traditional spice levels...
I'm a young Scotsman who recently has developed a higher and higher tolerance for spice in a variety of foods. I love Srirasha on most things edible, and enjoy trying out new hot sauces wherever they're available. Sadly though, I have found when ordering out at Thai/Chinese places that even if I order something that states it as a spicy dish that the ""zing" just hasn't quite been there. Sometimes its corrected when I literally ask "What is the spiciest thing you have?" but even then I have found that the waitstaff have cut back on the spice (assuming) that since I'm Caucasian I can't handle REAL spice. This was recently proven when I went out with a friend who is full Thai, being born there and fluently speaks Thai. She ordered the EXACT same dish for both of us, and when they came to the table, hers was noticeably spicier (and thus more delicious) than mine.
What would be your suggestion on explaining to the staff that I don't want to be judged by my skin colour on how well they think I can tolerate spice levels? I asked my friend and she said some people might be offended if I only learned how to say "extra spicy" in Thai etc.
If you were were at a Thai restaraunt eating Thai food with a Thai woman - she should have done all the ordering and you two should have been eating family style. If you ordered (as it appears you did) American style - the same dish for each of you (!) - then no wonder you got the American spice level.
A friend and I often go out for Indian food together. And he likes his food really spicy. He always tells the waitperson that he wants to sweat ... that the food has to be spicy enough that sweat drips from his forehead. This usually does the trick and gives the waitperson a chuckle in the process.
At one of the Indian food places I go to, when I asked for my dish to be 'hot,' the waiter asked something like, did I want it 'hot' or 'Indian hot,' that is, the way an Indian would eat it. I asked for Indian hot, and yes, it was delightfully spicy. Maybe try that strategy: order it 'as you (i.e. the waiter) would want it,' or some variation of that.
re: Bat Guano
All the Thai restaurants in my area will list heat levels as: mild, medium, American hot, Thai hot. And if you ask for Thai hot, you get a warning and then the dish as requested.
Kind of funny to watch the military special ops types that live around here think they've got to prove their manhood by soldiering through an order of Thai hot if they're dared to.
One of my favorite Thai restaurants has a star system for degree of spice desired:
* = coward
** = cautious
*** = adventurous
**** = native Thai
In any case, maybe try ordering something with a "native Thai" level of spice. I went out with one of my girlfriends for lunch years ago; she requested four stars. She was on the floor the next morning. ;)
There used ot be a restaurant in Lowell, MA, owned and staffed by Thai natives. I found their interpretation of the 1, 2, and 3 pepper menu icons to be spicier than other Thai restaurants I'd frequented. Their 1 pepper was the max for Germanic goyim like me. One of the waiters told me that in his family, the desired spice level would be 12 peppers or more. I agree with kattyeyes that requesting a particular number of stars, peppers, or whatever their menu uses, is a good approach. I'm sure that the spice level is purposely "dumbed down" for non-native clientele because their tolerance IS most often lower and because it's easy to add more heat to the finished dish if the customer asks for it, while a dish refused because it is too spicy is a blow to the restaurant's profit margin.
The problem isn't that there are a lot of Caucasians who can't handle spice. It's that there are a lot of Caucaisans who THINK they can handle spice, order the spiciest thing on the menu, and then send it back because it's "inedible".
There's a thread on the LA forum right now entitled "What's the spiciest (yet still edible) Dish you've had in LA?". Why is the word edible even in there? Obviously it's edible for someone. But by declaring it inedible, it becomes the fault of the restaurant for preparing a bad dish and you're absolved of ordering something too spicy in the first place.
There was a great post on an older thread by Thi N. about things you can do to increase your chances of spicy food:
When in this situation...When I am asked how spicy I would like it. I have a standard reply...
"Go ahead and try to hurt me."
Generally most of the thai places I like can get it close to where I like it and I have one place that knocks it out of the park and I have once had to call mercy (I have a respect for the chili's there). Chinese spicy food is lost on me. I ask for the hottest they have and I am seriously disappointed EVERY time.
I love the pain.
I wonder if a lot of restaurants really go the trouble to implement a policy of racial profiling (i.e. distinct versions of the same menu item). Just ask for what you want, in any language you all understand, and if it's still not spicy enough for you, tell them. They will bring you a bowl of chopped peppers or some hot sauce or cook you another dish (not likely…) But who knows, it may actually already have been the spiciest thing on the menu, cooked the way "they" normally eat it.
There are Caucasian people who can't tolerate spice, or simply don't want every dish to be super-spicy, or who require super fiery hot everything, or who boastfully ask for it but can't actually handle it. There are also non-Caucasian people in all of these categories. Does your waiter really try to second-guess every customer and re-interpret/ignore what they order so everyone gets what they _really_ want as opposed to what they ask for? I think 99% of the time, they just write down the name of the dish you order, pass it on to the people in the kitchen with no commentary, and they cook it.
"There are Caucasian people who can't tolerate spice, or simply don't want every dish to be super-spicy, or who require super fiery hot everything, or who boastfully ask for it but can't actually handle it"
If I were ever to find a dish too spicy after clearly making it known I want it to be extra spicy/the spiciest dish they have, I would have no one to blame but myself...
I think getting the same dish, at the same time as my ethnic friend, and finding (obvious) difference in spice levels shows some profiling....
It shows that there was more spice in one portion than in the other. How do you know it was done intentionally, based on your ethnicities? Did you ask the staff? Maybe they would have been just as surprised as you were.
I'm not saying it can't happen. But if you become hyper-sensitive to it, you will start seeing it everywhere. I guess eventually you will develop a tolerance for this, too.