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Spicy Etiquette

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This is partly a complaint and a request. First off, I like spicy food and I don't mean a little extra cumin. I mean food that your head sweats, you mop your face, your heart races and the endorphins go wild. I am a chili head.

No matter where I go whether it be Mexican, Asian or Thai I say....."I want it extra, extra, extra hot." "I want it to hurt." What I usually get is a scoville unit of 100.

So, is there a specific etiquette that I don't know about? A secret menu that is only shared with certain ethnic groups? Yes, I am white but I like really spicy food.

Are there any other chili heads out there and how do you navigate through a menu at {insert your restaurant here} to get a meal that brings the heat? I would appreciate any help, idea's or names of establishments you might have that would help me in my quest. :)

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  1. i'm with you - i joke that i have an asbestos palate :) i know ipsedixit is the same way, so hopefully she'll chime in with her thoughts/tips.

    the language barrier in some ethnic places can make it difficult to get your point across. i always look at the menu to see if there's any sort of key or scale for heat, or of they have any extra-spicy dishes marked with an icon. sometimes pointing that out to the server can help.

    for recommendations about specific restaurants & dishes, you should post on your local board.

    9 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      Geez, all this time I've been thinking ipsedixit is a dude (though at times I thought it could have been a she)! You sometimes can't tell online.

      Liveitloud, I totally empathize as I get a rush out of the spice as well. These days I haven't been as insistent with the restaurants as super spice isn't great for my health. But becoming a regular at a place can help. I do remember one instance where I totally regretted asking the chefs to make it super spicy. They took it as a dare and made my Thai dish so hot it was barely inedible. I ended up vomiting on the street later that night. It was spicier than Brick Lane House's phaal curry (which they make with a gas mask).

      1. re: Miss Needle

        He is a prosecutor in LA.
        To the question, I sometimes bring a small bottle of my favorite hot sauce in my pocket for these possibilities. No, it's not cooked in and through, but it helps.

        1. re: Veggo

          Yep. I travel just about everywhere with a Knapsack and in it is small bottles of my home made hot sauce and El Yucateco xxx.
          Again not always applicable to all cuisines but useful for those times when" sending it back "is not an option.

      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Well, I did this once and it worked quite well, and I made a lifelong friend in the process.

        I ask the owner/chef if he (or she) enjoys spicy foods. If the answer is "yes" then I offer to buy him his favorite spicy dish on the menu -- made exactly the way he likes it. My only request as part of this offer is that I get the same exact dish for me.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          ipsedixit, I've been in the business of spicy (Sichuan) food for 18 years and your answer is the finest I've ever gotten to this conundrum.

          Yes, it's all about the chef. What a wonderful idea.

          I'll also take a moment to give a ++ to the folks who bring their own spice amalgam/hot sauce, too!

          For the OP:

          If sweaty-forehead, endorphine-driving spice is what it's all about for you, try asking your local Chinese restaurant (with a Sichuan or Hunan chef) to make these:

          重慶辣子雞 Dry sauteed chicken with chili peppers. This is an insanely simple, insanely hot combination of quick-cooked chicken in a dry rub, surrounded by nothing but Chinese celery and mounds of sauteed dry peppers. We just eat the chicken and leave the peppers but you may, as some of my customers do, want to put the peppers on your rice and eat them, too.

          干燒牛筋 again, "dry sauteed" -- but beef tendon in a saucy casserole-style dish. The spice plays so well off of the mellow, long-cooked beef tendon it's amazing.

          水煮牛肉 "water-cooked" beef sounds innocuous (sp?) but if you *implore* them to use lots of "la jiao feng" (spicy pepper powder) it'll be right up there. And the way they make their red-hot oil is the key to this dish. It's gotta be their own; if they admit they use a prepared red-hot oil then their cuisine's not going to be hot enough.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            ipsedixit, what a great idea -- will certainly try it.

