Nina’s Travel Rule #17: If You Want To Win a Chili-eating Contest in Mexico, You’d Better Drink More Tequila

the spicy little buggers in the wild

It’s a hot summer’s night, somewhere outside Monterrey, Mexico, and I’ve somehow misadvisedly entered myself into a chili-eating contest.  Specifically, a Chili Pequin eating contest.  Not like, a habañero, or a jalapeño, or anything you know, bland, no, that would not do.  Instead I’ve managed to stuff like 47 of the hottest little buggers ever down my throat, and am now being egged on by a pit-crew of geologists (yes, yes, I am indeed debauching myself on a work trip.  AGAIN), to which I say “Bring it!  I will destroy your chili-eating record!”  I know I’ve said this before, but this can’t end well…

The chili piquin, according to such knowledgeable sources as My Mouth, is a tiny red pepper that’s also hot as shit.  It’s no Ghost Pepper or the like, but it’s sure hotter than anything a normal person would eat straight.  Now, admittedly, I eat a lot of hot shit.  Yes, I’ve had vociferous arguments with Thai waitresses about how I really do want it “Thai spify” (I won).  Yes, I regularly attempt to murder my friends and family with food I consider a bit weak.  But still.  The Pequin, according to the Scoville Scale (the universal measuring scale to judge the deadliness of chilis), and our good friends at wikipedia, falls somewhere above cayenne but below habañero. Further efforts to elucidate its strength, however, suggest that I was eating not the typical, Texan, semi-cultivated variety of the beast, but actually the wild-grown, significantly scarier, Mexican version.  My memory of this event is slightly befuddled with tears and tequila, but I’m quite sure the little fuckers were round, not oblong, which would put them at more like 100,000 Scoville units (twice as bad as cayenne and 1/2 the death-punch of a habañero).

Chili Pequin goes right above cayenne...

Whatever.  Clearly none of this deterred me, as there was a title to be bested.  Now how, you ask, did this situation befall me?  Totally reasonably, I swear!  I happened to be in central Mexico for a field trip (we were looking at rocks.  The big ones!), and since my company, as well as those who’d sent everyone else on this trip, liked nothing better than to roll around in their own money, we’d been having a hell of time with our evenings.  I’m fairly sure I spent the equivalent of the annual salaries of 14,785 Mexicans on dinner and tequila that week.  Just for me.  All in the name of rehydrating my poor body so as to perform science the following day, claro.  So by the time we came to our last, farewell dinner, I’d gotten used to starting the evening with 3 or 4 of these awesome Mexican flag shot platter things (1 shot (2oz) each tomato juice, tequila, and lime juice, sip with joy), followed up with approximately a billion margaritas.  I was quite enjoying my typical dinner, had just finished my 4th flag, and then… our host (the EVIL EVIL Mark Rowan, noted structural geologist and most deadly chili taunter) decided to dare us into trying a pequin.  He does this every time he leads field trips, I think mainly to make himself feel better about schlepping rich oil pigs around the Mexican desert for weeks on end.  And I, in my all-knowing post-tequila glow, thought “Fuck yeah!  I’m from Texas, bitches, I’ve eaten a bazillion pequins!”  Which is technically true.  A pequin plant grows in my neighbor’s yard in Austin, and back in my stupider days (haha, by which I mean grad school poverty) we used to eat them straight off the plant.  Also we used to drop them in each other’s beer when each other wasn’t lookin’, to watch the best facial contortions this side of cirque du soleil, but this is all beside the point really.  The point is I can totally win this contest!

The Mexican Flag platter shot thingy

The contest starts off well.  We’re informed that the current record-holder, a burly man, strong in words and deeds, renowned through the land of pequins, etc., etc., had tanked out at like, 84 chilis.  I should also mention that, while the pequin is a fairly small fruit, perhaps the size of a large pea, 84 of them really do add up to a pile, and we’re all stuffed from dinner already.  We begin irregardless, and nearly the entire table of 25 geologists tries one.  I laugh inwardly at the sight of grown men and women choking, sweating, and running for the loo.  I calmly and unobtrusively continue to eat my pequins.  I deploy my mental concentration tactics, which consist mainly of reminding myself incessantly that the goal is to reach Chili Pequin Number 8, after which one’s mouth will have attained maximum chili saturation level, and one will no longer be able to actually taste.  Ahh, there were are.  Now I just roll with it.

At some point, most people at my end of the table realize their true inner weakness, and throw in the towel.  I’ve bonded with my van-mates over the week, and they willingly sacrifice their honor and dignity to form my backup team.  They carefully scour the piles and plates of pequins for the greenest (least hot) and smallest (least filling) fruits around.  They bring me perfectly measured glasses of water (I’m at chili like, number 50, and I’m startin’ to get full here), just enough to keep me going.  They hurl crafty insults and denigrations at my few remaining competitors.  I love you, German, Brit, Turk, and Chinese guys (see below)!  And then?  Then there were two.

A small man, somewhat annoying, laboring under the misconception that he had a shot in fucking hell at beating me, carried on.  His face dripping chili-infused sweat, his breathing labored, his entire body actually starting to convulse, he managed to consume 85 chilis.  I’d noticed early on that he was committing a classic blunder (which clearly I informed him of after kicking his pathetic ass): chewing.  See, the key to chili-eating contests is actually not chewing.  Just swallow the buggers whole, way less capsaicin (the “hotness” found in chili plants) gets released to immolate your tongue.  Rounds of clapping, back-slapping, and congratulations followed, as he had clearly beaten the record.  And then, all attention focused on me.  Just to prove a point, I inhaled like, 5 at once.  Ha!  Audible gasps followed my daring…

About an hour later, pretty much everyone was bored stiff, long since having lost interest in my chili popping heroics.  I finally gave up, mainly out of flagging interest and the desire to switch pequins out for more tequila, at the grand total of one hundred and forty seven.  That’s right, all you pansies out there, 147 pequins!  This put me in the record place, clearly, but also firmly established me as the first woman and first American (silly, weak Americans…) to win the great championship.  And yes, I gloated about this for like, three years.

Post-script: No, too many pequins do not make you…  unhappy, down there, afterwards.  I really did carry on quite regularly and painlessly.

Post-post-script: I’m a good person, so I’ll admit it.  I got beat about a year ago (bitches!!) by a Frenchman.  A Frenchman!  He ate like, 250 of the fucking things.  Now I love France, I do, and I love Frenchies too, but I may never get over this humiliation.  Well, at least not till my text trip to Monterrey…

Into the Wild...

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