Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bad Juju and Other Vacation Food Dangers

On Nassau, moments before the Juju hit
Mr. Wright and I recently enjoyed a trip to Miami, the Bahamas and Key West. By “enjoyed,” of course, I mean “barely survived.” In my case, anyway.

The first leg of our trip found us in one of the poshest hotels in Miami. To put it in perspective, the nightclub in the hotel commands an eighty-dollar cover charge per reveler—just to get in the door. Once inside, said reveler can expect to spend a minimum of twenty bucks per drink, plus tip, but most of the Beautiful People get table service for a grand or two.

A few weeks ago, eighty bucks could have filled my gas tank. I didn’t need to shake my moneymaker so badly that I found myself willing to pay a Tank of Gas to get in the door. We decided to consume, rather than expend, calories by dining at the hotel sushi bar.

I went through my standard monologue—vegan, allergic to seafood, fish and shellfish in any form—and emphasized the importance of preventing cross-contamination. You know, so I wouldn’t DIE? The server, kitchen staff and sushi chef communicated their comprehension, citing their knowledge and training as employees of a bazillion-star hotel.

Our meal arrived, and I expertly used my chopsticks to dip a piece of tempura into the accompanying sauce, took a bite, and… pushed my plate away. “It’s fishy,” I said. Mr. Wright is accustomed to my food paranoia. He tasted the sauce, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I think you’re imagining it.”

That single bite confirmed its fishy consistency hours later, when I lost vision in my right eye and watched half my face swell like a puffer fish. A call to the restaurant revealed the main ingredient in the tempura sauce as “fish sauce.”

A few days later, we reached Nassau. I’d downed an entire package of antihistamines, and the swelling was beginning to subside. Nearly dying of anaphylactic shock had left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was recovering. It was a short-lived reprieve, though, as Mr. Wright insisted on stopping by a local fruit stand for fresh mangoes. The mangoes were fine, mind you. It was the jujus that ruined my tropical bliss.

When it comes to exotic fruits, I’m pretty fearless. I’ve chowed down slices of durian—notoriously recognized as the stinkiest fruit on the planet—but I was poorly prepared for jujus.

“What are those?” I asked, pointing to a box of small, cute-as-a-button fruits. “Jujus,” said the vendor. “Ladies love the jujus.” He chuckled a deep, rich, Caribbean rum-coated laugh. He handed me a juju, urging me to sample.

It had a texture like a dry sponge, which proved to be the best characteristic of the fruit. The flavor, I determined while rinsing my mouth out with nearby gravel, was… old cheese. Wrapped in smoked, dirty gym socks. I’m not sure who the “ladies” are who “love the jujus,” but if I ever meet one, I plan to slap her soundly across the face to knock some taste into her.

The following day we disembarked at a private island, where Mr. Wright and I frolicked about, half-dressed, as if we weren’t middle-aged with bodies to match. I stumbled upon a cluster of aloe vera plants, which I cut and applied to my deepening sunburn. Not one to learn a lesson easily, I was thrilled to identify a Wild Dilly tree—a relative to the tasty sapodilla.

Fearlessly, I bit into a firm, green fruit. “How is it?” asked Mr. Wright. I think I managed, “Ims ur biff shticshy…”

Unfortunately, I hadn’t studied enough about the species to know the unripe fruit is laced with latex, and inedible until the latex is gone via ripening. Not only is the gummy latex difficult to chew; it is also an excellent adhesive. Good things to know about the immature Wild Dilly fruit, for sure. Of course, I didn’t learn them until we returned to civilization, and Google.

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