            Quite some years ago, I was back in my home town -- a city not exactly at the forefront of adventurous eating -- when Szechwan food first arrived via a very small, low-key restaurant. Initial visit: ordered something marked "hot"; said I that would really, truly like to have it hot; chef said that I probably wouldn't like it, but compromised on "somewhat hot this time, and if that's OK, next time I will fry you." Dinner was fine but bland. Next time, as agreed, he turned up the heat. It was delicious (though not really all that fiery) & I was eating away happily when the excessively entitled couple next to me decided that they weren't getting enough attention, & the woman actually demanded a taste of my dish to see what someone else had that she didn't. Erm, well, OK ... I did warn her that it was hot but oh no, she insisted. And 30 seconds later I warned her to cool her mouth off with rice, not glasses of water; she didn't listen that time either. Once she got her breath back, though, she did scream at me as if I'd tried to poison her. If that's what even modest Scoville levels cause, no wonder restaurant owners are reluctant to take the risk.

            Ordering things that are still in the shell or on the bone -- or in small family restaurants, just asking the waiter for a spicy fish (or whatever critter you prefer) dish -- seems to help. (The drawback is that , for example, I still do not know the name of a wonderful Korean fish stew I used to get, & the restaurant that served it is gone, so I may never be able to re-create it.)

            As for South Asian food, see luckyfatima's post. My previous husband was Pakistani but preferred his food only moderately spicy. My mother-in-law & I liked serious heat, so we added chopped green chiles to our portions or just ate them whole. You can ask for fresh green chiles on the side at restaurants.

            And for the chileheads yet to come (as well as for yourself if you plan to come back), when you do get your food hot enough, thank the folks at the restaurant profusely. Don't know if you really catch more flies with honey, but you can sure catch more fire that way.

            1. re: mshenna

              mshenna -- I think the Korean fish stew you are referring to is called maeuntang. Lots of recipes online for it!

              1. re: link_930

                Thank you! (Late reply but haven't been on the boards lately.) Off to search.

              2. re: mshenna

                i'm trying to think what else the woman next to you could have done to be even more rude than she was- and I can't think of much. I would have told her something that's unprintable here.

          2. The following methods have been occasionally sucessful:

            "I want it the way you make it in your country. I want it too hot for an Anerican to eat."

            Return to same restaurant: "I asked for ... yada yada ... last time and it wasn't hot enough. PLEASE make it the way you make it in your country. I want it too hot for an Anerican to eat."

            Rinse, repeat, etc.

            Subtle method: Ask for some esoteric ethnic dish not listed on the menu. If they have it, they will know you are for real. In Chinese restaurants, I refuse to allow a fork on the table, and ask if the spicey whatever will be hot enough.

            No method will work in a restaurant that is less than 50% non-English-speaking ethnic patronage, unless it has only been open a few days and hasn't figured out that the average American is a spice woos.

            1. Because of perception that "foreigners" don't really really like spicy food. What you need to do is establish a relationship with your favorite restaurant. Once they get to know you and your taste, they'll get over that perception.

              1. I think this is regional. I've never been able to get authentically spiced food in SF, but can get it here in Indiana. Go figure.

                7 Replies
                1. re: pikawicca

                  are these restaurant in Indiana the real-deal (e.g. non-English-speaking staff, mostly non-English-speaking customers) ethnic places? the only reason i ask is that one of the only spots here in San Diego where i actually got them to serve me blow-your-head-off spice on the first attempt is a less-than-authentic Thai place in La Jolla.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    We have one Thai and one Indian that will definitely blow your head off. Both are staffed/owned by Thais and Indians, but so are the places in SF that I lament about. Is there anyone out there who has ever had seriously spicy food in SF?

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      Have you been to Lahore Karahi or Shalimar? I would assume their food is reasonably spicy & perhaps would up the ante if asked. I remember the first time we got take out from Naan 'n Curry...opened the take out container, looked at the pool of oil & upon taking a bite, I quipped to my family "everyone pop a zantac" : )

                      1. re: ceekskat

                        Is Nihari a good Indo-Paki dish for heat? This a long cooked beef or mutton stew using tough cuts like the shank. I've only seen it a couple of times on menus, once at 'kabab house' in Seattle, the other a suburban LA place. Both times it was pushing my heat tolerance.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I had nihari for the first time last year at the highly touted Sabri Nihari on Devon ave. in Chicago & was underwhelmed. I don't recall it being too spicy & in fact was surprised. I have seen it on menus locally but have yet to order...rest of family are not fans (perhaps if there were a mutton version, only seen beef). BTW, just looked at a local menu & it does say "a very spicy dish".

