09 October 2012

The Taco

I ended my tour of Central America with a three-week sojourn in Mexico, the majority of which was spent in Mexico City. Determined to get to the root of Mexican culture (see: The Function of Food at the Present Time), I set myself to the task of eating a taco, and if you’re a dumb white girl with nothing to go on but your guide book, the only place to do this is Plaza Garibaldi. I was certain that if I just tried one taco, all of my failure to even try local cuisine (with the notable exception of the copious amount of rice that I consumed throughout Central America*) would be forgiven.

It was Swine Flu season: everyone was canceling their trips to Mexico, the hostel was practically empty, and the streets--considering the population of Mexico City--were more or less deserted. But I had recently received a (probably illegal and definitely ineffective) flu vaccine in the wilds of rural Colombia, so I had nothing to worry about. I had also recently picked up a sassy swatch of Kuna fabric in a sketchy underground shop where everyone had handguns in Panama City, which I wore from time to time as a face mask. And I felt like this was my time to push myself to the absolute limit: the city had been abandoned, and now it was mine.

There’s a strange adrenalin that accompanies certainty; a kind of energy that carries you through as you hurtle towards the inevitable. And this is what I felt as I prepared to leave the hostel, as I approached Plaza Garibaldi, and as I stood by the cart waiting for my chorizo taco (the ordering of which was a total blur). I was so fully committed to eating this taco and getting the whole thing over with, that it never even crossed my mind that I could back out of the agreement I had made with myself.

I have spent a lot of time wondering why it is that I am totally incapable of trying new foods or why I’m unwilling to give foods I have tried a second chance. The main reason is because I am adamant that certain textures or flavours or even colours should not go together. This is why I won’t eat sandwiches or salads, and is best left to future posts. But the other reason is because I made peace with my diet long ago, and I have no desire to change it or add to it, and I don’t believe that I am missing out on any crucial life experiences by having an extremely limited selection of food that I will actually eat. I know that it’s possible for me to travel to any of the places in the world that I am at all interested in and maintain more or less the same diet I have at home. And yet curiosity seized me, clutched at my heart, and would not let me go. Somewhere within myself I knew that I could not leave Mexico without trying a taco--even if I hated it and even if I knew I would never try one again (...or would I? More to come). So I told myself that this is something I was going to do and I did not entertain the possibility of not following through on it.

I had spent a lot of time observing people eating tacos, and I knew exactly what I was in for. I had studied the size, the texture, and the amount of time it would take me to eat one. There are a lot of different kinds of tacos with different kinds of toppings, but I was going to go for the plain chorizo in the small soft shell, and with that knowledge I knew I was setting myself a goal that I could reach. When the man gave me the taco, I walked over to one of the patio tables and sat down as if this was the most normal thing in the world for me to be doing. I didn’t hesitate or question whether or not this was something I really wanted to do; I just ate it like I would eat anything else. And you know what? It was delicious. That night I went to bed with a feeling of self-satisfaction and elation that I have rarely experienced.

In case any of you might doubt that I actually tried a taco, here's proof of me doing so. You can also tell that I had a blast on
my trip because I'm tanned and have two wrist bands. Maybe you think I went to some sweet festivals, but actually one was
for the hostel and the other was from Torre latinoamericana. So... there you go.
Every time I recount this story, I am asked the exact same thing: if I tried this and liked it, then why don’t I try other things because maybe I will like them too? But that’s not the point. I know that there are other foods in this world that I have never tried and would surely enjoy, but I’m still not going to try them. If reading Candide has taught me anything it’s that we can travel the world searching for new experiences and ways to make ourselves happier, but if you can’t be happy in the space that you already occupy and by all the things that make that space your space, then you’re going to be miserable and you’ll probably get syphilis in the process. Of course we must cultivate our garden, but we must cultivate it as we see fit. I don’t have room in my garden for green peppers or tomatoes or tacos; my garden contains peas, potatoes, rice, and pasta, and I don’t cultivate it myself because I am western and entitled and I can pay someone to do that for me.

Two final notes: I actually did try another taco while I was in Mexico City. Shortly after my experience at Plaza Garibaldi, I left the hostel in favour of couch surfing, and our hosts (for I was traveling with a girl that I had met at the hostel) took us to some fancy taco restaurant. I’m not sure what exactly I was thinking. I don’t know if I just felt too much pressure to fit in or if I genuinely believed that because I had already had one, tacos were suddenly a new part of my diet. But whatever the reason, I ended up ordering three chorizo tacos in small soft shells. They were served with pineapple and cilantro and I was horrified. I can’t even remember what they tasted like. I just remember stuffing them into my mouth as quickly as possible and swallowing them without chewing as hot tears of shame streamed down my face.

I also tried natural carbonated water from a spring in Catemalco. It was okay, but slightly flat and not nearly as good as what can now be bought in a store. I had therefore determined once and for all that nature is rudimentary at best, perfected only by man (holler at your girl, Beerbohm).

*I arrived in Guatemala knowing only Hola, Gracias, Por Favor, and crucially, Arroz. Si, solo arroz. I quickly armed myself with ¿Tiene un cenicero? and a brief explanation that I don’t like my food to touch other food.

Porque en el pasado yo como un taco naturel
Entonces ahora, yo no quiero Taco Bell 
En realidad, no más tacos para
Pero lo comí? Sí, claro que sí.


  1. Google translated your poem as follows:

    Because in the past I like a taco naturel
    So now, I do not want Taco Bell
    In reality, no more heels for me
    But I ate? If, indeed they could.

  2. Also, it's nice that you have made anonymous posting possible, but please be aware that your blog still puts me through an ordeal where I have to "prove [I'm] not a robot", and it is really hard. I think this is probably deterring a lot of your human but impatient readers from commenting. Would it be possible for you to allow robots to post? If this doesn't lead to comments from your more impulsive readers, at least it might lead to comments from robots which is better than nothing.