Today, for those out of the loop, is the International Day of the Nacho. Down in the Piedras Negras/Eagle’s Pass area the International Nacho Festival is going on where the son of the Ignacio Anaya, Ignacio Anaya Jr., judges the annual nacho competition with a fairness worthy of King Solomon. It’s Christmas and Mardi Gras and Carnival all combined for the nacho lover, but sadly not an event I have yet been able to attend. While I would have liked to write about my experience there on this magical day, I will instead tell the tale of eating the largest nachos you can buy in a restaurant; Mount Nacheesmo at Tio’s Mexican Cafe.
As I drove north from Ohio into Michigan the first thing I saw over the border was a massive billboard stating “Obama supports Gay Marriage & Abortion. Do you? Vote Republican.” I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, as I had not driven from nor ever been to Kansas, and was ready to experience a strange and distant land, a land that was home to an insurmountable mountain. Many had tried to conquer it, but only a scant handful had ever achieved its zenith. It’s known by many names, Nachos of the Sky, Father Nacho God of the Universe, Cheesey Death, but all know it as Mount Nacheesmo.
I’ve written about this Olympus of chips before, in that it is delicious but that comparing it to Olympus (9,573 feet) is doing it a disservice. For Earth mountains it is Everest (29,029 feet), for Martian is is Olympus Mons (Almost 14 miles), and Universally, as of the writing of this, it is Rheasilvia’s Central Peak on the asteroid 4 Vesta (14+ miles). While I’m no Edmund Hillary when it comes to mountains of dirt and stone, I am when it comes to mountains of chips and cheese, and this culminated in a 700 mile cross country drive to devour it. If you ask “Why do you want to eat Mount Nacheesmo?” I will paraphrase mountaineer George Mallory and say “Because it’s there.” and add “And I love nachos.”
But one does not simply walk into Tio’s Mexican Cafe as its glass door are guarded by more than just a hostess. In downtown Ann Arbor there is evil that does not sleep, the University of Michigan underclassmen. These “wolverines” are far from watchful, so driving through the campus, or rather attempting to drive through the campus, makes you want to reduce the area to a barren wasteland riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breath could be poisonous fumes, but at least you wouldn’t be slamming on the brakes every ten seconds when one of these oblivious coeds jaywalks in front of you. Was I as unobservant as them when in college? I would like to say no, but I honestly can’t remember.
So now you’ve made it outside the restaurant, congratulations, but where do you park? An excellent question. Pretty much anywhere you can is the answer, such as the three blocks away that I did, but you better have plenty of quarters for the meters, like two hours worth of quarters. Good thing that in addition to my love of nachos I also have a numismatistical love of quarters and I keep the collection in my car, so not a problem.
There it is. The nacho challenge to end all nacho challenges. Now, I’m no Takeru Kobayashi, but I do love nachos, and food challenges, and free shirts, and ending up on walls of fame, and not paying $40 for nachos, so it was a win-win-win-win-win situation, unless I couldn’t finish them, in which case it was then a win-win-lose-lose-lose situation. The other thing I liked, gratuitous pimping of Adam Richman.
Adam Richman was not only the host of the popular show Man v. Food, which brought Mount Nacheesmo to my attention, but also a theater actor, author, and Zantac spokesperson. More importantly he is one of the five people to ever finish the whole meal. In preparation I read his book America the Edible in the hope to gain some wisdom of his eating strategy, but alas it was half tales of his sexual conquests and half recommendations for restaurants that weren’t Tio’s. Still, I hoped I could channel some of his strength, and some of his sexual fortitude, at the restaurant table and bedroom respectively.
I’m going to be frank here, Tio’s website is terrible. It’s entirely set up so you can order online, which if that’s what you want to do is fine, but if you’re an out of towner looking for information about eating a giant order of nachos, you’re out of luck. Sure, I could have called them, but it’s 2012 and everything should be on the internet. So with no prior knowledge of what to expect, I arrived at 1pm only to find that they didn’t start any timed challenges until 2pm. Fantastic. Fortunately I threw out a little sad puppy eyes and a sob story about driving across the country to eat the nachos and they made an exception. I sat back and checked out the collection of hot sauces on the wall until they arrived.
I made sure to use the bathroom before they came, as once you started eating them you are rooted to the table for the duration, so started the 45 minute timer. I knew the trick was that you had to eat them fast before the cheese and beans cooled and turned into concrete. Delicious concrete yes, but nothing that’s going to help you out in a timed event. I shoveled like my life, honor, and $40 depended on it.
Five minutes in I was going at a pace to finish well before the allotted 45 minutes. I ate with the hunger of ten men and ten beasts as Mount Nacheesmo and I became one. When something as magical as this happens between man and animal, the Native Americans say “we have walked together in the shadow of a rainbow”, but for man and food there is no description for such a union. “Nirvana” comes close, but doesn’t have that Native American mystic edge to it.
But alas, for those not imbued with a Kobayashi like mutant stomach, which can expand to a size that allows his lungs to not fully be able to fill with air, my organ has a limit, the average 2 to 3 liters. As good as Mount Nacheesmo was, and it was the best, it’s hard to find a denser, more filling food then nachos, other than like a pizza covered in lasagna. Like eating a hydra, for every bite I took two more seemed to replaced it. Before I knew it time was up, and there was so much left to eat.
I’m not going to lie and say that if I had another 15 minutes I could have finished it, since I ate two pounds of it tops. Even if I had another 24 hours I doubt I could have eaten it all. As it is the leftovers alone fed four people for three days afterwards. Did I expect to eat it all? No. Five pounds is an insane amount of food to consume in a day or two, let alone 45 minutes. Am I disappointed that I’m not on the wall of fame? Sure, but they took a sweet picture of me and my leftovers for the wall of shame, which is technically the same wall.
In Greek mythology the Titan Prometheus gave fire to men and was punished by the gods by being bound to a rock where an eagle would eat out his insides, only to have the grow back to have them eaten again and again. Mount Nacheesmo was Prometheus and I was the eagle, and the more I ate the less progress I seemed to make. “Eating The Mountain” was an uphill battle both ways, if you know what I mean, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I may not have made the summit, but I had a delicious time doing so.
After Man v. Food ended, Adam Richman went on to host the show Man v. Food Nation where instead of him eating crazy meals he would coach other people eating crazy meals. While he wasn’t there coaching me in person, he was in spirit. In America the Edible he describes his love for Austin Texas in a long and flowery description. Austin is nice and all, but what he said also mirrors how my love nachos:
Love it like a beautiful woman with an ample bosom, carrying delicious food and a cold beer, with whom I run through fields at the end of a movie, laughing and joining hands and swinging around in circles as the music swells... and then as the sun sets over Texas Hill Country, we drink, eat, make love, and listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”
Ok, maybe replace Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover with anything by Tom Waits. Anyhow, the moral is that even after feeling sick from stuffing myself from craw to gullet with nachos, I still love, and want more, of this miracle of chips and cheese. And now I’m hungry again.