A couple months ago I managed to enrage a lot of people by claiming that "Jews can't make pizza". While I admitted that it wasn't impossible for Jewish people to make good pizza - they just generally do not make good pizza - this was insufficient for some. To those who were furious about my broad-strokes stereotyping of Jews as incompetent pizza engineers; PLEASE STOP READING NOW. Are you gone? Seriously? Good!
Okay, to everyone else; Mexicans can't make sweet things! Go into any Mexican restaurant and take a gander at the menu. If the place has any dessert at all it's almost definitely awful, bland, or just some American or European dessert. It's just a fact of life that Mexican restaurants serve a variety of delicious meals accompanied by some of the worst desserts you will ever taste. Since I live in a heavily Mexican ethnic area of Chicago I had the opportunity to extend my findings on Mexican confections beyond the restaurant menu. I set out to prove that Mexican candy is at least as inept and terrible as Mexican desserts, and I managed to achieve better results than I could have possibly dreamed.
In this article you will accompany me on a culinary journey through ten different confectionary abominations from south of the border. Some are hollow parodies of American sweets and others are bizarre and terrifying treats as dark as the most brutal Aztec blood ritual.
Obleas de Cajeta
Description: The package for the Obleas de Cajeta contained three very thin discs that looked like a mixture of caramel and wafer and had "milk candy wafers" on the front in English. In addition the package contained three "Pulparindo Mango" hard candies. All of the candy in the package was individually wrapped, which was somewhat reassuring.
The Look: Once removed from their individual wrappers the Obleas de Cajeta appeared less like some sort of caramel wafer and more like a hard and sticky caramel sandwiched between two sheets of single ply toilet paper. The Pulparindo Mango candy looked like most normal hard candy.
The Smell: The inside of the bag containing the mixed candies smelled faintly of machine parts and some weird oily sour smell. That latter scent was probably from the Pulparindo, but the machine part smell was a little bit troubling.
The Taste: The Pulparindo hard candy was decent but very similar to other hard candies I'd had in the past. It was the kind with the hard outside and then a thick but slightly chewy fruit flavored middle. Not to give away the research early, but the Pulparindo turned out to probably be the best tasting of all of the Mexican candy. The Obleas de Cajeta, on the other hand, was completely disgusting. The caramel was very hard and had an unpleasant taste to it. More bothersome was the translucent wafer that sandwiched the caramel. It had a disgusting papery texture and added a bitter taste to the candy that prevented me from eating a whole disc.
Description: Corn flavored candy is something I have seen before at stores but never dared to try. The Elotes Suckers claim to be nothing more than individually wrapped corn flavored suckers, which doesn't sound particularly good but doesn't sound all that terrifying either. Oh how incorrect I was.
The Look: Things started to go wrong with the Elotes Suckers when I pulled one out of the bag and noticed the white stick the sucker was attached to was covered with crusty brown smears of dried nasty. Removing the sucker from its wrapper revealed that it too was covered with the same filth, layered thickly enough over the grotesque brown ear-of-corn shape of the sucker to make it look like a long neglected anal sex toy of some sort. My appetite for this experiment was plummeting and I was only on the second item.
The Smell: Oddly enough the corn flavored sucker smelled like hay that was drenched with urine. The aroma wasn't particularly strong (although it was soon to become a recurring theme) so against my better judgment I pretended it was just a byproduct of additives or seasoning or something.
The Taste: For some idiotic reason I had forced psyched myself up for plunging head first into each of these candies. That meant no tiny tastes, no little licks; I was going to be a man and stick a shitty ass dildo right into my mouth no matter how much it reeked of horse urine and hay! The taste of the Elotes Sucker brought to mind a lot of bold imagery, from the apocalyptic horrors of the Holocaust to solitary brutality of a crime of passion. In the end the image that fixed in my mind as the sandy and painfully salty outer layer of the Elotes Sucker made contact with my tongue was that of chewing a long rotten sea cucumber corpse that had been floating in a rancid tidal pool for over a month. I have never tasted anything as salty as this and I have actually tasted a salt-lick before. It was pure super-concentrated salt, and there was no way I was persevering through the layers of sodium to discover whatever Lovecraftian horrors lurked beneath.
Description: Fighting through the rising tide of madness threatening to consume my very soul I persevered with the experiment and prepared the second type of sucker for testing. This, at least, promised to be a less salt-laden foray as the "corn" (read: salt) was replaced with "watermelon" (read: sugar). The packaging was virtually the same on these suckers and I noticed the same ominous brown streaks on the sticks before I even removed them from the bag.
