Food = Culture?

If food defines a culture, I shudder to think about the people defined by Guerrero Negro’s demon street food from hell.

We’d pulled into town late, just as it was getting dark. Having read in the Lonely Planet Guide to Baja California that the street food in Guerrero Negro was outstanding and inexpensive, we checked in to the best of the modestly priced hotels in town and, before even shedding our cycling gear, we were on the street looking for it.

I always figure that if the parking lot is full, the food must be good … or at least passable and cheap. There must have been a crowd of 15 people hanging out by this one food stand – guys, couples, even whole families. It was a 3′ by 6′ cart and it was doing a very brisk business.

It was just what we were looking for.

My Spanish is usually pretty good, but this time I didn’t quite get the message printed on the side of the cart, so I decided the finger pointing method would have to do.

I found myself pointing at a collection of long skinny tubes – four different colours (sort of) and filled with … something.

We were hungry, so I pointed to the whole group of them and said “dos de cada uno, por favor”, “two of each of them, please”.

What happened next was a little scary. With a pair of tongs,1 he took eight of the already greasy looking tubes, two of each colour, and put them back in the inch thick layer of oil on the grill.

After they had all soaked up enough extra oil, he took them out and wrapped each set of four in a piece of foil and, with a big smile, handed them over.

It is unfortunate that when I am really, really hungry, I often find that I will gobble down a copious amount of food before the taste, quality and texture actually registers. For Dainius, multiply that amount times two.

By the time we hit this point, we were already more than halfway through our grease tube dinner. Dainius, in fact, was just about ready to polish off number 4. It was at that moment that both of us realized our grave mistake.

We looked at each other, pitched what was left in our hands into the trash bin like it was radioactive and went back to the hotel to lay down. Our moans and gut rumblings spent a good couple of hours doing their best to drown out the Mexican television.

We found out the substance of our mistake the next day. Tortillas of various shades were spread with condiments to match their colour, e.g. green for avocado, red for ketchup, etc. These were then each wrapped around a wiener and then deep fried… twice.

A Mexican interpretation of a hot dog. The stand was just as busy that next day.

To be fair, we did find one excellent street food meal. It was a seafood cocktail of raw shrimp, scallops, onions and cilantro doused in fresh-squeezed lime and tomato juice, and a dash of hot sauce.

But I can’t help asking myself, “What kind of people think the double fried hot dogs are a treat?”

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