Monday, April 6, 2009

Avoiding “Cacahuates” in Mexico

“Remember,” my dad explained to my son last week while we were all together on vacation in Mexico, “don’t eat anything that starts with ‘caca’.”

Good words to live by.

Cacahuates” is the Spanish word for peanuts. “Nueces” means nuts. We practiced them a lot on our vacation, making sure we didn’t accidentally order or buy anything that contained them. We were having too much fun playing in the waves, lounging on the beach, and splashing in the pool – we sure didn’t want to cut any of that short by having to practice the Spanish word for hospital (which is, fortunately, “hospital”).

We did have one close call, however. At our resort, we ate dinner one night at the buffet. When we walked in, I told the hostess that my son was allergic to peanuts and nuts, using both the English and Spanish translations. She completely understood, and turned to tell another waiter beside her the same thing. I could pick out enough of her words to know what she was saying. They both nodded emphatically and explained to me, in English, that they understood, and that he would find many foods to choose from.

So far, so good.

When our real waiter arrived, I again explained to him that my son was allergic to “cacahuates y nueces,” tackling it in both Spanish and English, and he assured me, in very nice English, that he understood and he would talk to the chef.

Again, so far, so good.

At this buffet, you order a main entrée, then go to the buffet for salads, fruit, various Mexican specialties like fajitas and empanadas, and desserts. My son ordered the steak entrée, then we strolled the buffet looking for safe things for him to eat. The breads were out – no way to verify the baking ingredients. But the chicken fajitas were okay, the cheese empanada was tasty, and the watermelon was right up his alley. We avoided the dessert table completely – pecans and almonds were evident.

When his entrée arrived, there was the steak, a mini quesadilla, and a tiny rolled thing under sauce. “What is that?” I asked the waiter who delivered the food, who was not the same waiter we’d ordered from.

“Enchilada,” he said.

“What is the sauce on it?” I asked, eyeing it. It looked suspiciously like a mole sauce, which is often made with peanuts, almonds, or other nuts.

“No, no,” he assured me. “Nothing like that.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “because he’s ‘alérgico’.”

He assured me again that it was nut-free. A little part of me still worried, but I’d told four different people now, all of whom assured me that they understood.

My son started in on the steak. Fortunately, he doesn’t care for sauces on much of anything, so he started on the side of the plate away from the mysterious sauce.

He was on his third or fourth bite when our original, main waiter suddenly appeared at my son’s side, and began whisking away the plate. “I need to take this away,” he said, breathless from having run across the whole restaurant.

“Stop eating!” I commanded my son, and he dropped his silverware and sat back, while the waiter scooped up the plate.

“I am so sorry,” the waiter was saying. “It was a mistake. It should not have happened. I will bring him a new plate with new food.” Within a minute or two, he was back with a new plate, new steak, and no sign of mole sauce.

The waiter was clearly embarrassed and upset, because he wouldn’t look me in the eye when he came back to refill our glasses with water. Finally, I called him over to me.

“Thank you for catching that. His allergies are scary, so I appreciate that you discovered the mistake and told us right away.” He still was embarrassed and contrite, but I could see the relief in his shoulders.

I’m a big fan of the “encourage good behavior with rewards” school of thought. I could have made a scene, chewed him out, or been angry. But that wouldn’t have helped anything. The close call and his embarrassment alone left a huge impression on him, and I know the next time an allergic person sits at his table, he’ll be extra vigilant about their food. I hope that by telling him how much I appreciated him being honest and fast in fixing the mistake, I left him with a good feeling about allergic people, and not a dread. Fear causes mistakes. I want him to care, not fear.

Also, I had made a mistake, too. I had a bad feeling about that sauce, and I didn’t act on my motherly instincts.

Next time, I’ll know better, too.

Fortunately, the whole story had a happy ending. My son loved the steak, I loved my mahi-mahi steamed in a banana leaf, and when we left the restaurant, the waiter purposefully caught my eye and said “thank you.”

And for the rest of the week, my son successfully avoided eating anything that started with “caca.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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