Can Foreigners Take the Heat? Mexico City Debate Over Milder Salsa Sauce.

Gerardo Medina runs Taquería Los Amigos, a 24-hour stand located at a busy intersection in an upscale neighborhood in Mexico City.

With more foreign customers eating his tacos, he began to notice similar reactions to Pico de Gallo: red face, sweat, complaining about spiciness.

So Mr. Medina, 30, removed the serrano peppers, leaving only tomatoes, onions and cilantro. While he still offers a butter mix With serrano cheese and red salsa with morita and árbol peppers, he wanted to offer a non-spicy option for international travelers not accustomed to high temperatures.

“It attracts more people,” he said.

Chili peppers are a fundamental ingredient of Mexican cuisine and, in turn, the identity of the country. Mexicans often use them in the form of salsa. everything: tacos, seafood, french fries, fruit, beer and even fruit ice cream.

“The reality is, non-spicy food is not good food for most Mexicans,” said Isaac Palacios, 37, of Mexico City, after finishing tacos covered in salsa.

But since the pandemic, the country’s capital — with a metropolitan area of ​​23 million people, a temperate climate and a rich culture — has become wildly popular for both a tourist destination and a new home for international transplant People who can work remotely and earn in dollars or euros make the city more livable. (Americans are the largest group.)

As a result, in some neighborhoods, gentrification is inevitable.

English is commonly heard on the streets. Rents are skyrocketing. Fashion boutiques and cafes are becoming more popular.

But another important manifestation of this international shift—the toning down of salsa at some of the city’s taquerías—has caused consternation among Mexicans and sparked debate about how much to accommodate foreigners.

What may be good for business may not be good for the Mexican psyche.

“It’s bad,” said Gustavo Miranda, 39, a resident of Mexico City, after eating tacos with colleagues. “If you don’t want it spicy, don’t use any kind. If you lower the temperature of the salsa, it’s now a sauce. It’s not salsa anymore.”

The influx of new residents from abroad has benefited some Mexico City neighborhoods like Roma, Condesa and Polanco with their tree-lined streets and vibrant shopping and dining scenes.

Taquerías that have toned down their sauces say they want to welcome a wider range of people with different levels of spiciness, not just Americans but also Europeans and even customers from other Latin American countries where the cuisine isn’t as spicy.

Jorge Campos, 39, manager of El Compita, a taco shop that opened in downtown Rome a year ago, said the shop has toned down the spiciness of one of the three items on the table — a salsa made with charred tomatoes — by using more jalapeños and fewer habaneros.

International customers will sometimes return tacos because the salsa burns their mouths, he says. Since other salsas are naturally spicier—the red one is made almost entirely of chile de árbol, while the green one has serrano chiles—they tweak the fiery sauce to make it more palatable for some diners.

“You give them a bunch of options and because they know themselves they’ll say, ‘Okay, I’ll try medium,’” said Mr Campos, adding that servers often explain the spiciness to foreigners.

Some taco shops have even started labeling their salsa with spiciness indicators, in part to help non-Spanish speaking customers. One red flame means fairly mild; five red flames means be careful.

At Los Juanes, a popular taco stand that sets up on the sidewalk of Roma Norte every evening, a worker named Adolfo Santos Antonio, 22, said staff had started toning down one of their three salsas — using more jalapeño and avocado, less serrano — after international customers commented that it was too spicy.

But not all taco shops feel the need to cater to multi-national palates.

Guadalupe Carrillo, 84, who manages the Taquería Los Parados restaurant, which has been in Roma Sur for nearly 60 years, said that in the three decades she has been there, the salsa recipe has not changed despite the increasing number of non-Mexicans who have come here.

“Foreigners have to learn our customs and tastes,” she said. “Like when we go there and eat hamburgers or things that aren’t spicy.”

Janelle Lee, 46, who recently visited Mexico City from Chicago with her husband, said she can’t handle spicy food. But, she added, she didn’t expect taquerías to tailor their sauces for people like her.

“They should preserve their people, their culture and their cuisine,” she said.

On social media, Mexico City’s diluted salsa has become a controversial topic, fueling concerns about the city’s transformation.

Carmen Fuentes León, a 29-year-old Tijuana native, DJ and social media influencer who frequently posts about food and life in San Diego, caused a stir on social media this year after a two-week visit to Mexico City, where she said she ate tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Her conclusion? Some salsas just don’t taste spicy. The culprit? Foreigners.

“I am in Mexico City as a victim of urbanization,” she said in a video. on TikTok criticized the salsas at the El Califa taco chain, which has branches in many affluent areas of the city.

Using flowery language, Ms. Fuentes said that if Americans don’t like salsa, they should go home and eat the less spicy varieties there.

So far, the video has attracted 2.3 million views and nearly 5,000 comments, most of them supportive.

Ms. Fuentes, in an interview, said she made the video because she was “so frustrated” about not being able to get the level of spiciness she wanted, noting that she eventually found a spicier sauce. — but outside the most upscale residential areas.

Sergio Goyri Álvarez, 41, whose father founded the El Califa chain 30 years ago, said that although the peppers used in five salsa sauces The spiciness may vary depending on the harvest season, but their salsa recipe “remains the same.”

In fact, he said, a fifth salsa was recently added, made with habanero peppers, for Mexicans who like spicy food and don’t think the chain’s dishes are spicy enough.

El Califa has done other things to cater to foreigners, however. Mr. Goyri said the chain has started offering menus (with photos) in English and added vegetarian tacos (with soy, pea protein or grains), which have proved popular with global customers.

“We are providing services to these foreigners,” he said, “but we are not changing anything about our spirit or our DNA to try to overcome this wave of foreigners.”

Adrián Hernández Cordero, 39, heads the sociology department at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City and has researched luxury and foodInternational influences have drawn much attention in the salsa debate, it said.

Some dishes have also become milder over the past decade as Mexicans, especially in urban areas, realize that spiciness can cause intestinal problems.

“It’s easy to find problems with foreigners, especially on social media, when we don’t see that the situation is much more complicated,” he said.

Tom Griffey, 34, a Boston native who moved to Mexico City in 2019 after falling in love while visiting a friend and working remotely as a data engineer, said he often reaches for the hottest salsa and, even if it burns his mouth, he never complains.

“I try to blend in as much as possible,” said Mr. Griffey, who speaks Spanish and has a Mexican partner.

At Taquería Los Amigos, Mr. Medina doesn’t speak much English, but he said he at least alerts visitors by pointing to the spices and saying “spicy” or “not spicy.”

Lately, he’s been experimenting more with less spicy dishes, introducing sweeter options, like caramelized onions with pineapple juice.

Next? Probably mango sauce.


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