May 21, 2011
Being raised in Southern California gave me several early opportunities to come across Mexico's favorite herb. It also allowed me to discover very early on that not only do I utterly loathe this evil weed, but I'm debilitatingly allergic to it.
This was discovered one fine day when my mother took me out to a new fast-food type Mexican food restaurant that had just opened up down the street. I downed two tacos, and since I was never a picky child I ignored the odd taste, which turned out to be a rather devastating mistake. Within twenty minutes I felt nauseous. Within the hour, I was pale and had clammy skin. Not long thereafter I was kneeling before the big white throne, emitting a technicolor yawn of Mexican goodness. This lasted for two days. My mother told me I'd probably gotten food poisoning, and I attributed it, at first, to the white sauce on the tacos possibly being bad.
I later found out that my father, too, is allergic to cilantro. He heard my story and ever since, I've been keeping an eye out for it.
That's not always possible, however. Regardless of repeatedly telling servers at Mexican restaurants that I'm severely allergic to the green scourge, they seem to conveniently forget when it's baked into the rice, or rubbed into the carne asada. Even a mouthful is enough to make me queasy for a day. Eventually, through several mistakes and a sinfully strong love of Mexican food, I came to intimately know which restaurants and menu items were generally safe, and for a long while I was in the clear.
Until middle school.
A traveling taco truck we liked to call the "roach coach" was our only source of lunch food on campus. Usually I packed a lunch, but seeing as middle schoolers are ruthless, thieving animals, my lunch was inevitably stolen one day. Forced unto the coach, I looked over their menu and decided that a tuna melt would be the possible best option.
Upon receiving my sandwich, I thought it nice that they put a bit of fresh lettuce on it and took a rather large bite, only to discover, to my horror, that what I thought was lettuce was, in fact, a thick layering of cilantro. I couldn't stop myself from swallowing before it was too late. I threw the sandwich away and immediately went to the nurse, explaining to her what happened. She was skeptical of my allergy and phoned my mother, who had legal custody of me at the time. My mom, however, never accepted the fact that I have such an allergy, since it links me to my father, so she vehemently denied it and she and the nurse concluded I was faking to get out of class. In the end, I managed to be miserable through the rest of my classes until after school when I went home, curled up in bed, and pretended to die for the remainder of the day.
My mother's denial of my condition never ended, either. On several occasions, she's offered me not only dishes with cilantro in them, but plain chopped cilantro, cilantro juice, and other such strange things. To top all of it off, she cooked every single dish for my high school graduation with cilantro in it.
At college, I thought I'd be free of my mother's insane desire to prove I don't have an allergy, and finally be free of cilantro for good. On the contrary, my allergy made my dorm life absolutely miserable.
Living in the dorms, most of my meals came from the Dining Commons. Mexican food happens to be cheap and easy to make in bulk, so there were several Mexican or Hispanic themed dinners and so on. The servers came to know me as "cilantro girl," and would often give me a hard time for asking about every little thing and denying an entire dish if even one thing was found to be off. Some nights, I wouldn't be able to find a single item lacking this wretched garnish and have to go sulking back to my dorm, stomach rumbling and unsatisfied.
The Dining Commons was also my first encounter with Indian food. I hadn't quite realized that anyone other than Hispanics would be crazy enough to put the stuff in anything, so I tried out some yellow curry, just to be adventurous. Just to make sure, I asked the server if it contained cilantro (I'd become extremely cautious by now). He said no. I was happy. The curry was delicious.
There was just enough 'coriander' in the dish that about an hour after eating it brought back those familiar waves of nausea. I couldn't attend classes the next day, and even though I'd filed complaints with the DC, my words went unheeded. My Freshman year was spent mostly in terror of a chance encounter with my nemesis.
I've since moved out of the dorms, however, and living on my own and being able to make my own nutritional decisions has greatly improved my life. I'll still occasionally run into it, but by now I have so much experience with it under my belt that I can find it before tasting it and demand a refund.