                          http://pakistaniat.com/2008/07/21/pak...

                      2. re: pikawicca

                        The people at Hunan on Sansome are generally pretty responsive when you ask for extra hot.

                      3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        what's the place called, if you don't mind me asking? I'm always on the lookout for super spicy, but well flavored Thai food in SD.

                    2. what does cumin have to do with spicy????

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: celeryroot

                        If you grew up in Arizona and your favorite relatives lived in a small town in southeastern Illinois you'd understand. The one town I'm talking about doesn't take kindly to anything besides salt and pepper, and sometimes onion.

                        1. re: celeryroot

                          Quote: what does cumin have to do with spicy????

                          Absolutely nothing which is my point haha.

                          I am amazed what people try to pass off as spicy/hot. Thanks to everyone for the posts. I usually look for those little hot peppers they put next to their menu items. I'll find the one with 4 and tell them I want 10. Sadly, hasn't worked out too well. I have gotten to the point where I asked for 10 peppers and then ask for chili oil on the side.

                          Being from Texas you would think that the Mexican food would bring it, but I found through most of my Hispanic friends they can't even eat things as hot as I like it.

                          I will certainly take all of the good advice you all have given and see what I can do . It gets a bit old carrying around a bottle of Dave's Insanity into a restaurant and usually gets odd looks from waitstaff but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

                          About the only thing I have found that comes close are the nuclear wings at one of the wing places here in town but I'm not much on fried food.

                          1. re: Liveitloud

                            I don't anyone would look at you funny if you added Dave's Insanity to your Big Mac.

                            Besides the heat, which you don't seem to be getting, what do you like about these ethnic foods?

                            I wonder if would help to show knowledge about the various dishes, knowledge that goes beyond 'I want it hot'.

                            Yesterday on the FN Chefs v City Portland episode, the teams drew cards at a Szechwan restaurant to determine which dish they had to eat. One team got 'cumin beef', the mildest selection. The other got 'spicy pigs ears', one of hotest, and chewiest choices. That kind of dish was much better split among 6 than eaten as an endurance event (man v food style).

                            My guess is that the heat level of exotic will be more authentic. You aren't going to get hot fried rice, no matter how many peppers you specify. But you could get hot mapo dofu.

                            1. re: Liveitloud

                              i have an uncle who thinks dill is to spicy,go figure

                              1. re: Liveitloud

                                CUMIN IS A SPICE!...AND EVEN THOUGH IT DOESN'T HAVE 100K SCOVILLE UNITS OF HEAT...IT IS STILL A SPICE...AND THE FLAVOR OF THAT SPICE IS PART OF THE OVERALL FLAVOR OF THE DISH!
                                So, there is a difference between authentic and just plain hot as hell...personally, I want authentic! IF YOU JUST WANT HEAT...ASK THEM FOR THEIR HOT SAUCE!
                                ALSO, MOST CHINESE AND MEXICAN FOOD IS FRIED!

                                1. re: AG4JAZZ

                                  Ok. Deep breaths. Please stop yelling. And that last sentence doesn't make any sense.

                                  1. re: AG4JAZZ

                                    You're right, you're right, now calm down. ;-)

                              2. I know a guy--an American round-eye--who has a card in his wallet that's written in Thai. It says something to the effect of "I would like you to make my food very, very HOT. Please don't tone it down because you think I don't know what I'm asking for--I do. Thank you." He says it's finally persuaded the folks at most of the Thai restaurants he's tried it on to give him the real deal!

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: MsMaryMc

                                  Now that's a good idea Mary!

