When I was a kid, I remember being in my best friend's kitchen as he suckled a bottle of Tabasco sauce for sheer pleasure. I assumed he could inherently handle it because he was Asian, and I wasn't. In reality, the reason had to do with the differing cultural environments in which we were brought up. I simply wasn't exposed to spicy food on a day to day basis, so I had a minimal tolerance for it, and thus didn't find it palatable.
My misconception about spicy food changed soon after college. I was working for a dot com company and went out for Thai food with a few coworkers. It was only the second time I'd had it, the first being my last night in Paris several months earlier. It was a whole new world of flavors, and I also found out people have the ability to build a tolerance to spicy food in the same way they can build a tolerance for alcohol or nicotine. I decided to take a proactive approach toward building my tolerance for spicy food from that point forward. It was as simple as exposing myself to it on a more frequent basis, whether it be the selection of a spicy restaurant dish or a medium-spicy salsa instead of non-spicy.
Since developing a greater tolerance for spicy foods, I've found myself in a better position to taste a wider variety of salsas and foods abroad. Here's a sampling from my spicy past:
I took my tolerance for spicy salsas to a new level when I got hooked on the local favorite – Marie Sharp's Fiery Hot Habanero Pepper Sauce. I brought a bottle home and dabbed the orange salsa on everything from tortilla chips to waffles. Anything I ate lacking this fiery habanero sauce was deemed boring.
My friend Charlie made it a point to take me out for Hot Pot while I stayed with him in Chengdu, a city of 10 million located in China's spice province – Sichuan. I'd already become use to the ubiquitous pool of spicy oil which accompanied our foods of choice, however Hot Pot would take the experience to a whole new level. A cauldron of spicy oil is placed over a burner in the middle of your table, and allowed to gurgle until hot enough to cook your selected raw meats and vegetables. The cumulative effect after a few bites was akin to sucking face with the sun – damn HOT!
But as those who enjoy spicy food know, there is an undeniable pleasure and unique excitement that comes with eating spicy foods and pushing your boundaries.
My dare to eat one of India's hottest foods, a regional dish from Goa called vindaloo, wasn't completed until I reached Bangkok. Yes, I know it probably wasn't the same, but as the video proves, I did my due diligence to get the spiciest chicken vindaloo the Indian restaurant's chef could cook up for me.
These are my fondest food memories, filed under spicy. Now it's your turn.
Do you have a favorite memory from trying spicy foods abroad?