Bizarre Foods

Local Man Eats Mexican Food, Lives!

Deadly chaya leaves garnishing a dish.
Deadly chaya leaves garnishing a dish. Photo: David Hammond

Fellow food writer (and occasional collaborator) David Hammond is not a shrinking violet when it comes to Mexican food. Still, a series of tweets suggesting that he had been poisoned by something he’d eaten in Mexico came as a bit of a shock. Though in Hammond fashion, he seems to have viewed his tarantella with the Angel of Muerte merely as raw material for a future piece on chaya leaves, a local delicacy which does, indeed, contain cyanide. (Raw material? Listen, pal, the buzzards were viewing you the same way.)

His Yucatan misadventures with food have now begun appearing in his regular Food Detective column at the Sun-Times. The first, benignly enough, tells the bizarre story of tziktli, the sap of a Yucatan tree which became a chewing gum (Chiclets) only when it had failed as a replacement for tire rubber. Behind the invention is a surprising historical figure:

“Though Chicago’s Wrigley is probably the world’s most recognized brand of gum, it was Thomas Adams who created the almost-as-famous Chiclets with the encouragement of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, best known — or despised — as the Mexican general who defeated and killed Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo…

“When Santa Anna was living with Adams in Staten Island, he suggested to the inventor that sapodilla sap could supplement natural rubber in the manufacture of less expensive tires and rain boots.”

The next two installments will cover cooking with flowers, and chaya, which despite its poisonous effects, was used everywhere as a garnish and even as the base for an agua fresca. We look forward to reading it… if someone doesn’t slip us a chaya aqua fresca first.

Food Detective: Chewing on gum’s origins [Sun-Times]

Local Man Eats Mexican Food, Lives!