July 21, 2007
My first run-in with cilantro was after moving to the US a few years ago. I am originally Norwegian, and although you find "kinesisk persille" (Chinese Parsley) in some grocery stores there, it's really for immigrants who make their ethnic food. All traditional Scandinavian food is completely free of cilantro, and as far as I have ascertained by asking a large amount of ethnic Scandinavians, it's a very common thing to have cilantro intolerance, thus the dearth of cilantro in Scandinavian cooking. (It also appears that if of mixed heritage, the chances of being a "taster" rapidly diminishes. Even if the mix is several generations back.)
Anyhow, one day at a restaurant here in the US, I ordered Rogan Josh, one of my favourite Indian dishes. This is usually made with lots of coriander, which causes no problems at all. However, this time it was made with coriander LEAF -- cilantro. After the first bite, my mouth started burning, and it felt like I had bit into a decomposing armpit sprayed with liberal amounts of Brut. I had to spit it out, and rinse my mouth with both water and stronger stuff, and still the "taste" (for lack of a better word) lingered for hours. Because I'm allergic to menthol, I accused the restaurant of having used mint on the dish, despite us telling them to avoid mint due to an allergy. No, they hadn't, they assured me, and finally it was narrowed down to the cilantro.
Since then, cilantro has become a fashion spice (it's about to be overtaken by wasabi, though), and it's now sprinkled on almost everything, like if it was parsley. Fine for those who don't taste it, but to me, it tastes like a tomcat has urinated on well-worn gym shoes. What's worse, is that the Food and Drug Administration here in the US doesn't think the problem is serious enough to warrant that cilantro be listed as an ingredient. You find it listed under "spices", which means it's a crap shoot, and quite often a crap eat.