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On Spicy Food

July 2, 2019

One thing I’ll be taking away from my time in the Capital Region is a love of spicy foods. I’m not terribly optimistic that the Midwest will be as friendly to fiery cuisines. But here in the land of hot wings, there have been a few places where even people with jaded, burned-out palates have been able to find stimulation.

Now, I’m not talking about the hottest wings ever. Those are just stupid. And there is a lot of macho bullshit that comes out when people try to test their mettle against the spiciest peppers they can find.

For the record, those aren’t the kind of experiences I’m chasing. Sure, I’ll take on the spicy ramen challenge for the good cause of drawing a little more attention to Downtown Troy. But I’m not going to a hot sauce convention to see how much pain I can take.

So what’s the draw of spicy food to me? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Intensely spicy food demands your respect. Truly, all food should get your undivided attention. However, we live busy lives. We rush through meals, and we eat thoughtlessly throughout the day. People shove burgers down their pie holes while driving on the highway. Meals are consumed in minutes. Some folks barely chew.

These are mealtime tragedies. We’re only able to eat so many meals in our lifetime. They should be filled with enjoyment.

Which isn’t to say you can’t enjoy great street food while standing up or walking. The taco lean and the pizza fold are two techniques everyone should know well. Because there are some places where the best in class food has to be consumed on the spot, even when there are no tables in sight.

But God help those who try to wolf down something with a significant Scoville score.

These are dishes that you have to take slowly and eat carefully. You can tell from the moment the food is before you, as the aroma alerts the eater of the fire within. So, it is important to be careful bringing the food to your mouth. Heaven forbid any of those potent pepper oils get on your lips or on your hands. As much as they may burn your mouth, your lips and eyes are far more sensitive.

Taking small bites is going to help a lot. As does chewing your food completely, and allowing the flavor and experience of the peppers spread across your entire mouth. Otherwise, you’ll be swallowing something that will burn all the way down.

Will you sweat? I know I do. And my skin may even turn a bit red. I know that when I combine fiery foods with a beer, my blood flow will increase, and I’ll get all flushed. But I do enjoy the flavors so much that I’m willing to ride out those feelings.

For some cuisines, this is simply how the food is meant to be prepared. So eating potent plates like these this in Sichuan, Jamaican, Thai, or Indian restaurants means actually getting to try the dish you ordered, as opposed to some watered down version of the food modified for American tastes.

I’m very happy that I have rediscovered my love for big intense flavors in some global cuisines. Clearly, they aren’t for everyone. However, for those who are curious how anyone can eat or enjoy these foods, hopefully this helped to provide a little context.

Of course there are just some people out there who are gluttons for pain. I’m not that brave or stupid. I hate pain. I don’t even like to sweat. But I do really enjoy getting to try a wide variety of foods from around the world. And if you’re careful, those intensely spicy dishes can be enjoyed in moderation. Just take it slow.

It also doesn’t hurt to have some carbs, or fat, or sugar on hand to quell the flames.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2019 12:07 pm

    Daniel B., what is your spice threshold? How high can you go before it is too hot for your taste?

    • July 8, 2019 12:41 am

      Honestly, I have no idea how to answer that question. But let me say this. As an adult, I haven’t had a prepared dish, made using traditional methods, that I have not been able to eat.

      This does not include condiments, raw peppers, or extracts. I have no interest in seeing how high I can go. My interest is in being able to fully enjoy as many global cuisines as possible.

      • July 8, 2019 12:46 am

        Daniel B., I can understand your point about not having any interest in seeing how high you can go on the scale of spice. However, I am of a different opinion on that matter.

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