                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                    In the early days of Chowhound, founder Jim Leff prepared a wallet-sized card - which I still carry! - that had the phrase, "Please bring me the serious, authentic food...not the tourist stuff!" in eight languages, including Thai, Chinese, and Korean. It was available through the site up to maybe 2005 or so. Maybe we should ask them to bring it back?

                                    1. re: BobB

                                      I'd LOVE to have one of those. Post on site talk?

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        The Chowhound Passport....included Spanish, Filipino, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Japanese; the Chinese version read "I have a foreign face but a Chinese stomach"...

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          I want.

                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            +1!

                                          2. re: Karl S

                                            Cool! I always wondered how literal the translations were - the only one I can read is Spanish, and it's pretty much word for word.

                                    2. My DH used to go with asian work friends to their favorite restos in for lunch. He'd ask for asian hot, the servers would look at the friends who would nod and indicate that he knew what he was asking for. He loved going with them, because it was the only time he could get his food "hot enough." Any other time it's just American hot, which is never enough for him. :(

                                      1. How did you know this happened to us last night? We took our youngest, a U. Maine student, out to dinner to a local college place, The Thai Lotus and when the waitress asked how hot, on a scale of 1-5, I answered, 10, please make it really hot, we are all fire eaters. Barely a sniffle. We went through 3 bowls of chile paste. Sigh.

                                        1. I would reiterate the importance of becoming a "regular" at a resto or two. If they know you, they'll come to know your tastes.

                                          I would also encourage making direct eye contact with your waiter or waitress when asking for the heat, using a forceful tone of voice and even using your hands to stress the high level of heat you want.

                                          1. Do you have a realistic idea of how hot the true ethnic food is?

                                            Much of the heat in Mexican cooking is in the salsas and accompaniments, not the dish itself.

                                            The amount of heat in Chinese varies wildly with the area. Cantonese next to none, Szechwan a lot.

                                            Some Indian dishes are hot, some not.

                                            9 Replies
                                            1. re: paulj

                                              I have a pretty fair grasp on heat verses region. I go with a lot of Szechwan because I know it tends to have more heat. But, I don't want heat at the expense of flavor if that makes sense. If it was just all about the heat I could sit at the house and pour hot sauce on crackers. :)

                                              Yesterday for instance, I ordered the fish taco's at Uncle Julio's. Food came and it was good. The salsa however was a huge disappointment. They went so far as to actually char roast the tomato but the salsa had zero kick. It was like tomato and cilantro.

                                              Maybe my expectations are a bit unreasonable. My girlfriend (who thinks too much black pepper is spicy) says that my palate is so over the top that I can't gauge what is hot.

                                              My approach to picking almost anything I eat is to try to eat healthy. I like a lot of Asian cuisine for just that reason. I always go with stir fry over deep batter fried and am always looking for the healthiest alternative on any menu.

                                              Sorry for the ramble I just really enjoy this subject! I really appreciate everyone who have chimed in!

                                              1. re: Liveitloud

                                                my DH is the same way - his palate is incredible for heat tolerance! I say his tongue is made of asbestos! On the other hand, if something is on the menu and is labeled HOT, HOT, HOT... you chili heads should be able to get something that tastes hot! (current problem with our local - we go all the time and they still don't get the need for heat)

                                                1. re: Liveitloud

                                                  Your expectations are certainly not unreasonable.

                                                  Also, any Sichuan place worth it's salt (pardon the pun) is going to have the Sichuan "la-jiao" or "ma-la jiang" peppercorns, which have a distinctive flavor but aren't that hot. Then, they'll have one or two cayenne-based powdered spices, and finally the ubiquitous chili paste (both "raw" and also burnt with garlic added). They'll also have red-hot oil, made properly by placing the burnt bits from sauteeing whole chilis in some soy oil and letting it sit for a few months...

                                                  There's plenty of flavor action in spices; folks that cannot tolerate a high Scoville level won't be able to appreciate the difference, however, 'cause they'll be overwhelmed by the spice.

