Of Mussels and Intestinal Tracts


It was only a week until our Paris trip.  My husband’s aunt lives in Paris and so we were making our pseudo-annual effort to visit and stay with her while simultaneously gorging ourselves on daily chocolate croissants and cafe au laits, homemade pasta at the various scrumptious Italian restaurants, late nights of fresh baguettes and stinky cheeses with upmteen bottles of wine (this summer, rose to be exact), fantastical desserts, Eiffel lights, and moseying around Paris from park to park, museum to museum, cafe to cafe, and, now that we had a 1 year old, playground to playground.  Two years ago, we got married here, and, luckily, this place has a sense of calm, peace, and indulgence for us–largely (and truly solely) because we have an ex-pat to lead us around, dictate directions to cabbies, and share her flat and all of the best Parisian secrets with us.

In honor of our upcoming trip, I was excitd to get us into the Parisian spirit and so went shopping to prepare one of our favorite Parisian meals–mussels with frites in white wine and garlic sauce with a side of crusty bread to sop up all the buttery, mussel-infused juices.

However, as we sat down to eat, and I plied my fork into the first mussel, I immediately noticed something was amiss.  We rarely have anything other than fish at home and most of our meals are vegeatarian or vegan.  This was the first time I had ever bought mussels and cooked them myself, and, therefore, it was quite a ceremonious and special moment reminescent of Paris ordering them raw at the seafood counter, collecting my cilantro, white wine, and lemons, and executing the final dish.  Only, I overcooked the small tender morsels because as I manuevered my fork between the two shells, the pink, grey-lined pliable mussel bodies had split open.  And because both of us had ever only had mussels in a restaurant where they were properly, expertly,  and deliciously cooked (not to mention after each of us were at least two glasses of wine in), neither of us had ever experienced them in their more organic or otherwise imperfect state.

_DSC0085“What’s this brown goop?” I said to my husband.  He began noticing as well.

“It looks like the innards of their intestinal tract.” My brow furrowed.  Prior to this point, we had only contemplated mussels as small bites of deliciousness dripping in butter–not a living organism with its own bodily functions that included ingestion, digestion, and execretion, all of which we were observing firsthand.

My fork dug into what appeared to be a kidney.  “Are these organs I’m eating?” I had lost my appetite entirely and no longer cared about Paris.  “Is this a kidney?!?”  My romantic dinner had turned into a science class dissection.  I googled mussels without even taking one bite and found this:

“Although mussels are valued as food, mussel poisoning due to toxic planktonic organisms can be a danger along some coastlines. For instance, mussels should be avoided along the west coast of the United States during the warmer months. This poisoning is usually due to a bloom of dinoflagellates (red tides), which contain toxins. The dinoflagellates and their toxin are harmless to mussels, even when concentrated by the mussel’s filter feeding, but if the mussels are consumed by humans, the concentrated toxins cause serious illness, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning.”

The reason they’re dangerous? Because the brown goo I had on my fork was the remnants of the undigested contents of their digestinal tract that the short-lived mussel didn’t have time to digest–like plankton and other microscopic species.

“Have you ever thought that most of the times we’ve had mussels have been in a dark restaurant?” my husband said.  I slid the limp pink body off my fork and carried the bowl of split open mussels to the gargabe, throwing them away without even a single sampling.

On the food agenda for our upcoming Paris trip?  There would be no mussels.




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