January 23, 2015
1985 - Ecuador. I was on a rabies vaccination project in the province of Loja as a member of the organization Amigos de las Americas. Everyday was spent hiking in the rugged foothills to villages not accessible by car and we always found people offering us lunch. One day we were walking through a banana grove down in the valley when a crazed chicken came running straight at us. Suddenly gun shots were also coming right at us and we hit the ground. A 9-year old kid was chasing the chicken and shooting wildly. Then came his father who grabbed the gun, ran a few more steps and scooped up the chicken and snapped it's neck all in one, smooth motion, all the while scolding the boy thoroughly.
The man seemed to feel bad for us and invited us to his house for lunch (which I guessed was going to consist of the crazy hen). About 90 minutes later steaming bowls of chicken soup were delivered to us. I can't tell you how excited I was. There is nothing better than homemade chicken soup when you're totally exhausted and need some rejuvenation. And it looked pretty gourmet for being out in the middle of nowhere. It had yummy-looking parsley floating in it. But, damn it all tasted weird as hell. Every spoonful nastier than the last. As total and utter devastation set in I fished out a piece of "parsley" and gave it a taste test and I almost puked. That was some nasty-ass parsley.
Cilantro really was not yet a fad in the U.S. and definitely did not even exist in Colorado in 1985, so I had no clue what it was. You can imagine my horror when it started turning up in restaurants in the '90s.
For the past 25 years my sales territory has been Latin America and there have been 100s of client dinners where cilantro figured prominently. Depending on the size of the leaves I either have to inconspicuously pick it out or try to eat without hurling. Sometimes I get caught and have to fess up that I can't do cilantro. I blame it on my Italian blood saying we only eat parsley and I have yet to find any cilantro in Italy (yay Italy!!!).
After talking to many South Americans my personal research tells me that the Incans used cilantro to mask the flavor of rancid meat. It's a crime to use it with perfectly delicious food. Anything with a flavor so powerful as to cover up rotting food should be banned from modern cuisine.