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What's up with spice wimps in this town?

As a former Texan who enjoys a little heat in my food, I'm pretty frustrated trying to order spicy cuisine here.

Last night, my partner and I got the Ibiza bocadillo at Meza on Capitol Hill, which comes advertised thusly: "Fresh and spicy like this island in the south of Spain, a sandwich of seared scallops, jalapeños, lettuce, and fresh garlic aioli." Our waiter even warned us that it was spicy and we assured him that we knew and wanted that.

It had no discernible heat! None.

I even picked out one of the alleged jalapeños and ate it separately. Zip. I've gotten more kick from certain sweet peppers. Where on earth do they find capsaicin-free jalapeños?

This has happened to us at a variety of restaurants in Seattle. I routinely order "5 stars" at Indian, Thai and other Asian restaurants (and re-assure them that I really mean it), in order to get heat that would be a 1 or 2-star level in Texas or D.C.

WTF? Who taught all the restaurants that we're a bunch of spice wimps?

And any tips for getting the heat you need in this town?

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  1. Order the Szechuan Crab at Seven Stars Pepper Restaurant in the International District. The perfect blend of heat and flavor to make one of the best seafood dishes in the region. (Their other Szechuan offerings will appeal to you as well.)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Leper

      I was so disappointed with the Szechuan Crab at Seven Stars Pepper....one of the most overrated dishes mentioned on this board! And the other dishes we had there were sloppy-textured and just not fresh.

    2. "Where on earth do they find capsaicin-free jalapeños?"

      Texas A&M, of course :-(. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAM_Mild...

      These bland 'chiles' were developed for the bottled salsa market *cough*Pace*Old El Paso*cough* and have thoroughly infested supermarkets all over the western US.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DiveFan

        Interesting. I sometimes get jalapenos with no spice, while other times I get them that have plenty of spice, at the store. I always try a little piece raw first to see if I'm dealing with the no spice or regular kind before using them. But I just assumed it was something to do with the growing cycle, the way that, say, oranges can be sweet and juicy or dry and not so sweet. I wonder if stores knowingly order these but don't label them spice free for the consumer.

        1. re: DiveFan

          A cynic, I suspect genetic engineering, but time in El Paso, where jalapeno is nearly staple, taught me to expect much varability in jalapeno. We often got lunch at a local truck-stop with a good salad bar (uncommon there). We brought along a newcomer one day, and, when he saw me taking several on my plate, did the same. Not noticing that I had taken a tiny bite and spent a few moments with the experience before proceeding to chomp, big-time, he went straight to the chomping. Poor boy. I fear I ruined his experience of Texas.

        2. In our experience, if you are not asian, you will initially have a hard time getting served really spicy food in Asian restaurants because of one too many experiences with people ordering food, saying they want it spicy and then pitching a fit when it is. That said, when you have been someplace more than once and demonstrated your ability to eat things that are not americanized, try telling the waiter you want it spicy like if a Chinese person would order it or "indian spicy" or what have you. Works pretty well for me. Also helps to be able to say I like it spicy in which ever language.

          That said, if you are driving around in the Stanwood area, there is a restaurant that actually has seriously spicy chicken wings. Its called Leatherheads.

          4 Replies
          1. re: jenn

            I think that's good advice. I've seen that happen, where people order spicy then complain when it's too spicy. I think it happens a lot. I don't have any trouble getting spicy food, but I'm a regular at the Szechuan and Thai places I like. I didn't have to become a regular at Noodle Boat to get truly spicy food there, so if you're desperate, you might try them.

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            Noodle Boat
            700 NW Gilman Blvd Ste E104B, Issaquah, WA 98027

            1. re: jenn

              If you're looking for hot, try Jai Thai in Fremont (http://www.jaithairestaurant.com), which has an 'adventurous' menu that is really awesome...BTW I think their other food is great too. I'm a white guy (grew up in Hawai'i, raised by Texans so I'm all culturally messed up) and was able to get them to serve me the Country Curry Thai Hot. The only person who worked there that said it wasn't quite hot enough to be Thai Hot was the only person actually from Southern Thailand...which is evidently where the really hot food is.

              I do go there frequently, but if you chat them up (and this is a general rule for me when eating any cuisine) about the food before ordering, they'll serve it to you however you'd like it.

              -----
              Jai Thai
              543 NE Northgate Way Ste I, Seattle, WA 98125

              1. re: Thiggy78

                +1 on jai thai.

                +1 on it being incredibly difficult to get truly spicy food here.

                +1 on saying "Thai Hot." You could always ask for a little minced bird chile on the side, maybe in a little condiment dish with some fish sauce.

                1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                  or BYOH(ot). My favorite butcher and hot sauce purveyor sells Tabasco bottles small enough to slip in the breast pocket of your dinner jacket. Or keep a little bottle of hot chile oil in your purse.

            2. I am also a former Texan and I very much agree with you. Spice as in heat is not much up here. In addition, spice as in big, strong, bold flavors is also not favored, such as in reviews. I have found that if a local reviewer says something is too overwhelming, I will probably like it.

              That said, I have not had a problem with non-spicy 5 star Asian food. I do agree that context makes a huge difference. When we order Indian, I can pronounce it all correctly, but my husband can't (over the phone). We get discernably different levels of spice depending on who calls. I do think asking for "Indian spicy" may help.

              Finally, I have definitely noticed that the jalapenos available in the stores over the past year or so are larger and way too mild. We are growing our own peppers now!

              1 Reply
              1. re: cocktailhour

                I, too, have found unreliable the heat levels in fresh jalapenos here. I buy the serranos now...or even the thai chilis for more reliable 'heat' in my cooking.

              2. I think it is the Pacific Northwest personality that you are running into - Scandanavian heritage, mild climate, polite people. These are not the kind of people who are going to serve you a kickass meal. Chill out Tex, savor the moderation!

                2 Replies
                1. re: JohnnyT

                  I'm all for moderation. In fact, I consider myself a spice moderate. I've known some spice freaks who ask for "10 stars" at places that'll really sock it to you and then add more from the condiments section. I'm not one of those people. It just seems that the whole scale has shifted here and the default setting is no heat, even on dishes labeled "spicy."

                  I imagine the true spice freaks just have to raid the pepper section at QFC and cook their own.

                  1. re: jjmccoy

                    Is 'spicy' synonymous with capsicum heat?