                                                  1. re: Liveitloud

                                                    Doesn't Uncle Julio's have salsa bar? In the taquerias around Seattle, salsa bars have the whole range of heat levels, from the mild pico (coarse cut) and pickled carrots to smooth and hot green and red ones.

                                                    1. re: Liveitloud

                                                      "I have a pretty fair grasp on heat verses region. I go with a lot of Szechwan because I know it tends to have more heat..."

                                                      Then one approach is to say "I've been to _(city)_ and I'd like __(dish)__ the way I had it in __(same city)__" or "I know __(city)__, I'd like the food of ___(city)___" or "I once had __(dish)__ like they make it in __(city)__. Do you make it like that here?"

                                                      E.g. at a Szechuan restaurant

                                                      "I have a friend from Luzhou who made me ma po dofu and something else I can't pronounce, using his mother's recipe. Do you make food like that here?"

                                                      Tyler Cowen suggested this approach in his pop-economics book. It often works.

                                                      1. re: Liveitloud

                                                        Liveitloud ,
                                                        It's not uncommon for mexican fish taco to have "pico de gallo". Which typically has very little heat.
                                                        And yes, pico de gallo with very little heat IS authentic mexican cusine, straight from MEXICO.
                                                        It's basically chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, lime juice. SOMEtmes a little chili.

                                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pico_de_...

                                                      2. re: paulj

                                                        Yes I was thinking the same thing. For example, Indian restaurants, especially those that cater to a multi-ethnic regular clientele (as opposed to mostly Indian) do tend to serve food with very little chile heat and it is wise for non-Indians to specify that they want it spicy there. But it isn't like all Indian food is necessarily head sweat, face-mop chile hot. Some people like it that way, others don't. The food would be too hot for people who don't usually eat chiles and can't tolerate heat. A resto catering to a mostly Indian clientele would be making hot food. But for chileheads, it would probably be medium spicy to high-medium. People who wanted burn would bite into fresh chiles, pickled green chiles, or eat bites of types of chile chutneys while they eat. So it isn't like they hide the chiles when they see the non-Indian customers come in. They just don't cook their own food that excruciatingly hot for themselves. Actually, many people would consider food that hot to be over-seasoned. If you do want it extra hot and servers haven't understood that or have chosen to not believe that, this is a different story altogether. But it isn't correct to assume that all "ethnic" food is fire-cracker spicy and that the servers are duping you with milder food.

                                                        1. re: luckyfatima

                                                          Also, I think it depends on the dish ordered. A pork vindaloo could be made spicy without affecting the overall dish, but a dish like navratan korma, for example, is not meant to be spicy. I think the dish ordered should be taken into consideration as well.

                                                          1. re: luckyfatima

                                                            +1

                                                        2. My sister lives in Tucson. She gets multi-pound bags of chiltepin chillies at a time, and always carries around a bag in her handbag to season food.

                                                          Often, she offers to share with restaurant staff. She makes it clear visually she likes a lot of heat. Here's a link to a story about her that will drive the point home:

                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5883...

                                                          Anyway, the real point is, her method is very practical and it works.

                                                          1. Some like it hot, and I'm one of them, and it is rare that I can get a dish as hot as I want it. I will look earnestly at my server and say, "Make it the way you eat it." Usually, they get a weird look on their faces -- like, "Lady, you're out of your mind," and rarely does it result in a truly spicy dish. My son, who also likes spicy food, has taken to doing the same thing, with no real idea of what the consequences would be if they actually listen to him. One day, we did get the food the way we asked for it, and the expression on his face was priceless. Now, he doesn't follow me down that particular rabbit hole, and usually asks for his dish to be like mine, but not quite as spicy. Most of the time it makes no difference what so ever...

                                                            1. I feel your (lack of) pain!

                                                              Taking your own spicy additives into restaurants may seem a little odd but if it means you'll enjoy the food more then I say go for it. Plus, as others have mentioned, if you get talking to the staff and become a regular you'll be far more likely to get the dish prepared just how you like it.

                                                              Good luck!

