6 Silly (But Real) Mexican Food Challenges & Possible Solutions

Huge cinnamon roll

Mango. Tacos. Hot sauce. Peppers. Lettuce. What do each of these have in common? Well, first of all, one encounters them all in Mexico. And, in my case, it was a struggle to eat them without getting into trouble. :)

Here are the 6 Mexican food challenges I faced recently, which you may find yourself dealing with if you travel to Mexico, and solutions I offer that may/may not work. It all depends on…you. :)

Challenge 1. Mango in Your Teeth

I know there’s a certain way to cut up a mango. But I’m too impatient to do it that way. Instead, I slice it and eat if off the skin—the way you might eat an orange. This is where the trouble begins. Then, it gets worse. Why? Because I attempt to eat the remaining mango off the pit.

Ketaki@yelagiri .. ooops !! ... Eating Mango ...

The problem? Long/string-like strands of mango get caught in my teeth. They’re evil, I tell, you. They seem to enjoy doing what they do. Like unwanted guests, they’re really hard to get rid of. One must be an expert dental floss user to get them out.

Solution: Cut the damn mango the way you’re supposed to!

Divide it into quarters, then cut into it and make little cubes. Cute the cubes off and eat them. Don’t get greedy (like me)–unless the mango is the right consistency and seems to come right off the skin. Then maybe you’ll be able to get away with it.


Challenge 2. Taco Fillings Spilling Out

Are they toppings? Or are they fillings? Is it real or is it Maybelline? Who the hell knows?

Actually, I sort of know. You’re supposed to put fillings inside and toppings on top (hey, maybe that’s where the name came from) of the tortilla, then sort of fold it (to keep the stuff inside), then eat it.

Mmm... Tacos - chorizo, queso fresco, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, sour cream, corn tortillas

But somehow, as shown in the photo above, some of what I put inside seems to fall out. It’s sort of annoying. I end up having to shove it in my mouth, eating like a savage who just returned from a hunting expedition. It makes me look and feel like a slob. 

Am I missing it something?

Well, yes, I am. I recenly learned what one should do.

Solution A: Use the ‘Mexican Houdini Taco Technique’

When in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do…

The locals’ technique (in Baja) was nothing short of a Houdini sleight of hand. In a matter of seconds (so fast that you could easily miss it), they would grab the toppings with the tortilla itself, immediately folding it in half. Or maybe it was simultaneous and not in steps. I’m not sure.

Like magic, the fillings and toppings stayed inside, with little to no overflow. I tried it and it did seem to work.

Maybe it’s not magic after all…

BBQ Smoked Beef Brisket Tacos

Solution B: Ask for a fork

Or just do what you want. Take a walk on the wild side. Fill that plate, let everything spill out. And then, ask for a fork. Un tenedor.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s like using a fork when you’re in Asia and ‘should’ be using chopsticks. Eh…whatever. Do what you need to. Eat some of it the right way, then the rest—whatever falls out—the other way. The main thing is to not leave anything on your plate!

Challenge 3. Softball-Sized Cinnamon Rolls Hard to Eat

Upon a foodie friend’s advice, I went to the Todos Santos Café, known for having great desserts, and ordered a cinnamon bun. She said they’re amazing there, and she was right, but…

Holy crap—it was huge! And that wasn’t the only supersized dessert I saw there. Believe me, some pieces of cake and pie I ordered were gigante!

Huge cinnamon roll

Solution: Cut into it…unravel the damn thing

That savage-like feel overcame me (see the taco filling challenge) and I almost grabbed it and took a bite out of it.  I wanted to have the roll + cinnamon + sugar simultaneously.

But I knew that was impossible. So, despite my instincts, I opted to unravel and unroll it. This was distressing for me and it might be for you–if you also prefer the ‘simultaneous 3-ingredient experience.’ :)

Unraveled cinnamon roll

My advice: be flexible, go with the flow. Imagine it’s a piece of cake or another non-roll dessert and you’ll be fine.

That’s what I did and I lived to tell the story.

PS: I asked for the cafe’s secret icing recipe, and they refused to give it to me. Oh well…maybe I’ll have to go back.

Challenge 4. Choosing the Wrong Salsa, Sauce and/or Peppers

I thought that all the time I put in at Chipotle had prepared me. The chopped tomatoes in the big vat were not too spicy. The other salsas, the green included, were. I knew which pepper was which. I was confident that I’d figured it out.

I guess I got a bit cocky, which is what led me to get…burned. 

Mexican Condiments

When I arrived in Mexico, I realized my pseudo Mexican food chain training had failed me. I got confused re: the various salsas and peppers and made some boo boos. There were so many of them and in all different colors. Sometimes the line blurred between a sauce and a salsa, too. (I believe the difference is that salsa has more chunks, usually of tomato, etc.) and sauces are smoother. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

One day, at a local taco place (that some Mexican friends said was their favorite), I felt overwhelmed. There were 20 or more toppings, many of which were salsas, sauces and peppers. 

