I moved to Tucson on a whim a little over one year ago, and from day one I’ve been in absolute awe. This land – where gigantic saguaros dot the landscape, roadrunners zip between the ancient mesquites, and a thick scent of rain permeates the air after a monsoon – is like no other. To say that the Sonoran Desert inspires is an understatement. Without question, some of this inspiration is rooted deep within Baja Arizona’s food culture. Food is the thread that weaves together the traditions, histories, and cultures that make the Southwest unique.
Foodies of Tucson is a fun, inclusive column that sheds light on this city of people who are passionate about food. Tucson’s love affair with food has made me confident that I can approach random strangers to ask for a recipe close to their heart and, for the most part, receive a positive response. Some controversy has been built up around the term foodie – that it should be reserved only for those with a refined understanding of food, or that it’s just a consumerist marketing ploy. But for this series, we’ll ignore all of that. A foodie, to me, is someone who views food as more than just a way to relieve hunger; someone with a deep interest in the power that flavors have to teach, connect, and heal.
Every other week I will share a different Tucsonan’s recipe and the story behind it. Altogether, I hope to capture the culinary complexity of the Southwest’s diverse food culture. I welcome you to try some of these recipes (I know I will!), and share your experience with us. Something to consider: what foods make you, you?
Our journey begins at Tap & Bottle on a crisp (by Tucson standards) October evening. There was a warm buzz in the bar, enough to make one confuse the senses of touch and sound. My eyes fell on two people engrossed in an animated conversation at the end of the bar, and something drew me over. “Excuse me,” I said to the man wearing a saguaro-embellished hat with a big grin, “would you consider yourself a foodie?” I was in.
Raul Michel is a self-proclaimed foodie. He claims that he’s made friends and ex-lovers pass out from the pure experience of consuming his culinary creations. Far and above his other dishes, Michel is immensely proud of his ceviche recipe. Even the bartender began to salivate as he remembered the time he’d been lucky enough to taste Michel’s famous ceviche.
Michel’s ceviche tells a story that winds back through the many places he has called home – Tucson, Tijuana, and San Diego – all the way to his family’s origins as shrimpers in Sinaloa, Mexico. In that small fishing village, shrimp became the defining force of their existence. It was their inspiration, their livelihood, their sustenance, and their future. And so, their recipe for shrimp ceviche became a family heirloom.
“My family is really huge when it comes to food,” said Michel. “Everyone in the family cooks really good and everyone cooks all the time. Ceviche is one of our prides.”
Although others in Michel’s family make ceviche, no one makes it quite like him. In his past life as a bartender, Michel won the title for Best Michelada in Tucson. Just as he does to make his award-winning micheladas, Michel incorporates soy sauce and clamato into his ceviche to create the special punch that makes it unique. So, go ahead and try it out!
“It’ll make you friends. Or at least keep them around,” Raul said, jokingly.