Driving Into Mexico, by Accident!

The beautiful city of San Diego, California is located only a few miles north of the Mexico border. In fact, I was driving on Interstate 5 and noticed highway signs that read “Mexico exit is coming up.” My plan was to drive to the end of the US border, park my car at San Ysidro and walk over to Mexico. It is much faster and convenient to go this way especially if you are doing a day trip. There is a pedestrian bridge that one can take into Tijuana, the first town, an important financial and industrial center of Mexico, and the largest city on the Baja California Peninsula. After arrival, buses and taxis are available that take you into the center of town which is bustling with shops and restaurants.

Unfortunately, the exit on I-5 that I was suppose to take had no sign stating that “this is where you need to get off to park your car if you are going to Mexico” so, I accidently drove into the border. If you’ve ever driven to Mexico or you’re planning on visiting, click here to learn about driving in Mexico. I could’ve done with that guide whilst I was stuck there!!

I thought there must be a place to park at the border crossing, or at least I can turn around somewhere. But no, an unmanned check post said “Welcome to Mexico!” and there I was. Nobody checked for identification or stamped my passport but I’m sure there were cameras all around.

crossing US border into Mexico

The moment I crossed international borders, my GPS went out of service and cell phone switched to roaming. I didn’t bother to print any maps of Tijuana beforehand since I wasn’t planning to arrive there by car. I had not notified my car rental company that I was going to take it to Mexico. Neither did I have a phone number to call in case of an emergency.

Here I was in Tijuana, supposedly one of the most dangerous places in North America. People later warned me that its famous for kidnappings, gangs and drugs.

There were well maintained highways and people seemed to be following some laws. Exit names were nicely labelled, although very confusing and inconsistent. I wasn’t sure where I was suppose to go even though I wanted to see the city. So I just kept on driving wherever the roads took me, which in this case was to Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico.

Rosarito, located only 30 minutes south of Tijuana, seemed like a quiet beach town with lots of newly developed homes. There were margarita and taco shacks dotted all along the ocean which was waiting to alive once the sun went down. A few tacky souvenir shops sold shot-glasses, sombreros and t-shirts. It didn’t take very long to drive through the stretch of the main street, which was also heavily guarded by Mexican police.

Rosarito beach Baja California

I stopped at a gas station to pick up a map, only to realize I didn’t have any Mexican Pesos. The lady at the cash register accepted my US Dollars but returned the change back in Pesos. There was no prior understanding of the prevailing currency exchange rate as I got the “take it or leave it” look from her.

Thankfully, I was able to find my way back into the city (mostly through trial and error) and see the main attractions of Tijuana. By this time, I gained enough confidence to park my car and step out. I visited Tijuana Cultural Center, Avenida Revolucion, Amigos del Artes, churches, food markets, shops and plazas. Downtown area was overwhelming with lots of cars, pedestrians, street hawkers and everyone trying to sell me something. It didn’t feel unsafe, although someone who is not use to traveling in third world countries may perceive otherwise. In any case, Tijuana was not the sort of place I would like to spend more than a couple of hours at.

Amigos del Artes Tijuana

After paying the parking attendant with the rest of the Pesos I had, I made my way back north towards USA. The 6-lans drive-through immigration was perhaps the most chaotic border patrol I have ever seen. Separate lines for US citizens, permanent residents and visitors were non existent. There were no signs for wait times, documentation or anything whatsoever. The lanes kept shrinking, so we had to merge every few minutes. Then there were street hawkers who set up shop in the middle of the highway, making it a marketplace. It was easy to do so since we were virtually in a “parking lot” situation for many hours.

Mexico immigration crossing

The Mexican vendors walked around selling everything from souvenirs, furnishings, cold drinks, fast food to puppies and medicines. There were men wearing t-shirts identifying themselves as “pharmacy” who sold antibiotics without prescriptions, ladies taking orders for fresh tacos and burritos, handicapped citizens begging for money, young men washing cars without permission hoping for tips, and kids running around collecting anything American tourists would give them. It was a grave sight while I waited 2.5 hours in line to cross the border.

puppies sold at Mexico immigration crossing

 

medication sold at Mexico immigration crossing

Once I reached the immigration counter, the office asked me what I went to Mexico for, and I explained the whole situation of “driving there by accident.” He didn’t seem amused, as if this happens all the time. Truly, next time I will be careful not to blink while driving, or end up in Tijuana. The officer looked at my passport, inspected my car, asked a few questions and allowed me to re-enter California.

