Eggplant (aubergine) is to the Armenian diet what tomato is to Italian: So common it's practically invisible.
We add eggplant to almost any dish. We eat it stewed, fried, broiled or baked -- pretty much every way but raw. We eat it as a side dish, tuck it into wraps or sandwiches or mash it into a dip.
We'll eat eggplant at almost any meal at any time of the day and any time of the year. That's how much we love it.
But when I say we, I don't mean me.
I grew up eating eggplant, although not by choice. It was just there, on the plate. Even as a boy, however, chewing eggplant left a funny feeling on my tongue and around my gums.
Then one evening when I was well into my 20s I got a feeling that wasn't funny at all. As soon as I swallowed the first bite of eggplant, my throat tightened. I felt as though something was squeezing my windpipe.
That's when I quit eggplant for good, although it wasn't easy. People have been trying to poison me ever since.
Not intentionally of course, but it's hard to keep company with Armenians without finding eggplant on your fork. We learned long ago to remind all our friends about this problem every time we're invited to dinner -- and even then, to inquire before I begin eating.
I've learned to adapt both my eating habits and our Armenian recipes. Robyn, who does not share my problem, eats eggplant at every opportunity -- mostly in restaurants.
How can an Armenian be allergic to eggplant? Good question.
I've never seen an allergist, but I know I'm not alone. Try Googling "eggplant and allergy" and you'll see what I mean. One study in India suggested that one in 10 people may be allergic to eggplant. Another in Turkey linked eggplant to canker sores, the bane of my youth.
The problem may be as simple (and vexing) as hay fever. Eggplant contains a high level of histamines, and some suspect a link between eggplant sensitivity and allergic rhinitis. A dose of allergy medicine before dinner might allow me to dig into that gouvedge with no fear.
Or perhaps not.
That's an experiment I'm not planning to conduct.