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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ask the Experts

I posted an "Ask the Editors" question on a popular industry food magazine this morning. The question went as follows: "What makes cilantro so special?" The editors responded with:

Thank you for your inquiry. I am special for many reasons. I feel inventive. I’ve got motion, restrained emotion. I use my arms, I use my leaves, I use my seeds, I use my side-step, I use my fingers, I even, on occasion, have been known to use my imagination. I’d like to make you see that there's no herb here. No herb like me. I'm special, so special. I’ve simply got to have some of your attention, give it to me.

At least cilantro loves itself (and I'm sure his mom thinks he's special -- bitch).

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is in reference to another question that came in, when I worked at the same popular industry food magazine, that went "What makes cinnamon so special?" Sure, what makes all foods so special?

But the question at hand is, what makes cilantro so special in the skunk of the earth way, not in the mull me some red wine, garnish my cappuccino, serve as the je ne sais quoi (I'm learning French, more on what makes French special later) for any number of, largely, Midwestern-Mex-inspired chili recipes way.

For me it's a different kind of je ne sais quoi, the Platonic ideal of awful, manifest in that stupid little herb. At a certain point, things must be described in relation to other things, right?, so, for instance, one way I could describe other foods is by how far away they are from the flavor of cilantro (the flavor of awful); a simple vanilla panna cotta would score very well here, having nothing whatsoever to do with the flavors of cilantro. Can't quite explain why, just know vanilla panna cotta doesn't taste like cilantro.

For a lot of people the stuff tastes like soap. I myself haven't eaten a lot of soap, and my folks, moderate-conservatives as they might be, never insisted I try it, even when using phrases like "I f##$&ing hate cilantro." But, I have a vague sense of what soaps generally taste like: it's slipped into my mouth while showering or washing my face, or whatever it might be, plus they (they) say that some high percentage of taste is smell, and I definitely know what aggregate soap smells like, so that adds to the idea that I know what soap tastes like as well. Despite a general idea of this, I only vaguely taste it when eating cilantro.

Again, what I really taste is awfulness. From it's texture, (cilantro-y awful), to it odor (pungently offensive) to it's flavor (Platonic idea of terrible) it's just sort of vaguely herbaceous and, here's one of the main problems, completely overwhelming.

I hate cilantro with a consuming passion. I think it's important to determine why we (the royal we) hate things, you know, in the spirit of fairness. Why we love things can (and maybe should) remain a mystery, lest we deconstruct the epistemological foundation on which that love might not have known it stood. But hate, that's a "bad thing" or, certainly a lot of hate is really bad. Perhaps if we figure out why we hate a thing we can 1) quit hating it 2) come to terms with that hate or 3) if the hate is valid, spread that hate with the utmost determination.

Jury's still out for me on where this hate will go, but, I think I've figured out the nature of my hate:

1) Platonic ideal of "tastes bad"
2) Overwhelms every dish it's in with its badness
3) Increased popularity in kitchens (both home and professional) across the country, counter-intuitively paralleling the rise in educated food consumers with discriminating palates
4) Frequently served with what would otherwise be some of my favorite dishes/cuisines: salsa -- LOVE tomatoes; everything Indian, everything Thai, everything "South of the border"
5) Makes me an outcast, constantly chastised by my bigoted friends

and I would urge any of you cilantro haters out there to do the same.


Casey said...

I am so with you. Cilantro is possibly the worst tasting vegatation on the planet. why does everyone love it when it is clearly so terrible? Thank you for your candid blog.

Anonymous said...

You know, there are larger issues to worry about..... Global warming, terrorism, split infinitives.... Well, actually there are until you have a tiny speck of this disgusting herb in your food. BANG. What happened? What did I do? Why me? What is that revolting stuff? Now I know what Conrad Really was thinking when he wrote "The Horror, The Horror."

Anonymous said...

It seems to be a genetic thing. And like that yucky paper (Phenylthiocarbamide) they use to demonstrate genetics in schools, the awfulness is amazing. Why cant any of these things be "really good" to those who have to taste them? Anyway, my present summation of the incredibly bad taste of this over-used (and under-mentioned on the menu) foulness is moldy socks, or what I imagine moldy sock would taste like, based on the smell. As with cilantro, I've never been tempted to eat moldy socks. I would, however, like to grab the kitchen staff at about 90% of restaurants and present them with tasty food that has been sprinkled with bits of moldy sock so that they can understand why garnishing with cilantro is an evil, despicable thing to do.

Just last night had another meal ruined, having specifically asked not to get cilantro (specify mexican parsley and fresh coriander as well, and who knows what other names they will come up with for the yuck).