Growing up so close to Mexico, I have had the opportunity in my life to have my feet in two different cultures at the same time.
I have my American holidays and I have my Mexican ones. I get to mix and match and explore different aspects of both cultures.
For me, I never thought much about Spain. I always figured it was just like another leg of Mexico and vice versa. I never dreamed about how different things would really be.
Of course, I knew the slang would change and the pronunciation was different. There was a lot of joking around prior to my landing in Seville that I “better not come back with the Spanish lisp”.
However, one thing I didn’t know would be so different and ultimately daunting was the lack of spice that i’ve encountered in Andalusia.
Now, I’m not talking about spices like…salt. No, in fact, theres a billion types of sea salt and such here since its one of their main exports. No, I’m talking about SPICE, as in when something is SPICY.
Nothing “picas”, if you will.
Being a Valley girl (puro 956!), I grew up with hot Cheetos as the go-to snacks at all times. People would sell pickles and hot Cheetos at lunch, and there was a sizable underground market for gummy bears and chamoy. I would eventually move on to the “xxtra hot” Cheetos and even those were like…meh not that hot.
When those “super hot spicy noodles” challenges were all the rage, I tried them out and honestly, I was surprised at how tame they were considering the reactions in all the youtube videos made it seem like a ghost chili pepper or something.
When I was preparing myself for the differences and challenges of living in another country, I found that I was way more concerned with things like medicine and clothes that it didn’t even occur to me that I should’ve packed even some ground cayenne pepper for myself.
Once I got here, I knew I wasn’t going to find Hot Cheetos, as I had visited Germany and Denmark and I knew that they weren’t marketed in those areas. But … NOT EVEN GROUND CAYENNE PEPPER ?!
I could find dried cayenne peppers in some small stores in the city, but in the town that I live in, it was impossible even to find those. I couldn’t, and still can’t find even just fresh jalapeños.
I ate my bland meals and dreamt of Hot Cheetos. One of my friends has a youtube channel that reviews hot sauces (HEAVY METAL HOT SAUCE) and I found myself watching those videos and after about a month of being in Spain found that I couldn’t remember what it felt like when you ate spicy things anymore.
I’m sitting there watching these dudes tasting hot sauces and doing pepper challenges and I couldn’t remember that feeling myself. I was desperate to find SOMETHING.
So, every time I went shopping in the city or even the various little shops that are in my tiny town, I would always just walk by the spice racks and just CHECK to see if something would give me SOMETHING.
Every time I thought i’d found something, it ended up being some new variation of paprika. Let me tell you, Spain loves its paprika. They have sweet, bitter, and “hot”… but for me all of them just taste sweet and different sweet.
I found some hot sauces and little tiny “Mexico” sections, that enabled me to find chile verde and rojo, as well as ONE CAN of pico de gallo. I cherish them, but still no cayenne.
Finally I put some feelers out in the Whatsapp group chat for all the Auxiliares in the Andalusia area. Nothing much besides the whole dried cayenne peppers (and no way to grind them) and tabasco sauce (not my jam).
Weeks later, one of the girls in my town found GROUND CAYENNE, and at the ONLY grocery store I hadn’t visited in the entire town. So, same day, I made the trek across the entire town to get my damn cayenne pepper and at least now I can add a tinge of pica to my soups and rices.
Spain isn’t so bad with cayenne to satiate me.