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Mar 9, 2007 08:54 PM

Hot Pepper Etiquette

At a pizza restaurant, is it rude to add red pepper flakes to pizza before tasting it? What about parmesean? Is it rude to remove the cap from the pepper flakes and pour it on? If it is rude, who am I offending?

Is it rude to ask for the hottest salsa available at a Mexican restaurant? Many people think that you should not add salt or pepper until after you've tasted the food. If I wait until I've tasted my food to ask for extra hot salsa, does this make my request any less insulting?

I live in the country, outside a small town in Central California. I went to one of the two restaurants in town with my mother-in-law and some other relatives, and I asked for habanero salsa as I placed my order for a burrito. Maybe it was rude to assume that just because they're a Mexican restaurant, they would have habanero salsa. After the waitress returned to the table without any habanero salsa, I asked her to bring me some of the hottest salsa they had. (I asked nicely. Her English wasn't that good, so I had to repeat myself a couple of times.) She brought me mild salsa to which lots of red pepper flakes had recently been added. I return to this restaurant a lot with my in-laws, and somehow they always manage to serve me five minutes after they have served everybody else. Is this just a coincidence, or are they trying to get back at me for having made a request that they see as insulting?

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  1. You are asking two, possibly more, different and not really related questions here.

    If the pizza restaurant provides the condiment, then there should be no problem using it.

    In the Mexican restaurant you are asking for something they don't make, to be made specially for you, and for which they obviously didn't have the proper ingredients. They tried to satisfy your request by adding chili to their regular salsa. It seems they tried to the best of their ability to satisfy you.

    As for whether "they trying to get back at me for having made a request that they see as insulting?" Possibly. You may have insulted them by the request, how they perceived the request, your actions after the request, or maybe they aren't and you are falsely perceiving that they are getting back at you. Hard to tell.

    I do know that I personally wouldn't assume a Mexican restaurant had habanero salsa, or even any really hot salsa. I have rarely seen ones that serve anything other than a mild to medium salsa.

    1. Why would you assume a Mexican place had a habanero salsa? That pepper (and related Scotch Bonnet) is more commonly used in the Caribbean and Yacatan, not the rest of Mexico.

      Also, when asking for such a salsa, were you expecting a freshly made one, or a bottled brand? I'm sure the place had bottles of Tapatio or Cholula sauces; would a larger amount of one of those have worked in place of Marie Sharps?

      Maybe next time you should bring your own bottle of Dave's.


      1. I belive somewhere it became a custom to at least sample the presented meal before you decided it needed correction. A Show of respect to the efforts and talents of those who prepared the food. This I am sure originated in a time and place where cooks/chefs had their tongue on the pulse of the publics taste (back when salt and pepper a luxury) and any flavoring was welcomed. Problem is these days every cook is a "chef" and every blue plate they send out at a greasy spoon a masterpiece all because they watch food network. Where proper etiquette begins/ends can probably be closely related to things like plastic cups and tablecloths. ?
        Maybe they like your business and see it as a good thing to send your food out last."All must wait till the host/hostess."
        Or maybe they took offense at how you asked/demanded?
        I would be upset if I asked for "hot" sauce and I noticed they had given me the house regular with a packet of Domino's red chili flakes dumped on top.
        Maybe you should feel insulted. Maybe it is time to eat somewhere else.

        1. there are plenty of cooks who don't believe the idea is to eat something that will set your head on fire, since it masks the flavor of the food. habaneros are not native to most mexican cuisine, so it was incorrectly assumptive of you to think they had it.

          i'm always a bit surprised by people who salt and pepper their food before tasting it. what if the salt shaker accidentally got spilled in there already?

          i was also taught "it's not what you say, but how you say it."

          1. In a restaurant I don't consider it rude to pour on the pepper flakes or what-have-you before tasting, unless you're sharing the dish (e.g. pizza) and end up "poisoning" someone else's food. Seems like it would be smarter to at least check and see what the dish tastes like first though, just in case. What if the chef recognizes you and tries to accomodate your known preferences?