I have told this story to so many people already, it’s a crime I haven’t put it up here on the site yet.
When I was in Leon, Mexico, I was feeling pretty confident. I had taken a few weeks worth of spicy Mexican food and conquered everything. I was even eating jalapeño peppers directly and having no problems.
One of my favorite snacks in Mexico was a cup of corn. They can put salt, lime, chili pepper, and/or mayonnaise on it. I would just get lime and chili pepper. It was a solid snack that cost only 10 Pesos/$0.80.
Several cups of corn in, I went to a stand in the central market in Leon. I ordered the cup of corn as usual, but her stand had an extra option – “super picante” or super spicy. Since I had conquered everything spicy Mexico had thrown at me until this point, I figured I had to opt for super picante!
She asked me twice if I was sure, hearing the gringosity in my voice and envisioning the pain and hurt I’m about to unknowingly inflict on myself. Confidently, I said yes. Bring it on!
I took my cup of corn and stood outside the market on the street. I was in the loading dock area for the market. It wasn’t the best place to stand, but I could put my stuff down on the loading dock and the cup of corn was at the perfect level for eating on the concrete above.
I took my first bite, and instantly tears formed and nose mucus started flowing.
I thought to myself, “This is what a nuclear bomb must taste like.”
As tears streamed down my face so fast I didn’t bother trying to stop them anymore, I saw a policeman coming toward me. Then a guy approached me on the side as a delivery was coming in. Seeing my tears, they were nicer than usually in asking me to move out of the way.
I hopped up onto the pavement and walked inside the market. I’m not sure why I decided to go into the market. It only ensured that more people could clearly see this nearly 30-year-old man crying while eating his cup of corn. But as you might expect, when eating a nuclear bomb you don’t think straight.
I don’t believe in wasting food, so I continued eating – slowly. Each spoonful brought more tears, mucus, and shame on my family.
I thought things were finally getting better, but then I reached where she put her first spoonful of chili pepper. Her second spoonful went on top, obviously. So as wave two of super picante attacked my mouth, I realized what a mess I must look like.
I started thinking what I would say if someone approached me. Realizing how ridiculous this all was, I thought about saying something in Spanish like “it’s just so good I don’t know what else to do.” They would think I’m crazy, but then again Mexicans truly love their food. They might put a hand on my shoulder and reassuringly say something like “Yes, I know what you mean.” But if they thought I was crazy, at least I’d be laughing on the inside – behind the tears, mucus, and shame on the outside.
In the end, no one approached me but countless people did stare. It took 15 minutes, but I finished the cup of corn. I never returned to that cup of corn stand and I never again asked for super picante when presented with the option. The cup of corn brought me to my knees and humiliated me in public, but I finished it and got the last laugh.