The Look: The corn suckers were shaped vaguely like ears of corn, the watermelon suckers were shaped like boxes. I was a bit wary because in addition to the brown streaks on the stick the watermelon sucker was also very brown in color. I hung in there because I know a lot of dried fruits end up brown after the dehydration process and this sucker appeared to have a different and much finer crust on the outside. It basically looked like cat shit covered with sand.
The Smell: The exact same pissy hay reek that the corn sucker had. This should have been a red flag on the play but I kept going nearly heedless of the danger.
The Taste: The warning signs were too numerous to completely ignore this time around so I did make one concession to my standard sampling procedure and only inserted it halfway into my mouth. This move turned out to backfire on me as the concentrated salt once again flooded my taste buds and then, agonizingly, seared directly into my lips. Any minute differences in flavor between the watermelon and corn suckers were lost somewhere near the fucking Dead Sea Scrolls as my body attempted to fight back an immediate stroke. After all of the experimenting was done my lips were still raw hours later from this sucker.
Description: Packaged in a pair of colorful salt-shakers this "candy" was actually a "fruit seasoning". So far my preconceptions of Mexican seasoning had been shattered and replaced with the concept that "salt=candy", but I hadn't given up all hope. Even if the shakers contained nothing but salt I would at least have the option of minimizing the amount used.
The Look: The powder that emerged from the Picosito shaker was a mixture of crystalline grains that were either salt or sugar and several orange and red spices. I assumed that they were probably salt and some type of water-reactive element like cesium.
The Smell: That fucking hay smell! Where is it coming from?! Did I forget to shower after I rolled around in my pony's stall AGAIN?
The Taste: For this taste test I had several pieces of cantaloupe to season with the Picosito. The first attempt I sprinkled only a very small amount on the fruit and could not get a real feel for the way it tasted. My second go at it I totally covered the top of the fruit in a solid mound of the magical Picosito dust. Braced for the worst, I was pleasantly surprised when my tongue didn't immediately swell up in agony. I would describe the flavor of the Picosito itself as a sweet and salty taste with a hint of spice. I'm leaning toward red pepper as opposed to cinnamon. When combined with the fruit, well, it made the fruit worse, but that's a definite step up from the last two candies.
Description: These individually wrapped packages of powder looked like some sort of designer drug. The label featured a very happy peanut in a sombrero waving to me. I think that means this stuff was meant to season very happy Mexican peanuts, which I don't have, so the game plan was to pour a packet into my mouth.
The Look: The powder inside the package looked like orange sugar. There was no differentiation between different seasonings like in the Picosito, which is why it looked like a designer drug. Actually, what it looked like was the stuff people's blood would turn into in "The Andromeda Strain", so I enjoyed pretending I was eating blood.
The Smell: Hip-Hip-Hayyyyyyy! Maybe the packaging plant where all this stuff came from is inside a giant overcrowded barn shared with a swarm of diuretic mules.
The Taste: Sweet and salty with an odd processed chemical taste. It brings to mind residues forming on the mouth of hoses used for embalming corpses. In fact, you can probably get a good idea for what this tastes like by cutting off the finger of an embalmed corpse with a pair of scissors and sucking on the stump.
Description: Candy coins are not a concept new to me. I've consumed many a chocolate and ju-ju coin in my day, but I had not yet sampled a Bubblegum coin. The main thing I noticed about these coins was that they appeared to be of a substantially lower minting quality than American candy coins. Perhaps a sly comment on the low value of the Mexican peso or just simple flaws in the manufacturing process; the world may never know.
The Look: When removed, with difficulty, from the hard foil coin exterior, the bubblegum inside more closely resembled slices of pepperoni. It was a dark pink gone even darker and drier around the edges. I opted to give the gum the benefit of the doubt and assume this was a side effect of being produced in a traditionally arid environment.
The Smell: An extremely strong gum smell that served as a welcome antidote to the waves of pissy hay I had been exposed to.
The Taste: The Bubblegum Coins tasted like bubblegum, but they tasted like the worst bubblegum I've ever had. They tasted like Pal gum; dry, too sweet, and overly bitter on first taste. If you've never had Pal gum, think old Bazooka gum only worse. That said, a decent stand-in for an American product was once again a welcome respite from the horrors I was facing at every turn.
Description: This was one of the scarier looking delicacies I subjected myself to. In the bag of Duvalin there were four pudding cup style containers that were only about half an inch deep. Written dismayingly on the paper label of the bag was "Skim Milk Candy". This combined with the greasy condensation inside the bag worked to churn my stomach before I'd even opened the package.
