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Mar 27, 2010 11:15 PM

Spicyness question, whose fault is it

I rarely have a problem with spicyness at restauarants. I always order my food with 0 stars, or "no spice" because I don't like spicy foods. I had lunch this week wth a friend and I ordered my food with 0 stars and she ordered hers with 2 stars. Our dishes looked the same, and we could both see the red pepper in both dishes. I ate some of mine, it was a little too spicy but I could eat it and I didn't wan't to ask to have mine redone. My question is, what do you do if your dish is too spciy? Is it your you faultt that you don't know what the restaurant's 2 star means? Or can you say "I know what 2 stars tastes like and this isn't two stars?" This is mainly just a curiosity question. Like I said, I always order no stars and say no spice and it's always good. Thanks. :)

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  1. This is tough to say since pain tolerance for capsaicin is very subjective. However, working in restaurants allows me to see both sides of the coin to an extent. I usually see the "number of chilis" system as opposed to stars. But these indicators are never very good as far as my opinion is concerned. Even within the same restaurant, the "one chili" dishes can be spicier than the "two or three chili" dishes. However, some people just have zero tolerance for spicy heat. For a friend of mine, even black pepper on something is nearly unbearable. Certain dishes are always going to be spicy because that is the only way they can be properly made, like green curry for example. If there is one chili next to the green curry, you know that it is going to be spicy anyway! I think it is up to the chef/cook to make well balanced dishes, but I believe it is ultimately up to the diner to order something that they know that they will be comfortable with eating if they are very spice sensitive. If a dish isn't traditionally/normally made spicy and it arrives spicy even though you made it known that you couldn't eat spicy foods, then send it back if you aren't happy. You are paying for it, afterall.

    1. That is an excellent question. There are many variable in the spice factor. There is the kind of cuisine, the restaurant and kind of spice: chilis or black pepper. Although I enjoy spicy food, I have been served food that was too hot for me; it made my eyes water and it made me want to choke.
      I also feel there is an issue of control. I occasionally like that searing explosion in my mouth, but I want to be in control. At home before I cook with serranos or jalapenos I test their heat by sampling them. If my mouth is on fire I swig some milk or other dairy product.
      Some times one orders a dish and one has no clue how hot it will be. When ordering in Indian restaurants I dont ask for added heat when they are cooking, although I have been known to request a green chili pepper on the side.
      My mother has no tolerance for spicy foods, and when she places an order she ALWAYS mentions this to the wait staff.

      1. My problem is usually just the opposite: no matter how spicy I request it, the dish will usually be a bit too tame for my palate. The best solution is to become a regular at a restaurant and in time the staff will come to understand accurately your tastes and prepare you food to your specifications. The Indian restaurant I frequent knows where I stand on spice and they always make my stuff off-the-charts hot the way I like it. Also, when I go to a Latin restaurant I always ask if they have any "extra hot" salsa/chile. If they do (and it's usually habanero), this will typically satisfy my heat tooth.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          My sister in Tucson always travels with bags of chiltepin chillies to garnish her food. She is a fire-eater. She also offers them to the staff (the cooking staff in many restaurants, including Asian ones, is often Mexican, even outside the Southwest), who typically express appreciation. It was only 17 months ago that I finally witnessed her eating a dish that was "just hot enough" - a large seething bowl of "wok-steamed beef" with about 1-2 inches of crushed sichuan peppercorns and chillies in oil on top (once dubbed by the intrepid Boston Globe restaurant reviewer Devra First as the "Giant Bowl of Death").

          Meanwhile, I am a supertaster, and a little heat goes much longer with me. I took one piece of velvetized beef from her bowl, rubbed it into a bowl of rice to absorb as much oil as possilbe, then cleaned it further (to get the pepper stuff off) with a paper napkin. It was delicious, but I had to eat many spoonfuls of rice afterwards even then.

