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My Mexican-food meltdown

Jul 11, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Once I realized my authentic taco in Manzanillo was spicy,

it was too late.

It was a beautiful day in Manzanillo.

The sky was blue, the sun was shining brightly overhead, and my husband and I were walking to the supermarket to pick up some supplies for our week in Mexico.

Rounding a corner on the route, our eyes alighted on a "taco truck" parked along the side of the road. Immediately, a surge of excitement passed between us, and we looked at one another with gleeful anticipation.

Taco truck appreciation is something I have learned from Cooper - who knew the best food you'll ever taste is inside a repurposed vehicle-turned-kitchen? - but neither of us had ever experienced the authentic made-in-Mexico version.

A healthy crowd of local Manzanillans had gathered at this particular venue, so we figured it must be the real deal. In broken Spanish, we ordered a couple tacos each - carne asada, I believe - and the proprietress indicated that we should pick our own toppings from an expansive spread arranged on a table behind the truck.

I considered the array. What to choose?

There were several different types of salsa, as well as a couple of creamy looking spreads, and freshly sliced lime, cilantro and onions.

I went with a little bit of each - variety is the spice of life, right?

We settled in on a bench near the truck and began to devour the cultural cuisine. I slathered the asada with the first salsa mixture I had selected and went to town, wolfing the thing down so quickly that I hardly tasted it until it was halfway gone.

But eventually, the flavor did kick in.

It was spicy. So spicy.

I don't know if you're aware, but I'm originally from Minnesota - the land of the bland, cheesy foods.

Our traditional fare consists of lefse and lutefisk. Don't ask what those are made of, just know that they are white in color and lacking in flavor.

This is what my mouth is accustomed to. To me, ketchup is spicy.

I've been working on building up my tolerance to spice, and at this point, if I really steel myself, I can maybe manage a tiny bite of de-seeded jalapeno. But my training had not prepared me for what I had just stuffed in my face at the taco truck in Manzanillo. It burned.

But it wasn't unbearable. Not yet.

In an attempt to ease my pain, I turned to a green-colored spread that looked soothing and cool. I figured it contained avocado, which is sufficiently tasteless for my Midwestern palate. So I poured a boatload onto my second taco and took a bite, making sure the sauce was the first thing to hit my tongue.

Boy, what a mistake that was.

The green goo was somehow even hotter than the salsa. It was like nothing I had ever tasted, and my body didn't know how to react as the foreign substance made its way toward my stomach. I could just hear my intestines yelling at me, "You want us to digest THIS? Are you CRAZY? Is this even FOOD?"

My reaction was visceral. I felt myself sinking into a deep, full-body depression. This is it, I thought. This is the end. There is no coming back from this. My situation will never improve. The despair was real, and I sincerely considered throwing myself onto the ground and having a full-on temper tantrum, complete with wailing and flailing of arms and legs. It seemed the most logical thing to do.

Poor Cooper, who loves spicy food, happily munched away next to me, oblivious of my distress. But once I had transitioned to full-on zombie status, he took note. And he got scared. Later, he said it looked like I'd been possessed. I wasn't responding to his questions, and I was staring off into the distance as if I were peering into the depths of the underworld.

With trepidation, he handed me a bottle of water. I took it from him wordlessly and slowly sipped from the bottle until the liquid was gone, then resumed my trance-like stare into the void.

"I thought you were going to beat me up - rage at me," Cooper said later.

He's not wrong. I was angry that he was enjoying his tacos. I hated everyone who was having a pain-free lunch from the truck. It wasn't fair! I had been so excited! And now my life clearly was over.

In an attempt to save the day, Cooper, God bless him, inadvertently added a healthy dose of humiliation to my situation by approaching the taco truck again to ask if they had any food that wasn't spicy.

"No picante?" he asked, gesturing toward his helpless wife.

"Barbacoa," the woman answered promptly, handing him a barbecue-flavored chicken taco. Apparently, she had noticed my situation and was ready with the antidote - an embarrassing dollop of your typical American barbecue sauce. It was not satisfying, but I choked it down anyway, and as I did I heard the woman explaining to her other patrons, "Su esposa no puede tomarlo."

The men at the counter laughed gleefully at the gringa having her Mexican meltdown.

If you're wondering, I did eventually recover, life did go on, and Cooper escaped the whole thing uninjured. I even ate at a different taco truck later in the week, making sure to say the magic words, "No picante," first.

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2017-09-22