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Regional attitudes towards heat

Where are you from and what is the typical person's expectation for heat in food from your area? How high are the tolerances?

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  1. Florida, generally low. Sad, because I like lots of heat and it's hard to find a restaurant that satisfies.

    1. I am from Southern IN where the heat tolerance is moderate when something spicy is being served, but in general that is not really part of the cuisine there. Currently I live in FL where, as the previous poster said, it seems to be somewhat low, but I have not been around enough yet to have a solid opinion.

      1. Ahh, living in Southern California, you get a bit of everything. When I'm feeling spicy, there's Indian, Korean, Thai, anything you want. I like spicy food and sadly, most places just aren't hot. I don't mean dousing it in Tabasco, but a nice kick can enhance a lot of different foods. I'm not against pouring some sriracha in my pho, though.

        You'll have a tough time nailing down what the general taste in a place as diverse as LA is, so I won't try.

        1. Fourteen years in the Philippines, 14 years in Colombia. Two countries in which one chili serves 60,000 people for a week. Thankfully I work all over the place. Best are where heat is integrated into the food (rather than added later)--Thailand, Laos, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Mexico, some Vietnamese food, parts of China, India, Ghana.

          1. In the Pacific Northwest pretty low unless you venture into the International District. Even then you have to taunt them to make things hot if you are fair skinned because they think you can't handle it.

            Some of the Thai, Chinese, and Indian restaurants here will pack on the heat if you ask for it and say you want it really spicy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lisaf

              I agree.. most places let you choose your level of heat (mild, med, hot or 1-10). The problem is one places 5 is another restaurants 10.. not scientfic at all (no industry standard for the measure of heat)

            2. I'm just outside Boston where heat is a four-letter word. Even the ethnic cuisines known for complex intense spiciness dumb down their dishes. I was told by a Malaysian waiter that they couldn't sell authentic food to the locals. Fortunately there are plenty of good groceries so I make my own hot dishes.

              6 Replies
              1. re: cheryl_h

                Ditto, but there are exceptions. East Coast Grill in Cambridge is famous for its "Hotter Than Hell Nights," and they are so popular that they went from being a once a year special to a three or four times a year event lasting two or three nights each time.

                Also, several of the Thai and Szechuan restaurants in the city serve authentic levels of heat - or at least can be persuaded to do so, if you ask them sincerely enough. There's even one outside the city in Acton (or at least used to be), a place called Benjarong, where the menu says you can ask for one, two, or three levels of heat, but in fact will go to four or five upon request, five being the real deal.

                1. re: BobB

                  I agree with cheryl_h on the whole. BUT some places, if you're a regular, will turn it up. (And there was a lot of whining about the last Hell Night being wimpy.)

                  I can't blame the restaurants. I can't count how often I've heard other tables say "But I can't eat that!" in tones of total shock. At places where 3 little chilis on the menu means Medium at the most. Sigh.

                  1. re: Aromatherapy

                    At places where 3 little chilis on the menu means Medium at the most. Sigh.

                    Yes, but 3 little chilis meaning Medium to you is probably too spicy for me. It's all a matter of taste and preference. If you've grown up with or been able to build up a tolerance for spicy heat, 3 chili meals as prepared in most restaurants wouldn't be hot enough. But for others, it's too hot.

                  2. re: BobB

                    once, at an indian place, given the option of 1-10 for the heat, I asked for a ten and the server wouldn't let me have it. Why offer it at all???? 8 was geniunely hot, but i really wanted to know what 10 was like.

                    1. re: amkirkland

                      Once in the high hills of Bhutan our hostess refused to give me the hot emadashi (chilis and cheese), saying that foreigners didn't like such stuff. She insisted that I have more of the sun-dried pig fat.

                      1. re: amkirkland

                        I had lunch some years ago at a Thai restaurant in San Francisco and when asked, told the waiter I wanted it spicy, and I mean SPICY, not white bread American-spicy. Well, it sure was -- instant tears, and the dish nearly blew off the top of my head. I sweated for nearly an hour after. But I manfully ate the whole thing without complaint, though it was indeed too spicy even for me. I heard them laughing in the kitchen, and I knew they were laughing at me.

                  3. I'm from the DC area and grew up with an Irish mother - very bland food. However, as an adult I ventured forth and am now a huge spice hound. I use crushed red pepper, cayenne, fresh jalapenos, serrano, habenero, etc. But when cooking for anyone other than myself and my SO, I have to dumb down my recipes.

                    A good friend of mine raised in VA recently got one jalapeno seed in her mouth (not my cooking) and was in terrible pain. And to me a jalapeno isn't even hot.

                    1. Grew up in Texas where heat levels vary from warm to sizzling. Twenty years in Colorado with much the same. Discovered green chili in Colorado. That will make you glow. Now, blissfully retired in central Mexico, here the perference is HOT. I've seen people in the markets put jalapenos and manzanos on their tortas. Sauces are typically very spicy.

                      1. I love spicy foods. Here in southeastern PA, it's been my experience that dishes that are described as "hot" or "spicy" on a menu are totally lacking heat. And even when I ask for the dish to be prepared hot, it rarely comes that way. All too often, after I've commented that the dish is NOT hot, the server will come out with small dish of some kind of hot sauce or chili oil so that I can add heat at my own discretion.

                        1. I was amazed to find how tender-tongued Italians seem to be; first time I had maccherone alla arrabiata in a restaurant over there, everyone was going on about how outrageously spicy it was, but it tasted like cafeteria food to me!

                          My native central Illinois is Bland Country, too, but I began to learn the delights of culinary heat during my time in the SF Bay Area, then in Nashville, and now LA. As various ethnic groups become more populous in these areas, their restaurants begin offering the option of "native-level" heat, and now there are places that simply serve their food that way as a matter of course. And some of us, including this old Midwestern boy, are known to have become addicted to it!

                          1. Grew up in Jamaica, home of the scotch bonnet pepper, thus my tolerances are very high (I snack on pickled whole jalapenos). I am able to convince my local Thai place that I can handle "spicy" although if going with friends I have to tone it down to "medium" or "not spicy". Only one Japanese-American friend who grew up with wasabi can go all the way with me.

                            1. Can't beat a little heat in most dishes. actually while I think I have a high tolerance sometimes a dish containing chillies will be near the mark for me while my wife seems to not notice to much. She on the otehr hand will 'complain' if things are too garlicy as the garlic inspires her taste buds to cry out ;too hot!!!!'