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.