          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            I have the same problem. Since I'm white, restaurants assume that when I ask for "Thai hot" or "super spicy" I must be mistaken or confused, so they tone it down. I find this tendency to interpret what I say rather than listen to what I say quite annoying. I went to a Chinese joint where they said they won't make anything on the English menu really spicy. The problem was (a) I specifically asked for it to be really spicy, and (b) they didn't bother to mention this until after I complained about the lack of heat.

            1. re: aynrandgirl

              Heh heh--I know the feeling. A waitress at a Thai resto in Columbia, Missouri responded with, "Are you sure? White people don't usually order it '10'." when I requested one of their dishes prepared at a "10" on the hotness scale.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                Hahahahaha, innocent racism. I'm sure the reason is because people may have bit off more than they could chew in the past and sent back a too-spicy dish! Plus, middle Americans in general probably don't put away as much heat laden ingredients as us West coasters. I wonder....

                1. re: Jemon

                  I don't consider it racism and I wasn't the least bit offended. The waitress was simply behaving in a manner consistent with her past experiences. That said, it is probably best to give the people exactly what they ask for and simply live with the consequences if what they ask for isn't really what they want.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    I have had similar responses when eating out at some of the Indian restaurants in Edison when asking for Vindaloos and Dosa's spicy.
                    The wait staff I have asked have claimed that they have taken quite a bit of dishes back when some non Asian customers can' handle the heat but the good news is that that is becoming less common lately.

              2. re: aynrandgirl

                Yes, I think I know exactly what you're saying. The local Korean place serves Soon Tofu (spicy tofu soup) - and they let you specify the spiciness (mild, medium, hot, very hot, etc.). I always ask for the hottest level, but looking around the restaurant and seeing mostly Korean patrons, I can't help but think that they tone down the spiciness for me since I'm white. I sometimes think I need to walk back into the kitchen and hurl a few insults at the chef before they'll "kick it up a notch" for me.

              3. re: Perilagu Khan

                >>>>My problem is usually just the opposite: no matter how spicy I request it, the dish will usually be a bit too tame for my palate.

                This is usually my dilemma in Chinese and Mexican restaurants. I order hot chili sauce or their hottest salsa on the side, just to be sure.

                However, if a dish is too hot and the diner can't eat it, they shouldn't have to sit there and suffer through it and then pay for it.

                Send it back, Boychucker, although if they are not customer oriented, you may not get it until everyone else is finished, in which case you can bring it home.

                If the food is good, you at least know how to order next time. If they don't accommodate you, don't go back.

                1. re: anonymouse1935

                  Uh, no. If a dish is marked as being spicy and *especially* if the customer has specifically requested that a dish be made spicy, they need to suffer through what they ordered. Unless and until we have the ability to specify dishes by scoville units it'll always be subjective - you gotta deal with what you asked for.

                  Dopes that do what you are describing are the exact reason it can be difficult to get actual spicy food.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    Actually, I almost wrote a similar reply, but I came to think that anonymous1935 was actually referring to the original scenario. One point involves asking for no spice, which she says usually works. The other point involves asking for, say, two stars and not liking that. Then I'd say you're stuck.

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Ah. Yes, if it isn't marked on the menu and the orderer didn't make any special request then sure. Personally I'd rather be able to add, "as long as the customer is being reasonable" - I've seen people fall over dead from a small amount of black pepper, which is also IMO unreasonable.

                      A normal person who doesn't attempt to receive a spicy dish who receives one that a normal person would find spicy should have some room to complain

              4. You haven't specified what kind of restaurant it is, so I'm going to generalize. I love heat, and when we are at That or Chinese places we usually get a couple of dishes with a star or chili rating, and one that does not. Most restaurants that have spicy ratings for dishes often have the "no star" dishes, because they don't come spicy.

                if it was a big deal, I just wouldn't order a "starred" dish, I'd order a dish that's not supposed to be spicy in the first place.

                1. As others have said, some dishes are inherently spicy. Ordering such a dish and not expecting ANY "red pepper" or whatever is on you. The restaurant cannot be expected to completely change their recipes. It is, however, their responsibility to inform customers if certain dishes are spicier than others, thus the star or pepper on the menu. If you don't like spice, don't order anything with those symbols.