Difference between Spanish and Mexican paella

If you missed my presentation at Taste of Travel stage at the San Diego Travel Adventure Show, you didn’t get to taste my delicious paella. But all is not lost. You can still watch some clips from the show and follow along the recipe below.

Paella is a rice based dish that was invented in the mid 19th century around Lake Albufera, which is in the Valencia region in the East coast of Spain. Paella means a round “pan,” that is shallow, made of steel and has two handles. You can find paella pans at pretty much every kitchen equipment store, but a wok or flat deep dish would also do.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a national dish of Spain. In fact, most people in Spain don’t even eat paella unless it’s a special occasion. It has gained a lot of popularity around the world and still considered a delicious entree. There are mainly three types of paella – Valencia, seafood, mixed and others. Paella was traditionally cooked by men over open fire fueled by orange and pine branches and pine cones.

toasted rice on the bottom, called socrarrat, was considered a delicacy

Trivia: In 2001, Juan Galbis in Spain created the largest paella that served 110,000 people.

taste of travel san diego

The difference between Spanish and Mexican paella is that the Mexican version is spicier and soupier. It also does not have saffron, so you don’t need to worry about purchasing the most expensive spice in the world. Mexican paella is cooked using parboil rice. If you frown upon cooking with parboil rice, you must not know that it contains 80% of nutrients of brown rice (as it is rice with husk on boiled). This is how 50% of the world eats its rice. 

As the Mexican paella is spicy it uses Arbol (chile de arbol) in the recipe. Arbol is a small and potent red chili that is commonly used to decorate wreaths. It is also known as tree chile, bird’s beak or rat’s tail chile. If you cannot find Arbol, Cayenne is a good substitute.

Another difference is that we use white wine in the broth for Spanish paella, whereas beer is used in Mexican paella (preferable Mexican beer). Other ingredients include seafood (Clams/ shrimp/ mussels) that must be properly washed and spicy Mexican chorizo that is mashed up into the sauce as well. 

The Mexican paella is an easy dish to prepare and makes for a great one meal dinner. It can be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature.

Here’s our easy and authentic Mexican paella recipe that you can try out at home.

Mexican Paella

Cinco de Mayo is over now but if you still have some craving for Mexican food, here is a very special recipe for you. Created by Chef Paulina Suarez from Solario restaurant at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, this dish is authentic to her homeland. It is very different from a Spanish paella, which you find more commonly at restaurants. The Mexican paella is cooked with parboil rice (made the day before), broth made with beer and leftover meats. It does not have saffron like the Spanish paella, is spicier and somewhat soupy. Try out the recipe for yourselves….

Arroz a la valenciana (Mexican Paella)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup parboil rice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • pinch of dry Arbol peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 mussels
  • 6 cherry-stone clams
  • 1/4 cup Mexican beer
  • 2 links cooked chorizo
  • 7 shrimp (uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas (thawed)
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels (thawed)
  • 2 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 tablespoon butter

For the tomato broth: Blend tomatoes, onion, 1 garlic glove in a blender. Mix with the chicken stock and set aside.

For the rice: In a heavy bottom pot, heat half of the oil and butter. Add the rive and cook till it has a nice golden color. Add 2 cups of the tomato broth and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice absorb the leftover liquids.

To assemble the paella: In a large paella or saute pan, add garlic, butter and oil. Saute for 1 minute, then add clams and mussels. Add 1/4 cup beer and allows for the shells to open up. Add chorizo, rice and rest of the tomato broth. Use the peppers based on how much heat you like. Add the shrimp, corn and peas; salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook till the shrimp turns pink (if using raw). Garnish with sliced lime and green onions. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Gastronomo de Mexico

After it’s grand opening last weekend, everyone is talking about the newest hot spot in town. Located on Peachtree St, close to the Fox Theater, Escorpion Tequila Bar and Cantina is trendy, young and eclectic. The place where Escorpion houses now has seen a few change of hands over the years.

