There was nothing I wanted more when our flight touched down in Mexico than real Mexican food. Not the Chili’s version of Tex-Mex but honest to goodness Mexican food. Fresh and spicy, I’ve literally been dreaming of Mexican food since we left the country in 2009. The day we entered Guatemala I gingerly tried a green sauce served with chicken, learning full well from a month in Mexico that you never, ever pour the sauce on until you try it. That day my heart sank, the sauce was the blandest taste free green herb sauce I’ve ever had. I think my taste buds died a little bit that day.
Returning to Mexico, I hoped to regain at least the spirit of those taste buds.
Having told our hosts I wanted true Mexican food, they took us to El Bajilo our first night in town. A mix of cuisines from all over Mexico, my taste buds began salivating when small ceramic bowls of limes, salsas and onions appeared on the table. Slightly crisp corn tortillas and a thick mole sauce rounded out the condiments and I was in heaven.
Two days later, despite having eaten nothing buy Mexican food, I was still craving more. It seemed nothing could satiate my desire for street food. Yearning to recreate the spicy foods of my memory, we stopped for lunch at a quesadilla stand. As my chicken and cheese quesadilla fried up, my eyes immediately darted to the enormous bowl of picante on the countertop. A Mexican couple stood on the right of the stand, cautiously dipping their taquitos into the picante and proclaiming it muy picante (very spicy). Excellente, I thought as tears welled up in their eyes.
As my quesadilla came across the counter I lunged for the gigantic bowl of picante. Dumping what can only be referred to as a cucharota (a big spoonful) on my tiny quesadilla, the two Mexicans stopped eating and loudly cautioned me against the picante. Motioning frantically, they begged me to reconsider before putting the first piece in my mouth. “It’s ok,” I said in Spanish. “I’m very strong. I love spice.” They shook their heads as if to say “crazy gringa,” as they watched me take a bite. Immediately every taste bud in my mouth exploded as if to say “this is what you were waiting for!” The quesadilla was delicious, absolutely perfect and before I knew it the Mexican couple was staring at me like a monster with two heads. The lady behind the counter smiled dotingly at me, evidently pleased that I loved her picante. As the Mexicans paid and went on their way, in virtual disbelief at my pleasure with the picante, I smiled politely and told them I was from Florida.
Two quesadilla’s later my belly was on fire, but I couldn’t help but put more picante on my last bite. Laughing the women behind the counter let us in on a secret- the picante usually has habaneros, but today there were none in the market. Mocking the other Mexican’s for crying and tearing up from a small taste of the sauce, she expressed her pleasure at my ability not only to handle the picante but my brava at pouring on more.
I walked away from that stall head held high, incredibly pleased to not only have earned the respect of my husband (he also thought the sauce was picante), but more importantly from the locals. Now where did I put that picante?