Pejelagarto (tropical gar), an exclusive delicacy

An emblematic fish of Tabasco cuisine

Pejelagarto frescoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Pejelagarto (tropical gar)

It is a fish of the <i>Lepisosteidae </i>family, with a cylindrical body, thick and hard scales and a head similar to an alligator's, which is the reason for its compound name in Spanish meaning Alligator Fish.<br>

The tropical gar is also known in Spanish as catán, gaspar or majuarie. It is a freshwater fish that can be found in rivers, lakes and swamps. It has been on earth since the Mesozoic era and consumed in Mexico since the era of the Olmecs.

Its distribution is currently limited to the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, from Canada to Costa Rica. The area with the greatest production is in the Chontal and Putun communities in the state of Tabasco.

Venta de pejelagarto by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar in the cuisine of Tabasco

Many of the ingredients used in Tabasco's cuisine are native to the region. To differentiate them from foreign products, the locals call them products " from the earth, criollo, or Tabasco.”

Platillos tradicionales de Tabasco (2020-08-11) by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Consumption

Its delicious flavor, versatility, and supposed aphrodisiac properties make it one of the most consumed ingredients in Tabasco. 

Ceviche de pejelagartoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar in the cuisine of Tabasco

Many of the ingredients used in Tabasco's cuisine are native to the region. To differentiate them from foreign products, the locals call them products " from the earth, criollo, or Tabasco”.

Preparación tradicional del pejelagartoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Traditional preparation of tropical gar

Once cleaned and gutted, the fish is put on a wooden stake and is roasted over coals. The hardness of its scales serves as a container for its meat to cook along with its fat and moisture. 

Once the meat is cooked, it can be directly consumed in corn tortilla tacos with a local chili called amashito, salt and lemon. It is generally accompanied with a salad of cabbage, fried plantain and yuca.

There is a great amount of dishes in Tabasco's cuisine that feature tropical gar as its main ingredient, the most commonly consumed of which are described below. It is also in non-traditional and fusion dishes with other cuisines, such as the tropical gar pizza.

Pejelagarto en verde by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar in green sauce

Roasted and browned tropical gar served in a green sauce made of amashito chili with its leaves, criollo cilantro and parsley, chipilín, chaya, muste leaves, hoja santa, sweet criollo chili, garlic, onions and corn masa for thickening, all toasted and ground. 

Tamal tabasqueño by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar in mone

Large tamal made from chunks of raw tropical gar with sweet chili, garlic, onion, tomato and chopped cilantro. These ingredients are served on a toh leaf with a momo leaf on top, and then slices of green plantain and güero chilis are added. 

Tamalitos de pejelagarto by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar tamales

Made of corn masa mixed with pig lard, filled with tropical gar minilla (cooked with achiote, garlic, onion and tomato) and wrapped in toh leaves, a plantain that grows on the swamps of Tabasco whose leaves are more resistant than banana leaves.

Empanadas de pejelagarto by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Empanadas, panuchos and thick tortillas

All these dishes are made with corn masa, stuffed with tropical gar, and fried. These dishes tend to be accompanied by a cabbage salad and fresh salsa made with amashito chili.

Pejelagarto revuelto con huevo by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar scrambled with egg

Roasted tropical gar is sauteed with onion, tomato and sweet chili. It is then scrambled with egg and served along with thick tortillas.

Caldo de pejelagarto by Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de TabascoConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Tropical gar soup

Tropical gar is cut into chunks and boiled with garlic, onion, tomato, sweet criollo chili, momo and achiote. Plantain, yuca and macal are added, and it is then seasoned with salt, black pepper, local Tabasco paprika, and served with criollo cilantro.

Ely Osorio, cocinera tradicional de tabasco, prepara pejelagarto (2021-03-04) by Ely OsorioConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Where can you eat it?

If you'd like to go on a tropical gar tour, start at the public markets where you'll always find it fresh and roasted. The markets are also the best option for eating antojitos, such as the Pino Suarez Market in Villa Hermosa and the Tamulté de las Barracas Market.

Liberación de pejelagarto en los pantanos de CentlaConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Current and future production

At the beginning of the 20th century, most of Tabasco was covered by water, and consequently the availability of tropical gar aquaculture production was greater than its consumption. 

This changed over time: the growth of the population and aggressions against the environment limited its habitat and reproduction. Due to being at risk of extinction, studies and programs were carried out to guarantee the preservation of the species and its supply to the markets.

For that reason, we find a high volume of aquaculture farms in the entire state, which have allowed not only the species to be protected, but have revived the economy of fishing communities.

In most of these farms, hatchlings or fry are reproduced and many of them are released into the lagoons and marshes where they develop successfully, in order to conserve their characteristics and maintain a balance with other species. It is hoped that, with these measures, the production of tropical gar will increase and that, in the future, it will not be endangered again.

Credits: Story


TEXTOS. Gladys Guerrero Ulloa, CCGM
EDICIÓN. Ana Gabriela de la Rosa Avitia, CCGM
FOTOGRAFÍAS. Secretaría de Turismo del Estado de Tabasco

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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