Owner Riccardo Ullio already has successes of Sotto Sotto and Fritti under his belt and a reputable name when it comes to serving good quality food. Although Escorpion offers a cuisine different from Riccardo’s Italian roots, the expectations are still high.

The cuisine at Escorpion can be described as “upscale regional Mexican.” If you are still debating to go, here is what a typical experience at the Escorpion would be like….

It will take you a few minutes to go through the extensive list of cocktails, tequilas and liquors on the drink menu. If you are an adventurous drinker, always looking for new concoctions, you won’t be disappointing. Try the El Chamuco with blackberry and ginger or Pueblo Unida, a spicy habanero salt rimmed lime margarita.

For starters order the chunky Guacamole or one of the many ceviches. The Tuna Ceviche is an interesting treat for the palate and the eyes. Cubed pieces of sushi grade tuna are lost against diced watermelon. Gently seasoned with sea salt and served in a glass, it is a perfect dish on a summer evening.

The cuisine here is described as “regionally authentic” and they truely live up to that. Even though the names would sound familiar, they are not your off-the-mill Tex-Mex dishes that you find at most restaurants in Atlanta. The Cheese Chili Rellenos is  nothing like you have tasted elsewhere. Spicy whole chilis are surrounded by a light fluffy egg meringues, melted Monterey Jack and Corija (Mexican) cheese and a savory tomato gravy. A tablespoon of the combination melts away as soon as it touches your tongue.

The Fish Tacos found here are not for the faint hearted. While the tilapia fillet is deep fried, it is drizzled with a spicy mayo made with poblano peppers that can serve as a nice compliment to one of the fruit infused tequilas.

Chicken Tamale with avocado sauce is just what it sounds like. While the Fish Tacos are on the spicy side, the tamales are bland. There is something for everyone here!

Desserts are not  strong suit here. Both the Flan and Tres Leches are nothing to rave about. Best to come here for a few drinks and enjoy some small plates to keep you nourished. The restaurant has a club feel after dark and is open till late every night (1am on weeknights, 2 am on weekends). There is a lively atmosphere with international music and festive crowds, so stay on and join the dance floor.

Escorpion Tequila Bar and Cantina

800 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30308

How to throw a Cinco de Mayo party

Having a Cinco de Mayo party at home can actually be quite fun. Whether you are hosting a few people or a large crowd, these easy to do ideas will make your event a big hit. As with any themed party, you must plan ahead of time to create the right mix of ambience, food and music. So decorate some Mexican flags, put some salsa music playing in the background and get your margarita glasses out.

Copyright Go Eat Give

Slice limes and keep some mint leaves on hand to decorate the cocktails. If you can afford to, always serve drinks in proper glasses, not disposables. Believe it or not, the presentation makes all the different in the flavor of the food!

For appetizers, serve tortilla chips with sour cream, few types of salsa, homemade guacamole, queso (melted cheese dip) and picco de gallo (salad of chopped tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cilantro).

Keep the entrée simple so that you are able to spend some quality time with your guests. Prepare a pot of yellow rice and black beans ahead of time to be served as sides. Present a make-your-own taco bar with fresh tortillas and fillings. You can have three or more options to appeal to everyone’s palate – one bowl of grilled vegetables (onions, red peppers, green peppers, tofu, etc.) for the vegetarians, second bowl of sliced cooked steak or chicken and third bowl of pre-cooked crawfish meat (available in seafood freezer section in grocery stores). Also buy readymade sauces such as a mole (if you can find it), chipotle steak sauce or a spicy seafood sauce to serve with the tacos. Serve them in nice bowls (not the original bottles) and they won’t know the difference! Refill the condiments (salsa, sour cream, etc.) as many people like to have them with their tacos as well.

For dessert, you can make a traditional flan, or upgrade to a caramel flavored cheesecake or dulce de leche gelato. Now go ahead and wear your long flowing skirts and sombreros and celebrate the rich tradition and culture of Mexico. Cheers!

Guacamole

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tsp. Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. Cumin powder
  • salt & pepper

 Peel the avocado & empty the pulp in a bowl. Chop it finely & add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well.