Ode to Chili Peppers

Yes—I am a white girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like spicy food! I’m not kidding… really, I do. No, seriously. I can prove it… just hand me that little green chili. Crunch. See? Okay— yes, I know  my eyes are watering a bit, but I still like it… do I have to eat another to prove it?

I’ve had this conversation a lot. I get it—people who are used to eating spicy food don’t necessarily expect European-Americans to like it, because (in general) European inspired food is simply not hot. I mean the national spices of Ireland are pretty much salt, pepper and butter (much to P’s dismay when we eat Irish food on St. Patrick’s Day).

But some of us whities really do like spice (my mashed potato eating Irish ancestors must be rolling in their graves!), and it can be disappointing to be invited over for dinner only to find out that the South Asian host “lowered the spice level” of the food for everyone because they assumed I couldn’t handle it.

Fighting against this stereotype I’ve actually gotten myself into a few situations where I had to eat things that were borderline too hot. I specifically remember two clear occasions– one was at a Thai restaurant in Vermont and the other an Indian restaurant in Massachusetts with R and S. After asking for a higher level of spice the waiters eyed me suspicious and said, “Are you sure?” to which I replied, “Yes please” (and I probably added something snarky like, “I might not look like it, but I love spice”).  I imagine they went back to their respective kitchens and said, “Let’s teach this white girl a lesson” because both times my food was so spicy it pretty much glowed a psychedelic red color when it reached my table. And because I’m stubborn, I finished each dish down to their last fiery drop to keep up my street cred and prove a point. I can do it.

I can actually remember the first time I ate a chili. In the town I grew up in there was an orchard that sold fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods and plants, almost like a one-shop farmer’s market. Unlike the regular grocery store with plastic packaged products, this place had counters full of food that a little kid could sneakily taste test. My sisters and I would pinch off grapes and hastily pop them in our mouths, or inconspicuously munch on a raw green bean. One time I picked up a tiny thin red pepper, smaller than my pinky finger. I thought it was cute because it was so small. So I picked one up from the table and when no one was looking popped it into my mouth and chewed. I wasn’t expecting the red fueled explosion that followed. I nearly collapsed in tears. That day I learned  two lessons—don’t sneak food from the orchard, and tiny peppers can be painful, but also, kinda good.

So the moral of the story is—don’t judge a book by its cover. Someone might not look like a spice lover, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. And… if you dare me to eat a chili pepper, no surprises, I’ll do it.

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5 responses to “Ode to Chili Peppers

  1. I keep a bottle sri racha in my fridge at all times, I add it to just about everything. No one believes I can handle spicy, maybe its because sour kraut and applesauce practically run through my veins…

  2. I am wondering if recently somebody challenged you for your spiciness level.. I do know Thai places are many times have spicy level much more than Indian restaurants. Also, once in a month, I make very spicy curry, this time, I will invite you to have some.. :)

  3. C, you will find my recent post on chili interesting. There I deliberately made Italian-American fare manicotti out of chili for Iron chef contest. I purposefully avoided any chili rich cuisines such as Indian subcontinent, Mexico, Southern American or Thai. here’s the report http://desigrub.com/2010/10/the-battle-of-the-blogs/ . i would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  4. Aditya’s brother, and, to a lesser extent, Aditya himself, can’t handle very highly spiced food. This lesson was brought home to me when we went to a South Indian place last weekend and the two boys starting sweating and tearing up, while my sister-in-law (a Punjabi) and I happily munched away…

    But we have run into the problem of getting in over our heads before in restaurants, especially at this one restaurant near our college in Indiana. It was the only Indian place nearby – still a 45 minute drive – so whenever we went it was a big treat. They once asked us how hot we wanted our butter chicken, and we laughed it away, thinking that butter chicken simply couldn’t be made that hot. Well… it turns out that it can be as hot as any vindaloo, while still being recognizably “butter chicken” if prepared by a kitchen that feels a glove has been thrown.

    • Nepali food isn’t that spicy particularly considering some of the fair in India, so when the Nepalis want to challenge me… I say, bring it on :)

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