The Look: There were two flavors of Duvalin; chocolate and strawberry. Each cup consisted of a foil top and inside about half an inch of extremely thick pudding-like substance divided diagonally into the main flavor and "white".
The Smell: Hayyyyyyyy! It didn't smell like hay! Actually it smelled almost exactly like cheesecake.
The Taste: Compared to everything else I sampled with the possible exception of the Mango hard candy the Duvalin cups were delicious. Don't get me wrong, they were not very good, but they tasted like pre-made cake icing and that was a fantastic surprise. If you are determined to enter the bizarre realm of Mexican candies I would recommend Duvalin as your starting point.
Description: Phallic shaped push-pops with a baseball hat on the top for a lid. When removed the baseball cap revealed a grid through which the delicious tamarind sludge inside would emerge.
The Look: The Pelucas container was operated like a very hard-to-push syringe and it took both hands to force the tamarind paste out through the grid. When it did it looked exactly like thick baby food emerging from a Play Doh Fun Factory, only much less fun. Instead of turning bright blue non-toxic clay into a crude dinosaur I was about to insert a possibly toxic tamarind gunk into my mouth.
The Smell: Okay, this was just getting ridiculous. The fucking plastic Tamarind Fun Factory smelled like hay.
The Taste: Imagine a heavily salted fruit roll-up that had somehow been blended with Lysol into the exact consistency of cookie dough. It was not quite as bad as I expected, but that's like saying "this radioactive strontium bar I swallowed isn't as bad as I expected". Danger and probable death on the horizon for me!
Description: The Pica Limon came in a package very similar to Pico Diana; very small individual packets full of powder. In the case of Pica Limon I could not see what the powder looked like, and although it called it "Lemon and Chili Powder" on the package I wasn't really sure what it was intended for. I didn't have any fruit to put it on, I didn't have peanuts, so my one option was to balls-up and down an entire packet at once. This turned out to be the biggest mistake of my entire life.
The Look: Inside the package was what appeared to be sugar. It looked pretty harmless to me! WHOOOOOPS!
The Smell: Like machinery.
The Taste: I like sour candy quite a bit. Sour Patch Kids are a tasty treat and even those idiotic Warhead sour candies go down with barely a pucker, but this candy made me gag. When I upended the package into my mouth it was like pouring fire onto my tongue. I literally choked and sputtered and fought against my instincts to spit it out. I grabbed blindly for the bag as the salty/sour mixture stabbed into my throat. Finding it, I spit the mouthful of evil out, and scrambled into the bathroom to rinse out my mouth. After I had satisfied myself that I had emptied the flavor I realized that my teeth were coated in whatever demonic sins this shit had deposited there.
Description: I have to confess, seeing the package of Pulpitas hanging on the rack is what convinced me to do this article. It looked so ridiculous and disgusting that I knew I had to put it in my body. The Pulpitas consisted of an elaborately trashy arrangement intended for eating whatever the hell dark secrets were inside while on the go.
The Look: Within the Pulpitas bag were two sealed plastic envelopes containing what looked like meat slurry. Next to these envelopes were two plastic spoons, each wrapped in plastic wrap and tied closed with a rubber band. In the spoons were lumps of congealed ketchup, or so I thought.
The Smell: Hay, of course.
The Taste: The contents of the spoon were no more disgusting than I had really anticipated. It was a solid greasy lump of something similar to ketchup but slightly sweeter. I have absolutely no idea what its purpose was and using it in conjunction with the vile envelope was pretty futile. The envelope, on the other hand, was surprisingly much more horrible than I had expected. The contents was a mass of dark brown slime with several more solid nodules inside that looked vaguely hairy. Inside these nodules I could feel a rock-hard center. I assume this was the pit of some sort of fruit, but the dangerous fact that it was included was vaguely amusing had I not been about to put it in my mouth. The flavor of the slurry was slightly fruity, tangy, and entirely unpleasant. When I forced myself to bite into one of the nodules a gush of bitter taste surged into my mouth as if I had bitten into a cyst on the back of Satan. I tried licking the wad of gunk on the spoon to make it better but that only wasted time. Finally I resigned myself to ingesting some of this nastiness and swallowed.
I love Mexican food, I love Mexican people, I even like Spanish, but curse their fucking candy to its grave! Having completed this experiment I assumed the nightmare was behind me and that I was safe. Then I made the mistake of searching for information on one of the two manufacturers of candy and the first result was a little notice from the FDA. Hello lead poisoning! Goodbye average intelligence!
The Remains of Bidet (James Ivory, 1993)
We might find we have more in common than we think if we just stop fighting long enough to combine our bodies into a singular organism.
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