This coming weekend is Carnaval in San Francisco’s Mission district, an event that draws a huge crowd every year and coincides with a 2-day street festival, which closes most of Harrison St. south of Division. As in Mexico, people arrive from all over to participate in this bawdy celebration that has its roots in Mardi Gras or literally translated, “Fat Tuesday”. Traditionally, Mardi Gras begins “on or after Epiphany and culminat[es] on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday”(WIKI).
Carnaval San Francisco is an annual street parade and festival, which takes place Memorial Day weekend. The Carnaval Grand Parade runs from 24th Street at Bryant to the 24th Street and Mission and then down Mission to17th Street where it turns towards Harrison Street, the site of the Carnaval San Francisco Music Festival (Harris is closed off between 16th and 24th Streets both Saturday and Sunday).
San Francisco’s Carnaval “is most recognized for its spectacular choreographed dancers and scantily clad beautiful women. Since 1979, the Carnaval has been the central event for many thousands of artists who spend hundreds of hours each year getting ready for the Sunday parade”.
Carnaval in Mazatlán (Mexico) is reportedly the third largest in the world after those in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro (however, there are several Mexican cities which claim to hold the largest carnaval festivities, another is Vera Cruz). Since1897, Carnaval has been traditionally held the week before Lent. If you are wondering how a festival that is obviously French, at least in name (Mardi Gras) ending up being celebrated in Mexico, the idea of parades during Carnaval began in 1866, during French occupation of Mexico and the reign of Emperor Maxmillian. Large Carnaval celebrations begin with the Quema del Mal Humor, or Burning of [an effigy of the] Ill Humor Man”, a way to get the festivities off on the right note.
A favorite for the day after the party is a dish called Vuelve a la Vida (Return to Life) a bracing seafood cocktail and cure for la cruda, the dreaded hangover. The same ingredients are also made as a soup of the same name, equally effective.
Here is a recipe for Vuelve a la Vida from chef Roberto Santibañez, author of Truly Mexican. (This recipe first appeared in the 2012 SAVEUR 100).
3 bay leaves
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb. cleaned calamari, bodies cut into 1/6″-wide rings, tentacles halved lengthwise
12 oz. boneless, skinless red snapper filets,
¾ cup fresh lime juice
2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 cup ketchup
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
¼ cup Worcestershire
6 tbsp. olive oil
2 Serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 Habañero or Scotch bonnet chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
16 small oysters, shucked, juices reserved
16 small clams, shucked, juices reserved
2 avocados, thinly sliced SERVES 4–6
1. Bring bay leaves, garlic, and 8 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan. Add shrimp; cook until pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, and cut into 1″pieces; set aside in a bowl. Add calamari bodies and tentacles to boiling water; cook until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Drain and transfer to bowl with shrimp; set aside. In another bowl, combine snapper, half the lime juice, and oregano; season with salt and let sit until fish is opaque, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In a bowl, whisk together remaining lime juice with tomatoes, ketchup, tomato juice, olives, cilantro, Worcestershire, oil, serrano and habanero chiles, and onion; add reserved shrimp and calamari, snapper, and oysters and clams with their juices, and fold gently to combine. Season with salt. Serve seafood cocktail in large goblets or bowls, with slices of avocado and Saltine crackers on the side.