In 2003, my husband and I had the pleasure of living in México for the year. We experienced a colorful culture, met lifelong friends, traveled to incredible places and ate the BEST FOOD EVER!
All of our favorite dining experiences while living in México were at small, local establishments. For some reason, the accessibility to seemingly important infrastructure like power and running water, did not usually correlate to a better meal. In fact, in a few instances, we found the opposite to be true.
Three of our most memorable Mexican dining experiences while we were living in México included a brightly-colored restaurant in the town Suchitlan and two restaurants on the beach which I am pretty sure didn’t even have power.
If you ever find yourself driving on scooters around the perimeter of Cozumel island, I highly recommend holding on tight (if like me you are a passenger on the back of the scooter), keeping your eyes open for gigantic potholes and stopping to eat at this fine establishment located off the beaten path. The margaritas are on the rocks (no blenders) and the freshly caught seafood is prepared Mexican style and is TO DIE FOR.
And if you are on your way to the beach in Manzanillo, before you reach the town you will see a sign that simply says, “Coca Cola.” Coca Cola has done a fantastic job marketing in Latin America. My husband and I passed that sign enough times on our mini vacations to the beach that at his urging, we finally decided to stop one time. Our friends were with us and we ordered the only thing they were serving, “Fish for Four” and Coca Cola. It was an incredible meal which had us picking the meat off the bone and washing it down with cola.
I am not going to lie to you…I do get a little concerned about eating at places like this because their less-than-sanitary conditions make me worry about contracting Montezuma’s Revenge which I have had on more than one occasion. Looking back, I have never become sick from a rural place that had me concerned, it is always seemingly nicer places that are less careful about their food quality and watching how long food is sitting out. I still think it is worth it to point out tips we have picked up over the years to not get sick while eating in second and third world conditions.
Tips for not getting sick:
1. Drink Alcohol. I am convinced the alcohol can kill potentially harmful bacteria. Do not drink mixed drinks because there they can have contaminated ice or juice from concentrate mixed with contaminated water in them (unless you are certain the juice is 100% natural, which then I would highly recommend ordering juice).
2. Drink Coca Cola. If you are not going to drink alcohol, at least drink Coke. I am sure you have read the emails about all of the crazy things Coke can clean due to its acidity. Perhaps if it can clean the bumper of your car, it can also kill bacteria.
3. Look for restaurants that have a lot of customers. Whenever I am traveling, I find the busiest street vendor or restaurant and order what the locals are eating. Chances are, not only will the food be safe but it will probably be one of the best things you have ever tasted.
4. Travel with Imodium and Cipro. Cipro saved my bacon in Hainan, China and India. Imodium will dry you up enough that you can get on a plane to fly home.
5. Do not eat fresh fruits or vegetables unless you are certain they either had a peel around them before they were prepared for you (mango, banana, pineapple, passion fruit, dragon fruit, etc.) Avoid salads, tomatoes, STRAWBERRIES, etc. You might even be careful about watermelon in some parts of the world (México) because desperate farmers will sometimes inject the fruit with additional, potentially contaminated, water to increase the weight and subsequent sale value of the crop. DO NOT avoid watermelon in China though as it is hands down THE BEST tasting watermelon EVER…I have no idea why.
The moral of this post is to be careful what you eat but embrace the local, off-the-beaten-path food dives rather than avoid them. Trust me, you will not regret it! The last thing you want to do when in Rome is eat at McDonalds.