Dining at the lucha libre: An unlikely seafood feast
We'd always thought it would be fun to see the lucha libre, or "free fight," that colorful form of professional wrestling wildly popular in Mexico. After many years in the country, my husband and I had bought countless wrestling dolls, wrestling masks, wrestling themed tee shirts, purses and refrigerator magnets for eager friends and family members up north, not all of them children. We'd even gone to see Nacho Libre, the Jack Black movie about a Mexican luchador filmed in the Central Valley region of Oaxaca. But, somehow, we'd never gone to see lucha libre, despite the fact that Puebla, just a few miles away, has one of the most important venues and passionately dedicated aficionados.
The arrival of a friend and fellow foodie from the U.S. meant a solid week of marketing, cooking, and grazing on Puebla-style street food, but we never figured on the lucha libre arena as a dining venue. Having a visitor is always a fine reason to see a local attraction that has been ignored (a native New Yorker, I'd never been to the Statue of Liberty until the arrival of a college friend's mother from England) and such was the case with Mexican wrestling.
Getting out of the cab a couple of blocks from the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre arena, we were swallowed up by a sea of fans, streets packed with vendors of wrestling paraphernalia, and an army of food carts selling everything from tacos to the Mexican version of corn on the cob, slathered with mayonnaise and dusted with parmesan cheese. No gourmet stuff here, please. Imported parmesano reggiano need not apply. Just a good, liberal shake of the familiar green Kraft cylinder, along with a sprinkling of powdered chile. One of my favorite street snacks but, alas, no room to eat without smearing mayo all over myself or others. Mexicans are brilliant at maneuvering gracefully in small spaces, something I've always admired, but this skill was about to become awe-inspiring.
Once inside the arena, we make our way to our seats in the nosebleed section, tiers of concrete benches with steep drops to the rows below and seemingly steeper climbs to those above. Packed in at our feet in the row in front of us is a young couple with several children, all dressed in their Sunday best, with grand amounts of hair gel setting off their neatly combed coifs. Even more astounding is the amount of food these small fans are putting away, everything from chile and tamarind lollypops to bright orange chips to… wait a minute — are those shrimp cocktails those kids are eating?!? Yes, indeed, in the usual glass parfait dishes, with lime wedges and liberal garnishes of chopped avocado, cilantro and onion.
It's not that I don't consider this to be kid food, because I've been eating clams on the half shell since I was four, but the question was, "Where did you get those?" We ask, only to get sympathetic smiles from the parents and a gesture at one of the white coated waiters who are, improbably, making their ways up and down these precipitous bleachers balancing trays of seafood. Why haven't we seen them before this? Possibly because we were busy climbing our way to our row, squeezing into our "seats," and maybe even suffering from altitude sickness. And here comes a waiter now, to retrieve the cocktail glasses and bring the parents' order of fried shrimp, with a fluffy batter coating. So, elbow room be damned, we put in our own orders for shrimp in both forms. Now we see that others in the packed arena are eating fried fish and mixed seafood platters, all the while cheering on their favorite wrestlers. The white jacketed waiters have the logo of a popular local seafood restaurant on their jackets, and the only things missing are white linen napkins draped over their arms.
Our order arrives, and we do manage to spill food and beer on ourselves and each other, while carefully avoiding the party dresses and pressed pants on the kiddies below. The shrimp cocktails are everything good Mexican shrimp cocktails should be — tangy and somehow sweet, loaded with fresh shrimp, and lavishly garnished. The camarones rebozados, or batter fried shrimp, are crunchy and light textured, served with fat, juicy lime wedges, and heavenly with beer.
I couldn't tell you whether Super Porky beat Misterioso or if Shockercito thrashed Pequeño Olimpico, but I can recommend the seafood at the Puebla lucha libre. I know what you're thinking, and it's true that I've lost any semblance of germ phobia that I might have ever had, but all of us felt terrific afterwards. Shrimp cocktails may be the cure for altitude sickness.