Chef’s Surprise: What doesn’t kill you might teach you something

 

Years ago, I was a consultant doing industrial data collection and control systems and one of my clients was IBM (Pro Tip – If you are a consultant, make sure your client is within at least two orders of magnitude of your size). This was back when there was a tax break for the production of pharmaceuticals in Puerto Rico and as a result, many pharmaceutical companies had a research facility in the States (usually either Pennsylvania or New Jersey) and a production facility in Puerto Rico.

As a consequence, I traveled multiple times to Puerto Rico with different IBM teams. We would spend nights on the coast where the hotels were and then travel to the plants which were inland. The plants got your attention – we were told to park with the front of the car towards the exit – “In case something bad happens at the plant”. The wrought iron fences around the plant had been eaten away at the bottom by some sort of acidic atmosphere.

The drive to the plant was several hours and the IBM crews traveled the main highway and knew where all of the American-style restaurants were – McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and so on. Now, my theory was that if I was going to be in a different “country” (I know it is a territory of the US, but it might as well be a different country), I would like to see different places and eat something different and local.

So, I would usually drive a different way going back to the hotel and see what I could find. (Pro Tip #2, the reason that most highway exits in Puerto Rico seem to go to “Salida” is that Salida means “Exit” in Spanish.)

One day, I found a small and interesting looking restaurant, but the menu – written on the wall – was all in Spanish and the cook only knew Spanish. I saw tacos – which I understood- and beneath that was a list of what I figured were the fillings that were available. There was “carne” which I understood to be “meat”, and Pollo which I understood was chicken. Below that was “Pulpo” which I had no idea about, so I decided to try that.

The resulting tacos were pretty good – the filling was some sort of seafood, I figured. That started me wondering if it was crab and I got very concerned.

Now, I haven’t mentioned that I have a severe allergy to crab which causes me to break out in a rash and my heart rate to shoot up. When I mentioned this to my country doctor (Dr. Livingood – which always seemed like a good omen), he told me a story about one of his friends who had the same reaction and it eventually killed him.

Anyway, I got worried and asked the cook – through gestures – what was in the taco and of course, the answer was “Pulpo” with a look that said “Dumb Americano!”

So there I was, about an hour away from the pharmaceutical company office and the hotel and the rest of civilization. I worried the entire drive back about what I would do if the symptoms flared up, but eventually got to the offices where I asked the local manager what Pulpo meant.

“Octopus” he said.

I’m not sure I would have ordered it if I had known, but I was very glad it wasn’t crab.

For future reference, as near as I can find, crab is “cangrejo” or “jaiba”, but I think I’ll stick with the Pollo.

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  1. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    WillowSpring: So, I would usually drive a different way going back to the hotel and see what I could find. (Pro Tip #2 , the reason that most highway exits in Puerto Rico seem to go to “Salida” is that Salida means “Exit” in spanish.)

    That made me laugh.

    • #1
  2. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    A great food story and cautionary tale, this post is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2021 Group Writing Theme: “Chef’s Surprise.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #2
  3. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    So, two cooks do not spoil the soup.

    This home cooked post is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2021 Group Writing Theme: “Chef’s Surprise.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #3