Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Vile Herb

The daily special of the café at the bottom of my office building was a chicken burrito.

"Does anything in the burrito have cilantro in it?" I asked the cook.

He responded with a clear and resounding, "No."

I paid for my food and huffed up the five flights of steps back to my office. (Yes, I know that five flights of steps is hardly "huff" worthy, but I'm sadly out of shape and right now that stairwell is the closest thing I have to a gym.) As I brought the mammoth burrito to my mouth, I immediately spied a little green spec amongst the savory goodies inside. Unwrapping the thing, I discovered the salsa did contain cilantro and it had infested the rest of the burrito like a zombie in a Romero movie.

Lunch was officially over.

I know that I should have gone back downstairs and returned the food, but when it comes to defending myself against cilantro, I’m utterly exhausted.

I can't put into words how much I hate the stuff. The smallest speck in my food will render the entire meal inedible. I'm not exaggerating. When it comes to finding cilantro in my food, I'm like one of those drug-sniffing dogs at the airport. I’ve learned that there are a lot of people like me who also detest the vile herb. If you Google "hating cilantro", you will get 186,000 hits. Yet when dealing with my aversion in public, I feel like I'm totally on my own.

I’m not sure how it is in other places, but in Southern California it’s impossible to escape cilantro. There are some kinds of cuisine, prevalent in So-Cal, where I know my cilantro alert needs to be on high—Mexican, Thai and Indian. But all too often, it seems to sneak its way into surprising things. I've found it in chili, sprinkled on shrimp cocktail, in soups... I shouldn't have to worry about finding cilantro in a tuna fish sandwich from a diner. Yet I do.

Asking about a food's cilantro content has become a giant pain in the ass. I endure incredulous looks from waitstaff when I tell them I can’t eat cilantro, as if I had just told them I don’t like puppies or chocolate or presents. Using the “I’m allergic” excuse doesn’t work either. In this litigious society of ours, I've had waitstaff freak out once they learn that they might have served me something to which I'm allergic. I don't want that kind of attention when I'm in a restaurant. Or if I manage to fool them, I’m inevitably subjected to a barrage of questions by my dining companion like, “What happens when you eat it?” At this point, I could either spend the energy to keep the lie going, or simply admit that I’m not really allergic, I just really, really, really, really can’t stand the stuff. Either way, I’m subjected to judgment from a cruel and non-sympathetic audience.

I sincerely wish I could make myself like the stuff. It would be so much easier to navigate the culinary landscape of Los Angeles. But I can't. Cilantro truly makes me retch. And while I’ve become adept at maintaining my cilantro-free existence, there are times like the burrito incident when the herb slips past the goalie.

So, resigned to my fate, I gave the cilantro-laden burrito to a grateful co-worker and got myself a slice of pizza. Cause no matter where you get it from, plain cheese pizza is always cilantro-free.


Andromeda said...

wierdo! :) damn. i don't understand this "hating cilantro" stuff. i could eat a salad made entirely of cilantro. i HEAP the stuff on my mexican food and ask for extra if i'm out at a resturant. i do not understand your ways.

but don't even get me started on bell peppers. those are some nasty, vile vegetables.

Andromeda said...

one more thing. how do you feel about coriander as a spice? i think it tastes absolutely nothing like cilantro, even tough it is the same plant. i'm not super fond of coriander, but i have nothing ill against it.

Vancetastic said...

I wish I could be the comment you undoubtedly want saying "I hate cilantro too!," but I'm more just middle of the road on it. I'd say I have "cilantro moods." Sometimes I don't mind and it is welcome. Other times I just think the taste is too strong, and though it doesn't make me retch, I wish it weren't in there. One thing for certain is that many people making cilantro dishes don't recognize the appropriate quantity of the stuff to use.

Instead I'd like to focus on the idea in your post that's universal -- steering clear of foods we don't like. We get free groceries at my office every Monday in order to make lunch for free for the rest of the week if we want ... which basically means that by Wednesday only the cardboard-tasting frozen chimichangas are left. For some reason, they refuse to order regular wheat bread. They will only order what's called "hazelnut wheat bread," which means that I have to have small chunks of nuts in my bread if I want it. And I don't want small chunks of nut in my bread. Why is this so complicated?

Vancetastic said...

Also, as I'm sure you're aware, there is a fast food restaurant called Cilantro. I actually don't think I recall getting cilantro in my quesadillas that I got there just before Christmas. Though am I safe in assuming you would avoid this place out of general principle? You can't rightly ask the people at Cilantro if there is cilantro in their food. I think you'd have to assume it.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Andromeda...I actually am indifferent about coriander. It's not a spice that I use a lot in my own cooking, but I don't have the knee-jerk reaction against it when it's in my food.

And the idea of a cilantro salad makes me shudder.

Vancetastic...I'm not against the word "cilantro" so eating at Cilantro restaurant would presumably be fine--as long as the food is devoid of the horrible stuff. I mean, I've eaten at the Olive Garden, even though I'm not a huge fan of olives.

kommishonerjenny said...

I also hate cilantro. I can handle it in salsa, but that may be that I'm not sure I've had salsa *without* it. But my mom makes this pasta salad with smoked mozzarella and salami and stuff that is amazing, but then she puts cilantro in it. Why? Why must she ruin a perfectly delicious salad?
If you want a taste that's sure to put me off an entire plate, though, it's cooked ginger. Bleah.

Jenny said...

NPR did a story about hating cilantro:

I am not a fan at all of cilantro, but I can ignore it and eat things it's in, if it isn't a really strong flavor.

Sadie said...

I still don't get it :D

John said...

I don't just hate cilantro...cilantro is pure evil. Everything i eat must be cilantro free. My mouth rejects it like it's poisoning me. It literally causes a primal survival instinct within my brain to remove it from my mouth instantly.

I totally understand what your saying. It hardly even has to do with the's more than that. to me it doesn't have a flavor that i can analyze; i can't tell you what i don't like about it. My brain goes into a flurry of panic and disgust as soon as it hits my tounge. It is vile and must be removed from society. Even in my house our cilantro spice jar has a huge X on it in silver paint marker and says "DO NOT USE". God forbid a friend or relative decides to whip up a special meal with cilantro, i would be forced to be terribly rude and refuse to eat. I truly would.

Your escalator operator said...

I love me some cilantro. But what your post points out is that it would be wise to mostly just eat pizza. That wouldn't be all bad.