Is Manta Ray the New White Meat?

Categories: Chow Bella

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Natalie Miranda
The cahuamanta taco came loaded with seafood and a strong ocean scent.

You've handled street tacos, maybe even Sonoran hot dogs from a cart in the parking lot of a random business. Menudo, pozole, we've all been there and done that. A feeling of accomplishment might set in knowing that you've tackled these "foreign" dishes from Mexico.

Well, the beauty of this "foreign" cuisine is that Mexican food will never get a yawn out of you because of the vastness and variety. Enter cahuamanta. Our first thought was, "How do you even pronounce that properly?" and then, "What?" Trying exotic dishes is always a thrill coupled with uncertainty, so we braced ourselves.

See also: Mariscos Playa Hermosa: From the Shores of Mexico to a Colorful Central Phoenix Restaurant

Cahuamanta is a mix of shrimp and manta ray, and is served in either soup or tacos. We learned that it used to be cooked with sea turtle until was that placed on the list of endangered species. Yes, we didn't know how to feel about this, either.

On one blog, commenters recounted times when they would purchase cahuamanta tacos in Tijuana, Mexico, and a side of broth would accompany the tacos to wash them down.

Thus far we've found four restaurants in the Valley that serve cahuamanta in either soup or tacos. Birrieria Obregon was the chosen testing grounds.

It's a bustling restaurant where the line never stops. The eatery is only open until 3 p.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekends, probably one reason why they're constantly packed, aside from their delicious menu offerings.

Birrieria Obregon offers both versions of cahuamanta, so naturally, we got both. Instantly a heavy scent of ocean water set in. The taco comes complete with both seafood meats, cabbage, cilantro and a few slices of carrots. The manta ray was a little more dry than we anticipated, but had the familiar texture of fish. Having that dry meat inside the taco kind of downplayed the rest of the elements and we weren't interested in finishing it.

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Natalie Miranda
Cahuamanta soup left us with a salt water aftertaste.

It was obvious the beach scent could only be blamed on the soup. Inside came the same ingredients as the taco, but with more meat from the shrimp and manta ray. The manta ray in the soup took on a different texture and was more tender, most likely because it was in broth. With each gulp of soup there was no denying the sea water taste. We couldn't get past it, and it seemed that nothing, not even lime could drown out the salty flavor. Again, we chose not to finish the bowl of soup. We will say it's not because it was terribly prepared, but because cahuamanta, we found, is an acquired taste.

Will we take the plunge and try cahuamanta at the other locations? Probably not. But many people raved about it online and even on Yelp, so be adventurous and try it at least once.

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Location Info

Birrieria Obregon

3146 W. Van Buren St., Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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4 comments
Jesse Adams
Jesse Adams

cook one with some lime and throw it in a taco? yum

Larry Gulliford
Larry Gulliford

Everyone should learn about the environmental impact of the seafood they are consuming. Fishing Manta Rays is terrible for the environment and the species. Please check out www.seafoodwatch.org and download their App, to learn about what are some better choices for eating seafood.

Larry Gulliford
Larry Gulliford

Why do we need to find new exotic animals to eat? Seriously? Those rays are too majestic to eat. Not to mention they are considered a "vulnerable to extinction species" due to overfishing in areas like the Gulf of California where these fish are likely coming from. These rays are protected in international waters but are severely threatened by coastal fishing where such protections don't always exist, specifically in waters off of Mexico among a few other countries. I think this article is irresponsible, to not mention the conservation status of these animals and to actually encourage readers to eat them is a severe disservice. The caguama (or cahuama) from whence comes the cahuamanta name, was hunted to near extinction to make the original turtle soup and turtle tacos that this version has replaced. Now the overfishing of the manta rays is threatening their very existence, just like the sea turtles before them. Did you know it takes a year of gestation inside the mother before the pups are born live? These animals also have a very long lifespan and take a long time to come to maturity, so overfishing is not just killing off the current population it is killing off the future young. You really needed to do some more research before you wrote and published this article. Sure, go ahead and enjoy local food, but can't you be a little more socially responsible about it? As a newspaper that does some of the only honest reporting on issues of social justice in this state, there is no reason the food section can't have a little more responsibility with its reporting. If a food trend is causing harm to environments or to communities somewhere in the world, shouldn't you be the first to report on the problem? (Think, the humanitarian and health issues around palm kernel oil or acai berry monoculture production. Did you know acai production has become a cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest?) Please, learn something about where your food is coming from, especially how the fishing of wild caught seafood is affecting the ecosystem. Once all these manta rays are gone, they will be gone for good, but at least you got to eat a taco.

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