival showed the same ingenuity in their flesh-free presentations at Margarita’s Village (Avenida Revolucion – Zona Centro).
Take, for example, this cauliflower ceviche tostada from Kokopelli – the celebrated taco hut on Ocampo near Agua Caliente – which offered all the citrusy zazz of traditional ceviche followed by the inert spice and snap of broccoli's sun-bleached cousin.
Kokopelli also served this raw nopales (cactus) taco with optional chapulines (ahem crickets). Slimy and weirdly crunchy with chipotle salsa burning slowly on the 'cados, it was everything that a veggie taco garnished with bugs should be. Behold.
Here's a whole-wheat pizza with pesto, green beans, sun-dried tomato, artichoke, and peppers.
The real thrill was seitan tacos by Alternativa Vegetariana, who approximated traditional street meats such as adobada, chicharron, and tinga with marinated wheat gluten. They may not be as mind-blowing as the chorizo tacos from the popular cart on Madero between Third and Fourth, but they came surprisingly close.
The festival also touted raw chocolates, cupcakes, vegan nachos, portobello "fish" tacos, Caesar salad wraps (the salad originated at a hotel restaurant of the same name a few blocks away, srsly), guacamole-stuffed mashed potatoes, and crafts from local vendors.
Musical highlights included Tijuana locals Coastral:
And San Diego producer/live performer Memo&Rex:
The Vegetarian Cuisine & Arts Festival was coordinated by Polen, a Tijuana-based organization which seeks to “generate critical audiences that construct reality through sound” via events such as the food fest, regular downtown showcases, and their seasonal flea market, Arts & Trees.