no more nopales!


I stopped by a hole-in-the-wall taco stand and ordered a taco con nopales y queso. I'd never heard of nopales and the menu indicated it was cactus-like vegetable, so I figured I might as well try it. The taco was great, but a half hour later I came to the sudden and uncomfortable conclusion that eating stewed vegetables that had been sitting in the sun probably wasn't the best idea.

I mentioned to Mina how much I enjoyed the nopales (before I got sick) so later, when we were eating in a proper restaurant, we decided to order nopales and nopales con queso (with cheese). We assumed (incorrectly) that we would get a handful of each. Instead we got 10 huge slices of nopales. At this point I really can't see myself eating this vegetable in the foreseeable future.

On a related note, a fellow traveler told us about her solution to avoiding stomach issues in Mexico. She was advised to take HCL (Hydrochloric acid) with Pepsin by her acupuncturist. I know what you're thinking, but we researched it online and apparently e.coli bacteria can be rendered inactive when the Ph level of your stomach is decreased (which HCL does). We've been very paranoid about the water and fruit here, so I'm hoping that this might offer us the chance to try more foods. - Alex

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  1. HCl isn't hydrogen's hydrochloric acid. It's doing the opposite to your stomach that Tums would do (a base, if you think back to high school chemistry). Pepsin is an enzyme that is actually in your digestive system itself that degrades food (and proteins, whether in E. coli or in the food you're eating) which is probably why you are being advised to try it.

  2. Well those certainly look different. I'll bet they taste more appetizing than they look though. ;) Most great foods do.

    Hope the suggestion works for you!

  3. Thanks for catching that Bridget. I knew it was hydrochloric acid (since it raises the acidity of the stomach), but wrote something completely different. We haven't bought any yet, but it's interesting (if it works) that it was not mentioned in any of the travel research we've done.

  4. :)

    I did some more checking, and found some good articles:

    (and yes - going for mint/licorice/ginger are good bets, especially because they're things you'll be able to find, for the most part)

    (if you read between the lines, you can get a better idea why certain things were used...flat coke is used for the ascorbic acid, papaya is a natural source of the enzyme papain, etc...)

    (not all have been what I'd call scientifically proven, BUT the thing I will say is "terrain is everything" in the sense that everyone is different...remedies that work for some people will not work for others. You know the whole shebang about probiotics and yogurt being the cure-all for everything? Well, having those extra probiotics can be really detrimental to some people. I guess what I'm saying is try lots of things til you find what works for you and don't buy into anything that people shout as the solution to all your problems. I'm not saying to NOT try it, and if it works for you that's great! ...but just keep in mind that sometimes being your own guinea pig is the way you have to start to figure things out. As in--I have a friend who travels, and her solution to everything is eat candied ginger with every meal. Works for her - but not for me. Good luck!

  5. Wow, thanks for the info. We were interested in the HCl as more of a preventative measure. Although, we have been eating regular meals here and have not been sick once (other than the incident mentioned in the post).
    We were absolutely skeptical about the suggestion which is why we read up about it. Here's a link we found from a microbiology journal:

    We were mostly curious as to whether other travellers had heard of HCl, and if they have had any success with it.

  6. They look like cactus leaves. I hope you're feeling better!

  7. Well...the paper does say that lowering the pH does kill bacteria...but there is quite a jump from "hey we extracted human gastric juices from people and then treated them with HCl and hey this happened" -- in short, it's a very "artificial" biological context. Even though they tried their best to simulate conditions in the stomach, it doesn't take into a count a whole lot of other things going on when you eat, from what other physical food going into your system (different foods have differing buffering abilities), as well as your general digestive history, if you already have pathogenic bacteria in your stomach, etc.

    Main point? Conclusions were valid, but taking them all the way to "the best way to combat food-poisoning bacteria is to take HCl" goes a little bit too far.

  8. Ah, nothing beats tummy troubles while traveling! Live it, learn it. No more nopales...

  9. It happens to all travelers at some point. After a bad incident in Egypt I got a prescription for cipro (ciprofloxacin hydrochloride).

