November 19, 2007
Although my first ghastly experience of cilantro (or coriander, as the leaf and seeds both are called over here in the UK) happened as long ago as 1988, via a plateful of seemingly harmless green salad consumed at a friend's christmas party, the truly memorable encounter with this satanic leaf came years later, when I was holidaying in Australia with my partner, who booked us both onto a 'bush tucker tour' as my birthday treat. This tour involved a spot of kayaking along a stretch of river in the middle of the wilderness, followed by a demonstration of 'bush tucker' - an improvised meal prepared out of whatever ingredients could be rustled up from the flora and fauna of the outback. Tired and famished after our stint of kayaking, the 20 or so of us gung-ho tourist types gathered round the tour guide as she spread out the ingredients of our feast on a handy tree stump- sliced bread, butter, and out of a tupperware box the main course: a wichity grub, a pale, dead thing about the size of a large caterpillar, the larval stage of some terrifying science-fiction aussie insect...like an idiot I'd let it slip that it was my birthday, so with her sweetest smile our guide took a fork and mashed the wichity grub to a smooth paste, spread it on a slice of buttered bread, and handed it to me, saying 'there you go, Matt, a special treat for the birthday boy'. Despite the nauseated groans from the rest of the group, I really wasn't that bothered about taking a bite- I thought, it's no different from shrimp- but at the last moment, the guide whipped out a pinch of chopped green herb from a plastic bag, saying 'Tell you what- here's a little cilantro to help it on its way down' and sprinkled it over my snack before I had a chance to stop her. I let out a howl of protest, and everyone laughed, thinking I couldn't bring myself to take a mouthful of maggot roulade; imagine their surprise when I picked off every scrap of the hated herb, and bit into my tasty treat without a murmur. Proof, if any were needed, that to some of us, even slug butter is preferable to the loathsome, disinfectant-inflected, shower-gel scented travesty that is coriander.