Taco condiments and fillings

And so, more than a few times, I screwed up. Picked the wrong one and felt my mouth burn a bit. I had to drink extra beer to make up for these mistakes. Not complaining, mind you.

Roasted Pepper

Solution A: Ask questions

Here, you’ll need some Spanish. The word for hot/spicy is picante. I recommend, if your Spanish is limited, asking which is less spicy–as in, point at two different salsas or peppers and ask for a comparison. ‘¿Mas picante? ¿Menos picante?’ Then choose accordingly.

Solution B: Have water and beer on hand

Self-explanatory, I think.

5. To Eat the Lettuce or Not–Now That Is the Question

From experience with prior travels, in countries such as Ecuador and Indonesia–where you really have to be careful–I know it’s often best to skip the lettuce.

"The Arena" nachos

However, I don’t follow that rule everywhere. In Mexico, I often break it. Here’s why…

I go to a restaurant that looks good…they bring out the food…and there’s that damned lettuce. And it’s touching the other food. I see a big blue container of filtered water. I ask if they wash food with it. They say yes.

I throw caution to the wind. And so far (knock on wood), I’ve been OK.

Solution: Do what makes you feel comfortable.

Everyone’s stomach is different. Some of us seem to get sick very easily. Other don’t.

On my recent trip, I ate the lettuce when I went to restaurants. The water there (in Baja Sur) is allegedly drinkable. I also ate it on the street. But only if the taco stand looked super busy.

Note: I’ve gotten my Hep A shot recently and I often take Chinese herbs when I travel–the kind that are supposed to prevent parasites.

Challenge 6. Eyes Bigger Than Your Stomach

I’m a huge fan of Mexican food and often order way too much. My eyes are bigger than my stomach (well, not literally, but…) It’s easy to do because the food is so good and is often very inexpensive.

Nat Stuffing Her Face Before The Food Arrived

Solution: Pace yourself

If you’re at a taco stand or restaurant, just order one at a time. See how full you get before ordering another one. Or just eat two meals a day so that you can stuff yourself.

Your Thoughts/Experiences?

Have you been to Mexico? Have you experienced any of the food challenges I mentioned above? If so, which one/s and how did you handle it?

Do you tend to eat or skip lettuce in certain countries? Where and why?

Have you experienced any food challenges in other countries? Where and what? How did you cope? :)

Mexican food in Goudi

Photo Credits: Special thanks to the photographers who made their work available via Flickr/Creative Commons; click on a photo to be taken to their page (full list of credits to be provided). The taco stand display and cinnamon roll photos are mine.


25 Responses to 6 Silly (But Real) Mexican Food Challenges & Possible Solutions
  1. Cara Lopez Lee
    October 20, 2013 | 1:19 pm

    I go to Mexico often. I eat my mango cut up, I wrap my entire hand around the taco or wrap it in a couple of napkins, I speak Spanish and can stand very hot salsa so not too many horrific mistakes there, I don’t eat lettuce if I can help it and just shrug when I can’t avoid it – but no matter what I do, I usually get at least a small case of Montezuma’s revenge. For that, I carry Imodium. I still love Mexico. My favorite treat in is the mango pie at Pie in the Sky in Bucerias. Out of this world!
    Cara Lopez Lee recently posted..Killer Kayaking: Beauty and Peril on Lake AtitlánMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 20, 2013 | 6:50 pm

      Hi, Cara. Sounds like you’re a pro! I love the idea of wrapping the taco in a couple of napkins. Great idea. ¡Buena idea! And smart to avoid the lettuce. (That Montezuma is a vengeful guy, isn’t he?) I probably should, too. Not sure why I’ve been OK in Mexico. In other countries, however, I’ve gotten into trouble–that is for sure.

      I hear you re: loving Mexico. I do, too.

      Pie in the Sky? Just googled it and see that it’s in Puerto Vallarta? Really good, huh? Will keep it in mind if I go there sometime (which is likely since I see many trips to Mexico in my future).

      ¡Gracias por tu comentario! :)

  2. Maria
    October 20, 2013 | 2:34 pm

    Hilarious and oh so true!
    I’d add that dairy can put out any fire on your lips or taste buds in seconds flat.
    Maria recently posted..Haiku: Uncertain DelayMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 20, 2013 | 6:51 pm

      Glad you got a laugh out it! Dairy puts out lip and bud fires? I didn’t know that. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Clara Arnold
    October 20, 2013 | 6:32 pm

    You are very brave. It wasn’t lettuce that nearly killed me in Mexico but the eyes of baby eels staring at me in an avocado half. It was a fancy restaurant and I didn’t know what I had ordered! It was actually pretty bland. As for lettuce, I always take a pass – not worth ruining a good trip.
    Clara Arnold recently posted..Good Sleeps – Haciendas, Hotels & Fincas in ArgentinaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 20, 2013 | 6:53 pm

      Hi, Clara. What’s this about baby eels?? OMG. And their eyes?? Isn’t it funny how some of the fancy restaurants can have some of the least appealing foods (unless you’re from the country and it’s a delicacy to you, of course)? When I was in China, I remember some of my best meals being in very basic places. One night, some other folks and I were taken out to a fancy place. There were many things I didn’t want to eat. They looked way to freaky. :)

    • CB Driver
      October 20, 2013 | 6:55 pm

      PS: I just tried to tweet your recent post, but noticed that your Twitter handle wasn’t included in the tweet. Do you have one? Can you change your settings?
      Are you on Twitter? If so, can you let me know what it is? I’ll look for you there.