    This with some imodium should be in every traveler's bag.

    Just curious, that looks like a lot of food. Were there locals eating this food too? If there were that means that the food is good and it has been freshly made.

  10. Hey Alex and Mina, I found a post from another blog ( that I follow and thought it would be interesting to you since you are history lovers! Chris Faust (blog author) is a travel writer and her most recent post is about Colonial Mexico- San Miguel de Allende. Hope you enjoy!


  11. Carrie - They weren't the best thing we've tried, but they were OK. Alex said the stewed ones tasted way better than the marinated ones we got later.

    Saltina - They are prickly pears!

    Bridget - We're not trying to allege anything about the validity of that article. To reiterate the post, another traveler said the pills worked for herself and her husband. We just wanted to see if there was any merit to what she was saying in order to draw our own conclusions.

    Vanessa - The second nopales didn't make us sick, just the stewed ones that Alex got on his own.

    Brian - Yes, there were tons of locals by the taco stand in the first picture (the other nopales were from a second day - those were fine). The locals may have known not to eat the nopales or their stomachs are equipped to handle it better, who knows?! Yay for Imodium! Alex did use it after 'the incident'. We have some Pepto pills and Cipro as well. Our travel doctor advised us only to take the Cipro if we were in desperate need - in this case, the Imodium sufficed.

    Katie - San Miguel was going to be our second stop after Mexico City, but we're not too sure about logistics. Thanks so much for thinking of us and for the link!

  12. Hope Alex is feeling better! My mom makes nopales often! It's for sure a Mexican thing. Me? Not a fan. They taste too bland for me. Although cheese on anything always tastes good, right?!

  13. Oh gosh... hope you are okay!! Yikes!! They do look pretty good though...

    Kudos to you guys for everything- I haven't been commenting much since I got here, my internet has been sporadic, but I've been reading everything and loving it! I'm so happy for you.

    When are you stopping in Japan??

  14. Oh certainly - no offense meant at all! I just wanted to add my thoughts as a biologist familiar with all of the lingo and experimental processes. :)

  15. My cousin swore by flat coca cola when she travelled round india... she had no tummy upsets so I think there's so truth in it! It's just not perhaps the most healthy option, especially for your teeth :)


  16. From my years in Honduras, I would recommend honey and lemon juice. A spoonful of honey everyday along with lots of lemon/lime squirted on foods can really do wonders. At least that's what the Hondurans told me. I never got too sick while I was down there - just parasites a few times.

    As someone who has spent many years traveling in developing countries - my advice would be to limit the amount of meat you buy at food stands ("Meat on a stick makes you shit") along with cabbage - and to be careful around peeled fruit (like mangoes that they sell in a bag on the street). Of course you can buy the fruit and wash/peel it yourself.

    However, there is a good chance that you will get some stomach illness throughout your many months of traveling and in that case my suggestion would be to head to the local pharmacy or doctor. I always went to the health center near where I lived - they are used to getting patients with stomach problems and know exactly the meds to use. I always felt better the next day. Cipro is a super strong antibiotic and not always necessary for common parasites or worms. Although it would work, it's probably a lot stronger than you need and you can easily build immunity.

    Good luck!

  17. To answer your question Mina, my cipro pill kicked in within 30 minutes. I wasn't eating so I had one pill on an empty stomach and it knocked out whatever was making me sick.

  18. Ah! You said they were cactus like in the post. Sorry for not catching that, but thanks for confirming!

  19. I don't really like nopales, but my family loves them! They are super common here in Mexico (probably the second most popular food after tortillas).
    I hope Alex is feeling better, but it had to happen at some point, it's the revenge of Moctezuma!!!'s_Revenge#Montezuma.27s_revenge

    Keep enjoying the country!

  20. wow- Those look very interesting.

  21. spent three months travelling around mexico, living in small towns. Best experience. To be fair my roomate and I each had tummy troubles once, after that we were good. Don't be too paranoid or you'll miss out on some great food! Lime on everything helps...but some of our fave foods were from stands, and milkshakes from little cafes! mmmm! have fun :)