The Painful Pleasure of Capsicum Frutescens
There are a number of ways to slice’n’dice humanity, but one outstanding difference is to group those humans who cannot bear spicy food versus those addicted to it. Sure, in the middle are folks who shrug, arch their eyebrows and nonchalantly state “Hot food? Mexican? Thai? I can take it or leave it”. These individuals are in fact a tiny minority.
LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT
It isn’t even that simple to define what’s hot and what’s not. And bear with us, dear reader, if we sidetrack the delightfully-foody topic for a moment to complain about the Anguish Language – excuse me – the English Language. Now any experienced eater can make a clear distinction between degrees of temperature and degrees of spiciness. Español, a rich Romance language spoken by some five hundred million Europeans and Latinoamericanos, does not confuse picante with caliente. Bahasa Indonesia, the lingua franca and national language of the Republic of Indonesia, very clearly refers to pedas and panas, which sound nothing like one another. Then why in the world does English only use “hot” & “hot”, forcing speakers to resort to the awkward and wordy “hot to the touch” and “spicy hot tasting”?
Well it may have to do with the fact that those countries where English is spoken are not famed for the spices in their food.
English food is notoriously bland, squishy, slimy & soggy (which explains why the two biggest takeout menus in the U.K. are Indian and Chinese food); American food is laughably mild.
Ever douse your fat, gristle and pathogen puddle (= American “mystery meat” fast food) with one of these ostensibly “hot” sauces? SPOILER: They ain’t hot, sweetheart. Only mildly spicy. What they have in common is their content: about 40% sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or other deadly sweetener, skim milk as a thickener, stabilizers, coloring agents and so on. The only decent one is Tabasco, on the far left, and it only comes out in tiny squirts to protect the delicate sensibility of the fast food addict.
Now in addition to those who grow up chomping on chillies there is a class of adventuresome diners who would like to be able to enjoy spicy food (from here on “spicy” = “pedas”, dear reader’n’eater) there are apparently ways to train your poor suffering body to at least tolerate it. This is what is claimed by one Stuart Walton, author of “The Devil’s Dinner: A Gastronomic and Cultural History of Chili Peppers”
“In The Devil’s Dinner, Walton explores the captivating history of how chilies spread around the world (mostly via Portuguese sailors), and dives into the growing cult of spice in the United States, where chili-eating competitors (mostly men) go to greater and greater extremes to prove their devotion.
“Walton says he’s “too much of a wimp” to engage in such competitions. But he sees plenty of benefit in training his tongue to enjoy regular doses of spicy cuisine. In Bhutan, he points out, kids as young as four are introduced to hot chilies, when their palates are still very sensitive, and it becomes part of their taste education. “I think we can all gradually educate ourselves into persuading our palates to accept that amount of fieriness until it becomes an enjoyable aspect of food,” Walton says.
Hey, if you bring your four-year-old along with the family for dinner at YaUdah Bistro, we advise you not to attempt any “taste education” by force-feeding him or her our delightfully spicy dishes – for instance, the spaghetti, which you can tell our stalwart waitress you want a dull British “Titty Hill, East Sussex Mild”, or a tongue-tingly Masakan Padang Pedas-level “Medium”, or – BE BRAVE – strategic thermonuclear exchange “Hot”.
Eat & Weep. Tears of Joy. So much pain it is pleasurable (does that make sense, friend?).
Men love to try crazy, dangerous challenges. Ask any annoyed girlfriend or wife. Here’s a case study:
We flash back to the American war on Vietnam, one of the numerous tragic adventures leading inexorably to the current decline of Uncle Sam’s reckless, over-indulgent empire. GIs fresh from combat take their “R & R” (“Rest and Recreation”) in Thailand, visiting the fleshpots of Pattaya; here we present two typical hunky grunts walking down the street. They pass by a woman making and selling Thai Som Tam, usually described as “Green Papaya Salad”. She crushes all the ingredients together in a pestle: young (green) papaya, clove of fresh garlic, crunchy tiny dried crabs (or itty-bitty dried krill), red & red-hot chili peppers, fish sauce (Nam Pla, literally translated as “fish water”), vegetable oil, lime juice, brown sugar, green beans, spring onions, fresh basil and peanuts, pounded all together with a mortar.
One GI winks “I bet you can’t eat a plate of that.”
The other soldier, evidently a newbie, frowns and says “What? That salad? Why not? Looks fresh and tasty enough to me.”
“Ha. Looks ain’t everything. I was fool enough to try it once and it damn near put me in the hospital.”
“What? You don’t like hot food? Down Louisiana way we love it.”
“Hot? HOT? You don’t know hot until you eat something with those tiny red peppers in them.”
The other guy looks doubtful. “They don’t look that hot to me.”
“A bargirl who spoke real good English – better than me – once told me the locals call them ‘little rat-shit peppers’. Ready to give it a try? Bet you ten bucks you can’t eat a whole Som Tam.”
Takes a mouthful, chews a bit. “Say, this is real tasty…” Then the capsicum frutescens hits him in the taste buds.
“Oh my God. Oh my God.” His heart races; he begins to tremble, sweat pops out across his brow; all the hairs on his arms stand up straight and start screaming.
“Spit it out and you owe me ten bucks. Eat it and suffer the ‘Ring of Fire’” his pal laughs, winking. The woman, impassive, offers him a plate as well. “No thank you, sweetie. I’ll pass on the Som Tam today.”
The other guy manages to wolf down the salad. Let his stomach deal with it. He gasps “What an excuse to drink half a dozen beers.” And off they stagger, to the next bar…
It is not obligatory to chow down with hot food before enjoying the YaUdah Bistro Euro-brews. Beer is a great standalone food, with or without an accompanying YaUdah Bistro meal. You know the expression: “Beer is Good for You”. ‘Tis a fact.