  4. Hogga
    October 23, 2013 | 4:23 pm

    mmmm i’d cut a man to be in mexico right now
    Hogga recently posted..Seeing Montreal with Le St. MartinMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 27, 2013 | 8:39 am

      Ha ha….funny! Ouch for him, but nice for you. :)

  5. Henry | @fotoeins
    October 29, 2013 | 9:59 pm

    Mmmm, I like these kinds of problems. Many tasty problems to solve …
    Henry | @fotoeins recently posted..Fotoeins’ Favourite 5 in GermanyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 29, 2013 | 10:10 pm

      Yes, they’re fun/delish probs to have!

  6. Cassie
    November 1, 2013 | 1:49 pm

    Oh my gosh, this is so funny! I’VE TRIED the real mango cutting technique but I can never manage to get it to work–I can’t seem to cut it in half cleanly! I usually get about a quarter of the flesh off in decent looking cubes, and then shove the rest of it in my mouth and strip the seed clean as you do. I hate it when it gets stuck in my teeth. I’ve experienced all these other issues in Mexico, though I wouldn’t say too many condiments is ever a bad thing :) The pickled red onions in your photo (in the Yucatan?) are one of my favorites!
    Cassie recently posted..Mono Lake: A Sunrise Walk on the MoonMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 3, 2013 | 8:06 am

      Hi, Cassie. So glad you were entertained! So you do the same thing with mango, huh? I wonder if it’s impatience or hoping not to waste it?? It’s a biotch to get out of your teeth, too. You need industrial-strength dental floss!

  7. […] Want to read about some of my adventures with food in Mexico? Check out Six Silly (but Real) Mexican Food Challenges and Solutions. […]

  8. Tom @ Waegook Tom
    November 4, 2013 | 9:14 am

    I’m such a messy eater that I’d no doubt slop the taco all over myself even if I did employ the technique you talk about here. And that cinnamon roll looks amazing – I used to eat them all the time in Korea, and had to employ the unravel technique, much to my dismay.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Things That Surprised Me About MilanMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 4, 2013 | 9:43 am

      Hi, Tom. That’s hilarious! Maybe we could all it ‘Taco Slop Syndrome.’ :)

      You had to use the ‘unravel technique’ on a cinnamon roll? Oh no–say it’s not true!! Maybe we need a Houdini trick for those large rolls, too.

  9. Chelsea
    November 6, 2013 | 1:18 am

    I’ve been to Mexico a few times, and I haven’t been sick yet (knock on wood). We usually stay at all-inclusives though, where I think they’re a bit more careful. I eat the lettuce, fruits, ice, you name it – there’s no way I could go a week without my salad! I will be getting my Hep A shot too though, for my trip to South Africa!
    Chelsea recently posted..Liebster Award NominationMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 6, 2013 | 10:28 pm

      Hi, Chelsea. I think you’re right about the all-inclusives; they’re probably a lot more careful.

      Hep A for SA? Good plan!

  10. Adam Burton
    November 6, 2013 | 3:15 am

    This sure is a great challenge and I have a little challenge of my own here while reading this entry. “How NOT to drool while looking at those tasty Mexican food” and I failed miserably. Oh well, gonna go get me some tacos! 😀

    • CB Driver
      November 6, 2013 | 10:27 pm

      Hi, Adam. Funny! So you drooled all over your computer screen? :) Enjoy those tacos!

  11. Travel Reading List: November's Recommendations for Armchair Travelers - The Girl and Globe
    November 30, 2013 | 7:01 am

    […] 6 Silly (But Real) Mexican Food Challenges […]

  12. Mary Jane Murray
    February 20, 2014 | 12:41 pm

    Thanks for the great Mexican food tips. One of my all time favourite snacks is a ripe warm mango eaten while standing in the ocean. Pick up a mango from the ground where it has just fallen from the tree. Walk into the ocean. Tear back the mango skin with your teeth and savour the sweet fleshy experience. The unavoidable splashes of salt water that hit the fruit enhance the flavour. The juice that runs down your arm is conveniently washed away. Ahh..it’s lovely even though, depending on the variety of mango, you may end up with those strings between your teeth.

    • CB Driver
      February 23, 2014 | 10:54 am

      You’re welcome, MJ! I love the way you described the mango-eating experience. Exactly! Nice that the juice gets washed away, too. :)

      And yup–you could end up with those darn strings caught between your teeth–LOL. :)

  13. Charu
    February 24, 2014 | 12:09 pm

    Funny but true! In India people eat coconut straight from the shell..
    Charu recently posted..FlipKey or VRBO? Which is Better?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 27, 2014 | 11:00 am

      Hi, Charu. Coconut from the shell? Yum!

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