Recently, my girlfriend took me to a Vietnamese restaurant. I'd been to one before but never tried what was apparently the staple dish: pho, a soup dish of beef, noodles, and various greens in a thin broth. Her description of it sounded wonderful. But what was placed in front of me was a stinking, fetid bowl of animal waste, reeking to high heaven. Girlfriend loved it and happily devoured hers, but no sooner did I put a slice of beef to my tongue than my eyes began to water. It tasted antiseptic, like meat that had been deep-fried in a vat of hand soap. I promptly swallowed (without so much as chewing) and pushed the bowl away, touching not one more bite.
Growing up, I'd always been a picky eater. I was the kid who would sit at the table for hours, sullenly pushing his food around on the plate because he couldn't stomach one more bite. (Parents were not very understanding in this regard). The worst dish, the one I could tolerate least, was mother's chicken gumbo. I've simmered down a lot as I've grown older, and some things I once couldn't tolerate I now love -- sauerkraut is right up there. But keep the gumbo away from me.
Anyway, girlfriend and I sat and tried to figure out what the problem was with the pho. Our dishes both tasted exactly the same, or at least both tasted the same to each of us -- good for her, nauseous for me. Clearly, I was reacting to something in the recipe that she wasn't.
The offender, it seems, is very likely cilantro:
Cilantro lovers say it has a refreshing, lemony or limelike flavor that complements everything from guacamole to curry. It's a key ingredient in a range of ethnic cuisines, including Mexican, Indian and Chinese.
But few foods elicit such heated negative reactions. Many people say it tastes soapy, rotten or just plain vile. Just a whiff of it is enough to make them push away their plates. ...
Cilantro haters complain that it is showing up in unexpected places. Erin Hollingsworth, a 26-year-old editor at an environmental Web site, says she detected it in a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder she ordered at a New York lunch place.
"I thought to myself: 'No, it couldn't be. Really. Is this a joke? Who puts cilantro in Manhattan clam chowder?'" she wrote in her blog, "I Hate Cilantro: A Look Inside the Life of a Cilantro Hater and Food Lover." Ms. Hollingsworth says she now lies to waiters, telling them she's allergic to cilantro. "People take you seriously that way," she says.
Could also explain why I hate pico de gallo, which tastes the same to me.