A vacation in Mexico has everything you need to relax, recharge, and make wonderful lifelong memories. There is sun, surf, and sand, not to mention fascinating cultural history and delicious local cuisine. And make no mistake, the food is good.
However, you may also have heard that it’s not safe to drink the tap water in Mexico, which is clearly incorporated into many foods, even just to wash them. Potential water-borne illnesses include Hepatitis A and typhoid fever, neither of which are a picnic. Tender stomachs from abroad may also struggle with the level of spice considered normal to folks south of the border. So how do you know what is safe to eat?
Water treatment in Mexico has improved a lot over the years, but most residents still stick with bottled water. The water offered at any resort and throughout the larger cities will all be bottled or purified on site. As long as you avoid tap water, you should be okay on that front.
But since no one wants to be slowed down with gut churning agony on their dream vacation, we have compiled a list of 7 foods you should also never buy in Mexico. You’ll be surprised by the powerful ingredients in #6!
Street Vendor Meat
The issue with meat products from street vendors has to do with how long the food has been exposed to air and sun. Hours-old meat is likely to have been contaminated by insects, not to mention started down the line toward spoilage. You may also have no idea how carefully the food was stored prior to cooking.
However, if that taco stand is hopping with customers, both local and tourist, you know that the turnover is quick and that the food being prepared fresh, not sitting around all day. In this case, it’s probably safe to partake in the cuisine.
This is a no-brainer that applies to produce from pretty much any country. It’s hard to know how much pesticide was used or what parasites had access to the food before it reached your hands. By all means, wend your way through that farmer’s market and purchase exotic vegetables to try. Just make very sure to wash it thoroughly before consuming in water that you know is clean.
Even residents of Mexico recommend washing produce with a drop of antibacterial liquid before consuming. Lettuce is particularly prone to bacteria like salmonella and listeria and tends to make people sick because it is rarely cooked before eating. To stay healthy, maybe give yourself permission to avoid salads during your trip – hey, you’re on vacation after all.
Fruit purchased from street vendors has the same issue as vegetables in that you can’t be sure it was washed correctly, nor understand how long it has been sitting out in the sun. Street-side fruit is usually pre-chopped and bagged, making for a beautiful display and easy snack.
It’s great to experiment with uniquely Mexican fruit. But you’re still better off buying that fruit whole and then washing and chopping it yourself. The main thing to avoid is fruit that appears dry or wilted. Fruit that comes in a peel tends to be the safest overall.
‘Mild’ Salsa & Sauces
There is clearly a cultural difference in what folks consider “spicy” food. Don’t give into your bravado and try to go dollop for dollop of any Mexican sauce before trying a little bit first. Even though we are not talking about food poisoning here, eating food spicier than your stomach is used to can cause a host of painful digestive issues.
Don’t spend your day in the bathroom just to make it seem like you are tough enough to hang with the locals. They have a lot more experience than you do with the range of spices available in their country. Even if you don’t get struck with the famed “Montezuma’s Revenge” you could very well end up with swollen lips and tongue that persist for hours.
Ice Cubes From Rural Areas
Ice can be suspect if it comes from an area without potable running water, but in general, you can trust that ice from a resort or touristy area will be made with filtered water. Still, to be safe you may want to order your drink without ice, or else drink your beverage quickly and don’t eat the ice afterwards.
Alternately, make sure that the ice in your beverage is the cylindrical kind with a hole in the middle. This is commercial ice made from filtered water.
EL Pajarete is the word for an early morning party in a barn while the cows are being milked. The drink of the same name contains unpasteurized milk directly from said cows, 100 proof liquor, chocolate, sugar, and instant coffee. How’s that for an eye-opening beverage?
Some people worry about drinking the raw cow’s milk, but in truth the alcohol in this beverage pretty much wipes out any bacteria that might be present. The issue is more that mixing dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and a load of sugar can be quite difficult for an uninitiated person to digest, especially on an empty stomach.
Okay, so chimichangas are certainly tasty, but they are not traditional Mexican cuisine. They fall firmly into the category of Tex-Mex, and you can enjoy them any old time at home. When you have made the effort to travel to Mexico, you should experience real Mexican food. The options are virtually limitless, and even dishes you think you know will taste different when prepared authentically.
The same advice goes for skipping fast food establishments like McDonalds. Imagine how disappointed your friends and family will be with your travel stories if they all contain something like Carl’s Jr., Chilis, Burger King, Dominos, or TGIFridays. Why bother going to Mexico at all if you’re just going to eat American junk food?
Unlike in years past, the need for concern about water in Mexico is relatively low. To be completely safe, avoid tap water and eat only in higher end restaurants or at your resort. If you buy fresh produce, wash it yourself with bottled water before eating. When purchasing food from outdoor stands, only visit those with a line of customers, because that means the food has a good reputation and is prepared fresh.
You should definitely try the local cuisine wherever you go, but don’t assume that your stomach can automatically handle the spice – or the alcohol. By keeping your portions small and avoiding certain things, you are sure to have a pleasurable and memorable culinary trip through Mexico.