When a person is in Peru, he needs to be very careful what he orders to eat. I saw some tuna on the menu, one of the few words I recognized. I think it said tuna salad, but I couldn’t be sure what the second word was. Trying not to act too North of the Border, I asked, “Do you have tuna sandwiches?”
He looked at me in shock. “Tuna sandwich? Like between bread?”
“S,” I said, using almost the full extent of my Spanish vocabulary.
He shrugged. “For you, Seor, can do it.”
“Great!” I said. “Can you add extra mayonnaise?”
At this his face twisted as if he might gag, but he kept his composure. “Of course, Seor.”
He walked to the kitchen and I heard a lot of talk. Soon he appeared at the door with fellow waiters and the cook and pointed in my direction. Some just shook their heads, others laughed.
When my sandwich arrived, I did not find tuna fish between two slices of bread, but a slice of some kind of red fruit. True to his word, it was slathered in mayonnaise. The waiter just grinned as he set it before me. “Enjoy!”
I must have missed the section in the travel book about how the word “tuna” is the fruit of a cactus. It tastes something like a pomegranate or a watermelon with tasty seeds. I can vouch, however, that mayonnaise does nothing to enhance its flavor.
I almost asked for some mustard to squelch the flavor out of it altogether, but I thought my welcome in the restaurant might be questionable. I also considered not eating it at all, but I knew I would look foolish, and besides, I was starving and didn’t have money to spare on something more conventional.
In my famished state, as many employees stared from the kitchen, I wolfed down the sandwich with great gusto, chasing it down with huge gulps of Sprite so I didn’t have to chew it.
When the waiter came and asked me how I like it, I tried to think of a way to not give away my stupidity. I faked a smile. “It was a culinary novelty.”
His face twisted into a confused smile, not understanding what I had said, just as I had hoped.
A week later, entering the restaurant with some friends, I hoped no one would remember me. I found out that not only was I well remembered, but the same waiter was there. He showed me that they had added something on the bottom of all of the menus. It said, “Tuna sandwich with extra mayo – a culinary novelty”.
He smiled as he pointed at it. “Now one of most popular items. Many tourists order when not too hungry.”
“How do you know they aren’t too hungry?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Never eat much.”
As the waiter turned away to give us time to look at the menu, one of my colleagues asked, “What was that all about?”
“Oh, nothing, really,” I answered. “But I wouldn’t recommend the tuna sandwich.”