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.