When I heard that Caddy’s on Treasure Island would be holding a jalapeño tasting contest on Cinco De Mayo, I was under the impression that the premise of the battle was “who can eat the hottest jalapeño”.
Think “Hot Ones,” but substitute the chemical sauces for the jalapeños. Instead, Caddy’s staff laid out bowls of green jalapeño peppers (the ones they use behind the bar and in the kitchen) and invited the brave to eat as many as they could eat in a minute. The winner would take home $200.
I arrived early to observe the competition and order a bucket of rum mojito (for bravery.) There were five names on the list, but one competitor was wearing jeans instead of a sandy bathing suit, so I knew that he meant business. Obviously, this man did not come to relax on the beach until he heard about the contest.
Luis Quintin, clad in denim, came prepared with his eyes on the prize money.
“I’ve done this all my life,” Quintin said. “I do all the spicy challenges; Tried the ghost peppers – everything.
Looking at the bowl of green peppers, I couldn’t help but think of a fairly simple tactic: I could swallow a few before the searing flavors set in.
The timer rang and within 15 seconds Quintin had already consumed one, proven by the torn stem. I was halfway through chewing my first pepper when the searing pain of a thousand fingernails seeped into my tongue.
No amount of rum bucket sweetness was going to help. I tried to ignore my cheering friends and ate the other half. Flames erupted, a single tear rolled down my sunburned cheek.
After the longest minute of my life, I had only eaten one, much to the amusement of the bartender in charge of weighing the bowls. It was no surprise that Quintin, unscathed and in good spirits, dominated the competition, eating four giant peppers in total.
He told me he planned to use the money to buy for his son, who was watching the competition from his stroller, a playpen.
Although many Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5 with Mexican food, a party, and, for some, a jalapeño binge, the party dates back to 1862, when Mexican troops defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. The fighting continued for five years, but the holiday – Cinco de Mayo – celebrates the Mexican triumph. Despite the American celebrations, the holiday as celebrated in Puebla has more to do with battle speeches and reenactments than margaritas and jalapeños. In the middle of the last centuries, Mexican immigrants celebrated Cinco de Mayo to show pride in their heritage.
After that Cinco, I learned more about the historical significance of the Mexican holiday, and I’m more wary of the jalapeños at Caddy’s bar than ever.
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