The World’s Most Dangerous Foods

One of my favorite places to be is in the coastal Mexican town of Puerto Vallarta with one of my favorite people, my pal Donnie. Admittedly, we haven’t been there in a few years. But I still think of our times there often.

One of our favorite things to do in Puerto Vallarta is to stop under a bridge on the beach route from the house into town and eat raw oysters and patas negras — blood clams — on the half shell. Blood clams — this was something I had never seen before. Housed in a dusky black and gray shell, these bivalves actually have hemoglobin, which makes them a bit, well… bloody. But they are also bloody delicious, and Donnie and I would eat them every chance we got.

Patas negras under the bridge

A couple days ago, I was marketing in the valley and stopped by my favorite Indonesian market. (Do YOU have a favorite Indonesian market where you live!??) And what should I discover in a pile of ice in the seafood section but BLOOD CLAMS! I purchased a dozen, and promptly texted Donnie:

“I got you something special. Because you are my friend and I love you.”

Donnie and I operate on a special wavelength — food. So I knew that he knew it was going to be something good. Then I sent him a photo.

“I guess I better plan to come see you soon.”

Donnie eating a pata negra in Mexico

We made dinner plans with the Schneiders — Don and wife Monica, sans their kids and our kids, who used to be a fun addition to our evenings together but are now teenagers.

I was in the kitchen prior to their arrival, and pulled out the clams. I thought I would prep them in advance, so that when they arrived, I could present a platter of beautiful, dressed bloody clams. Beautiful, at least, to Donnie and my eyes. Lacking experience shucking blood clams, I went to the computer to see if there was any particular trick I should know about. But my Google search brought up something startling. Several of the top ten hits had the same title: “The World’s Most Dangerous Foods”. A couple had the variation: “Foods You Should Never Eat & Why.”

I once did a series of posts on this very blog called “Things You Would Never Consider Putting In Your Mouth (And Why You Should)”. As trying exotic foods go, I’m pretty unskittish. I’ve not merely tried grasshoppers in Mexico — I’ve intentionally ordered them. Aside from Iceland’s popular rotting shark and Japan’s fermented squid guts, there’s pretty much nothing I won’t try out of the ocean. But this had me a little nervous.

According to Salon’s top ten list: “…the blood clam can ingest viruses and bacteria including hepatitis A, typhoid and dysentery because it lives in lower oxygen environments.” Another website cautioned: “In 1988, 31 people died from eating these clams. 15% of people who consume blood clams gain some sort of infection.”

Donnie and me in Mexico doing the Patas Negras Dance after we’ve eaten our fill

Further research revealed that problematic blood clams had originated in Asia, and those from Mexico — where I’d eaten them many times, and from where the ones in the kitchen hailed — were considered “generally” safe. The Asian variety are banned in the United States. Furthermore, also included on the list of “most dangerous foods” were things like raw cashews and cassava — not exactly panic-inducing exotic delicacies. Nonetheless, the platter of bleeding bivalves in the kitchen were looking less appealing than they had been just a few minutes before. And I wasn’t feeling like playing the odds.

“Where are the clams?” Donnie inquired when he arrived a little while later.

I pointed out the window to the woods beside our house, and then explained. I would let the coyotes and bobcats fight over them, and if in the ensuing weeks I discovered no wildlife staggering through the trees in a hepatatic stupor, perhaps I would revisit the Indonesian market and give them another try. Or, more likely, I would wait until the next time I was under the bridge in Puerto Vallarta.

Fortunately, the sting of not getting his clams was alleviated when I presented Donnie with a beautifully composed plate of plump red prawn ceviche — less exotic, perhaps, but enjoyed without any looming sense of doom.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. timoirish34
    Jan 18, 2020 @ 23:50:09

    I’ve never encountered the bloody clams and, at my age, I am looking more closely at maintaining my health. I myself have always been fond of goong tien, the Thai raw shrimp dish. It makes an excellent salad/ appetizer for a big Thai meal. Many Thai restaurant wait staffers have tried to talk me out of ordering it (one smiling waiter actually said “This dish is for Thai people only!”) but I assured them I knew what it was and had ordered and eaten it many times in the past. It IS prepared with about a quarter pound of raw garlic and more spices than I could ever identify and (if you’ve ever had it) the shirmps are not essentially cooked-by-marination as in ceviche–they look plenty raw still when served up.

    The morning after I’d eaten goong tien at my neighborhood Thai place, a coworker whispered to me “What’s going on with your BREATH man? You smell like a sick animal crawled into your mouth and DIED…” I explained goong tien to him and that evening I took him out for some. He was instantly hooked and remains so to this day. Goong tien is one of the things I miss most about Los Angeles. Wine and spirits sold in grocery stores is another.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jan 19, 2020 @ 00:41:47

      That sounds right up my alley, Tim. I will have to seek it out. The more garlic the better in my opinion. (Although I will do well to avoid my one coworker the morning after, which happens to be my wife.) I do a raw shrimp crudo that is basically Japanese sweet shrimp (which I always eat raw whenever I can) served with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and shaved parmesan.

      Reply

      • timoirish34
        Mar 08, 2020 @ 05:29:40

        I always awaited sweet shrimp season at my favorite sushi bar with great eagerness. This place was in the basement of a Downtown LA budget hotel where JAL boarded most of their flight staff–I suppose that made it extra-authentic. I loved the fresh taste of the raw shrimps–especially if they were served with the fried shrimp heads as a side dish. The appeal is so hard to explain to non-initiates–is it not?

      • scolgin
        Mar 08, 2020 @ 16:39:47

        With all things these days being filtered through the lens of COVID19, I was having a conversation with a friend about the Chinese obsession for buying animals live for their meals. My friend, Alex, said, “Who is it who likes to actually eat the food while it’s still alive — the Koreans, I think?” I suggested that this was some sort of “dare” mentality (“Go ahead, eat it… I dare you!”). I did notice, wandering a fish market in Busan, South Korea, that there is pretty much nothing scraped from the ocean that the Koreans will not eat. The closest to this experience I have had are the sweet shrimp — upon my ordering ama ebi, my favorite sushi chef would pull a couple live wriggling Santa Barbara spot prawns from some ice water, show them to me, then 90 seconds later would present the tails ala nigiri sushi, followed by the heads a short time later. I had once heard of Japanese salarymen liking the tails to be presented to them so quickly that they would still be moving. I never saw this happen, and think perhaps it is a bit of urban myth. I’m with you Tim, that is one of my favorite sushi bar experiences. But because of the freshness and deliciousness, not because I like to eat my food while it’s still alive.

  2. Amanda
    Jan 20, 2020 @ 17:30:26

    You are either brave or crazy (or both) eating the things you do….. : )

    Reply

  3. Clay
    Jan 22, 2020 @ 17:47:54

    My question is, “where is this bridge?”. Coincidentally, I am reading this post in the Puerto Vallarta airport…regrettably on the way back to Colorado.

    Reply

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