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Looking for a Word to Describe Different Eateries' Notions of "Spicy Hot"

Here’s the scenario. You go to some place that serves a spicy cuisine: Mexican food, Thai food, Chinese food, Caribbean food, what-have-you. You order some food and when they ask you how hot (spicy) you want it you say “medium.”

On the one hand, some places will bring you food that is truly medium hot; it seems that they make a clear distinction between mild, medium, and hot. On the other hand, some places will bring you food that they say is medium but is really mild; it seems that they only distinguish between very mild, mild, and slightly-hotter-than-mild.

What I’m looking for is a word or a label that describes this discrepancy or these two different interpretations of the mild-medium-hot scale. My wife and I sometimes call the latter “gringo hot” or “gringo-ified” since it seems to be a hot that’s been toned down for a Northern European/American palate.

I’d like a word that can work as an adjective to describe restaurants and eateries when reporting to forums like Chowhound. For example, I’d like to be able to say something like, “We really liked the menu choices, but the food wasn’t <insert term here> because we ordered it spicy and it came “gringo hot,” or “On the <insert term here> scale this eatery comes in at a 9 out of 10 because we ordered it medium and it came authentically medium.”

Any ideas? Thanks for your help.

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  1. I really hate, despise, and abhore the term Eatery., What idiot came up with that anyway? Why not just have a tiney Scoville scale next tot the dish as some prepared products have to let purchasers have an idea of heat level?

    1. I think it would mean more to people if you simply rate menu spiciness by how many handkerchiefs you needed to get through the meal. Five or more nose wipes would mean it's pretty heady stuff. None would give everyone a clear idea that even a wimp could get through it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Steve

        I considered using something like scoville units (and I like the image of specifying a number of hankies).

        The problem I'm having, though, is not explaining how hot the food is, but whether the restaurants actually make it hot (when you ask for it) as opposed to making it mild.

      2. You could try asking for it "half as hot as 'hot'", which might approximate how spicy you want it. That way, the chef can use half the cayenne (or whatever) as would normally be used to make it hot.

        1. Any rating scale other than a chemical assay is going to be meaningless. Just as there is no standard on the resto side, "heat" is subjective in the normally served ranges. What might only be one hanky for me is enough to put others off food for a week.

          1. I find that at the local teriyaki place I frequent, "Little bit spicy" can be anywhere from barely anything to post-apocalyptic, apparently depending on the chef's mood at the time. I know that the Thai places around here use stars (e.g. 1 star for little to no spiciness, all the way up to five stars for "Bring on the pain" levels of heat. ) I generally go around 3 stars when I eat at these places.) Again, it's all pretty much subjective though, but it is a bit less ambiguous.

            1. I understand that you are not looking to create a heat index, but rather a word to describe what happens when the level of spiciness is inconsistent with your expectations. (Although I'm struggling to imagine when you would use such a word.)

              You might just have to come up with something yourself. Like if your partner asks you how your meal was, you could respond, "Nice, but a bit dis-heat-ful."

              2 Replies
                1. re: cackalackie

                  Well put! You said this better (i.e., more clearly and more concisely) than I could.

                  Your phrase "inconsistent with expectations" is helpful. And "disheatful" is imaginative and fun to say. You seem to have a handle on when and how I want to use this yet-to-be-coined term.

                  For me, how well a restaurant meets my heat-expectations is part of how I assess its quality. A place that says it serves medium-spicy food and that actually serves medium-spicy food is a better place to eat than a place that says it serves medium-spicy food and then serves mild food (though I'm hard-pressed to say why; perhaps because I feel like I'm getting "the real deal"). Just like a place that has good service or a creative menu can be better than a place that has mediocre service or an unimaginative menu.

                2. I might be inclined to say 'they got the fuego' if things were spiced as expected or 'they don't got the fuego' if not.
                  (fuego = fire in Spanish).

                  1. Mexicans often use the term 'fuerte'/strong in English to describe the power of various chiles-the terms appeals to me so I'd ask for medium strong.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Sam Salmon

                      "Fuerte" and "fuego" are fun words to say and could work well. I've considered using them to create a compound word with "anticipation" in order to capture the sense of anticipated or expected spiciness (rather than merely actual spiciness).

                      How about "anticifuego" or "anticifuerte"? Or is that too over-the-top?

                    2. Pan Thai in Wilmington DE has the best heat scale I've seen.

                      1 Mild with no pepper added except what is in the spices
                      2 Hot and spicy with a little sting
                      3 Will set tongue and lips tingling. The sensation lingers and spreads a hearty glow.
                      4 The glow is transformed into a fire but the exotic flavors of Southeast Asia come through.
                      5 This level is for addicts, masochists and Southeast Asian visitors.
                      6+ Level 10 for Skeptics...Order at your own risk!

                      I love these descriptions. Can you tell your server that you want your lips and tongue to tingle, but you don't want your face to feel like it's on fire?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: AreBe

                        I love that! At my favorite Thai place, it took a little while to convince them that I wanted my curry REALLY hot. I had to say, "I was Asian in a past life.... Give to to me THAI HOT." Thought initially skeptical, they finally realized I wasn't kidding and amped up the heat for me.

                        1. re: sillyrabbit

                          Thinking I was invincible, I tried Thai Hot once. Big mistake! Now I go for 4/5 hot at Thai restaurants.

                      2. i have to agree i have had some experiences like this, where i go to a restaurant and they have a scale, that is, one to five chillies... and i order 2 chillies, i mean, i love spicy food, but when i order 2 chillies out of five and i can't even eat my meal, and it so hot my eyes are watering and my face turning red, then theres a problem. shouldn't there be some kind of universal standard?

                        1. When I describe spiciness to my kids I use the words fire hot for very spicy, and it bites the tongue for medium spicy and peppery for anything less than that. It works for them and they enjoy having their tongues bittten every once in a while.