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Passport Sneak Peek: Volcanic Rocks Add Sizzle to Seafood Soup in Mexico

Global Press Journal - Monday 16th October, 2017

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO - A waiter walks steadily among the tables of Las Jicaras del Huanacaxtle restaurant while carrying a jicara gourd filled with boiling-hot soup. Steam from the soup wafts amid the tables. The aroma, a mixture of cooked fish, crab, shrimp, mumo leaves (which have a licorice flavor) and red-hot volcanic stones, washes over the customers.

"We even cook the stones," says William Flores Martinez, laughing. Flores Martinez, also known as Willi, is the owner and manager of Las Jicaras del Huanacaxtle, which serves "caldo de piedra," or stone soup, in San Cristobal de las Casas, a major city in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas.

Stone soup often includes broth, fresh seafood and hot stones, which he says impart a special flavor into the dish while heating the other ingredients.

Flores Martinez says the dish originated in San Felipe Usila, a municipality in the neighboring state of Oaxaca, which is more than 625 kilometers (388 miles) from the restaurant. He lived in Oaxaca for more than 14 years.

When he visited San Felipe Usila, he saw fishermen cooking a soup of fish and shrimp with red-hot stones in the kettle, he says. After he tried the soup, his amazement only grew, he added. Years later, he brought the flavors and techniques for making stone soup to this stone-cobbled community.

William Flores Martinez, or Willi, is the owner of Las Jicaras del Huanacaxtle. He believes hot volcanic stones, seen here, are essential for the soup, not just because of their heat, but because they impart a special flavor to the dish.

Adriana Alcazar Gonzalez, GPJ Mexico

Flores Martinez says stone soup revealed to him the secret that the flavor of a dish depends on the quality of the ingredients, the cooking method and the cook's seasoning and ingenuity.

"In order to make a good stone soup, you need to include the best fish, the best shrimp and the best crab. But you also have to take into account the type of rock you will use and the type of wood with which you will heat up the stones, because the stones will be saturated with the wood's ashes," he says.

Flores Martinez recommends stones from a river with volcanic origins, because it ensures that the limestone will break up when it comes in contact with the fire. The stones should be heated over oak, he added.

At Las Jicaras del Huanacaxtle restaurant, Fernando Garcia Gomez, the assistant chef, prepares the stone soup, one ingredient at a time, as he cuts the mumo leaves to place into the gourd.

Adriana Alcazar Gonzalez, GPJ Mexico

The soup has been assembled, with epazote leaves added to the broth. It now awaits the hot stones.

Adriana Alcazar Gonzalez, GPJ Mexico

Lastly, add the hot stones. The stones should be put in one at a time, in intervals of approximately one minute between each stone.

William Flores Martinez heats up a volcanic river stone over his restaurant fire. In order to achieve the perfect flavor, he says he uses oak in his fire.

Adriana Alcazar Gonzalez, GPJ Mexico

When all the stones have been put in, let the soup simmer for one more minute -

about five minutes in total, with four stones -

and then serve!

Upon impact, the hot stones bring the soup to a sizzle. After the final stone has been added, the stone soup is brought to the customer's table. It's a rare and pleasurable experience for many of Las Jicaras del Huanacaxtle's customers.

Adriana Alcazar Gonzalez, GPJ Mexico

A final word from Flores Martinez:

"What I like about this dish is the cooking process. With the hot stones, it looks like a hot spring to the client's eyes, and the expression on their faces is unforgettable."

Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

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