The Orange Zest Zucchini Worm That Stole Our Hearts and Appetites

Before I explain the situation, I have to explain another situation: my mom has the worst restaurant karma in history. I don’t even believe in karma, but I believe my mom has been plagued with a darkness that will terrorize her meals and customer service for all of eternity. I don’t know who she offended or when the offense happened, but my mom has always had bad luck at restaurants.

Either the food is too cold, the order is wrong, or the waiter hates her—many times, it is all of the above.

It’s almost so horrible that it’s incredible.

Now that you have a backstory, allow me to explain the situation: my mom ordered a favorite dish—orange chicken—at a chain restaurant on a quiet Friday afternoon. The waitress gingerly set the plate before her, and within five minutes, Mom had to send it back to have it reheated.

I’m not saying that her sending it back started this whole mess, but I’m not not saying that, either.

The waitress brought back Mom’s meal, and I chomped away at my buffalo chicken wings. If you’re wondering if I acted like a lady while eating them, let me save you the inquiry: I did not. Buffalo sauce smeared my cheeks as I noticed a look of repulsion form on my mom’s face. Using the tips of her fork, she picked at something foreign on her plate, so I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“What is that?” she asked, her face wincing.

“Nothing. It’s just part of the food. Like a vegetable or something.” I dipped my chicken wing in ranch like a good American.

“That’s not a vegetable.” She moved it around on her plate, and I had to admit: it did look a little…off.

A plump something-or-another, smothered in orange sauce, lay limp on her plate. “I think it’s a worm.”

“What?” I said, squirming in my seat. “No way. Are you serious?”

We went back and forth trying to decide on our plan of action. Finally, I found a different waitress, as ours was off gallivanting around, and brought her over. She asked if she could examine the “vegetable” closer, so she picked it up with my mom’s fork and brought it right up to her eyes. She then moved it with her finger, scrutinizing it further. “Oh, that’s zucchini.” Confidence overwhelmed her demeanor. “It’s part of the zucchini seed.” 

At first, we felt relief. It’s not a worm!

Then logic reared its head: since when does zucchini have tiny feet?

The dish was taken away, as was my mom’s appetite. The manager came over to discreetly tell us, “I just wanted to let you know: that is not a worm. It’s orange zest.” 

Oh, well, that explains absolutely nothing. 

I have this image of the manager and the waitress yelling back and forth in the kitchen, with one saying, “You told her it was zucchini!? Why on earth would you say that? I told her it was orange zest! Our story isn’t even straight, Cindy!”

Upon polling some Facebook friends, we had become experts on the situation in minutes. 

“We’ve already confirmed that it’s a mealworm,” my mother said in haste. “It is not orange zest, and it is not zucchini.” Her words were firm, palatable, and animate—the opposite of what lay on her plate.

The manager told us he was making a new dish. For someone who still didn’t believe us, though, that manager sure whispered a lot when talking to us.

Later, the general manager came over for a visit. (Clearly, we were as popular as windbreakers in a 1990s music video.) “I heard somebody had a question about a dish?”

Come again? There’s no question, chief. We just want critter-less food. But because I like ya, allow me to put that in the form of a question: Do you have food that doesn’t include third-world delicacies?

As we chatted with him, he agreed that it was, in fact, a mealworm. Apparently, because everything is organic, that justifies eating a worm—whom we affectionately named Ziggy. May he rest in peace.

I like to think of Ziggy’s last moment as something like this: He’s wearing Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals with socks—because, obviously, Ziggy has no fashion sense. He and Martha had just spent a relaxing day drinking green tea and shooting the breeze. He went out to mow his lawn, his typical Friday chore. Upon walking outside of his snap pea home, he is abducted and thrown into a syrupy orange zest sauce. 

That’s the way I want to go.

It’s hard to say when we’ll visit that restaurant again. It’s hard to say if my mom’s curse will ever be lifted.

But one thing’s for certain: no other creature has stolen our hearts quite like Ziggy the mealworm.