Monday, May 23, 2005

Spicy Food--NSFNE

I was fortunate to have dinner Saturday night with friends. The menu featured Thai food, starting with a wonderful hot-and-sour soup. To my palette, it was the best kind of spicy--hot, with a mellow afterburn, but no actual pain. Except for the fact that numerous other wonderful dishes awaited, I can say with some certainty that many of us would have gladly had several bowls.

The soup raised a topic among my fellow diners that I've mulled over the last nearly four years: What New Englanders call "hot" food (as in spicy, not temperature) is laughably mild compared to much of the rest of the world. (I'm guessing Norwegian food is even milder, but having never been there, maybe I'm missing out on the habanero herring.) I've never been a big fan of super-spicy food, but my husband and brother love the stuff. My brother is one of those people who has a collection of hot sauce that rivals a catalogue of chiles and salsas, and my husband never met a tangy red chile sauce he didn't like. (He makes a pretty darn good one, too.)

During the six years I lived in West Texas, however, I did tune up my tastebuds to appreciate a little fire. Maybe it was the proximity of so many chile-growers or the excellent Mexican restaurants.

Well, good thing I was raised in Virginia (with native cooking barely hotter than New England's), because I've become once again so unfamiliar with actual spicy cooking that I've relapsed, and Ed's soup reminded me of what I'm missing. Now, when we have Indian food, I stick to the medium (sometimes even the mild, if my stomach isn't in a good mood that day). In Thai restaurants, I've fallen back on the mild (Thai places actually turn up the heat if you hint that you're interested). But the "hot" dishes in local Chinese restaurants? Hardly. The almost complete lack of authentic Mexican restaurants (I'm not talking On the Border Tex-Mex) makes worrying about how spicy the food is almost moot. And when was the last time you had spicy fried clams?

On second thought, maybe that's a good thing.


Blogger David said...

Tabasco on fried clams is great! I first tried it after having fried calamari dipped in a spicy vinegar at The Daily Catch in Boston's North End. In retrospect, it's not surprising that it would be good; the best foods seems to have high contrasts--your hot and sour soup for example.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

And of course hot sauce on raw oysters is delicious too. Never tried it on fried clams--what a great idea!

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norwegian food, you say? I have one word: LUTEFISK.

---Cousin B in NY

9:53 PM  

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