                                                              Nick

                                                              1. Try a bit of reverse psychology.

                                                                Take this example. Let's say you are in a Thai mom-and-pop restaurant.

                                                                Strike up a conversation with the owner, or manager.

                                                                Say something along the lines of "I really enjoy spicy cuisine. In may country [or where I come from] we make the spiciest foods on earth. The problem I have with Thai cuisine is that it just isn't spicy at all, very bland food. Totally nothing like the food of my country [or where I come from]."

                                                                This will no doubt get the ire of the owner/manager, and if they've got any self-respect, they'll take the bait and serve you the house's mostest spiciest, mouth-numbing dish it can muster.

                                                                12 Replies
                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  Heh heh. Very clever, ipse.

                                                                  PS--I don't bring peppers or sauce to a resto because adding them to a dish after the fact sort of destroys the integrity of the dish, IMO. Also, the pepper/sauce may not be appropriate to the dish. If a dish is too mild for my palate, I just lump it.

                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                    Yeah, bringing your own flame throwing condiment sort of defeats the purpose. LIke you say, it totally compromises the integrity of the dish. Probably be better off staying home and just taking shots of the condiment straight up.

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      I don't see why chillies are necessarily different from salt, black pepper, mustard, et cet. We are talking about dishes that are, typically in this context, lacking integrity because of the fear of customer ire, after all, not replications of minutely crafted imperial/royal cuisine of Beijing, Istanbul or Paris but are more closely related to domestic, food stall and street food. I don't care for mustard on my hot dogs (there, I said it) but I would hate for someone to imagine that mustard ruins their integrity. My sister's weapon of choice - chiltepin chillies - are the ur chilli (and yes I get that Sichuan peppers are *not* chillies, but the dishes she eats all have chillies too).

                                                                      Mind you, I don't have a dog in this, since I am a supertaster and anything above a pepperoni-level of heat (a good dry pepperoni) means I can't taste anything else. Not a fireeater at all, not interested in becoming one, and generally am really tired of the testerone-fueled competition schtick among fireeaters to sweat each other out, as it were.

                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                        Yes, the dish may be lacking the requisite "fire" out of deference for the customer's (supposed) sensitive palate, but to add just any hot sauce to a dish hoping to capture the quiddity of the dish is myopically short-sighted.

                                                                        Most, if not all, truly delicious spicy dishes are not just spicy -- i.e., a flat monochrome taste sensation of heat. Rather, there is balance and a depth of flavor to the "heat" of the dish -- or, at least there should be. That balance and depth cannot be recaptured by a whimsical and haphazard addition of hot sauce. Because at some point all you'll be tasting is that hot sauce.

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                          But I wasn't talking about hot sauce at all, just to clarify. And a lot of these dishes are not refined balances but fairly coarse things, as cuisines go.

                                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                                            On the other hand, a great many Indian curries and SE Asian dishes are delicate and complex mosaics of flavor. I would not want to alter one of these minor marvels by heaping on the chiletepin shake at the least moment. But to each her own. If that's what works for your sister, good for her.

                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                              Understood. My sister doesn't do delicate mosaics of flavor, for reasons I won't get into here. (She's not interested in Indian food, for that matter.) And she's hardly alone in that regard.

                                                                            2. re: Karl S

                                                                              "But I wasn't talking about hot sauce at all, just to clarify. And a lot of these dishes are not refined balances but fairly coarse things, as cuisines go."

                                                                              ____________________________________

                                                                              Karl S,

                                                                              Fair enough. But if these dishes are not refined, then I'm not really interested in them -- be they authentically hot or not.

                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                Ah, so I guess you don't go for authentic Chinese fare where the patrons are spitting out the bones and such....

                                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                                  Ah, so I guess you don't go for authentic Chinese fare where the patrons are spitting out the bones and such....

                                                                                  ________________________________________________

                                                                                  Being dexterous with your teeth and being Scoville-ly adept with your tongue are different.

                                                                          2. re: Karl S

                                                                            I don't think reduction of capcaicin during cooking alters the structure of lamb vindaloo anywhere near as dramatically as dousing the stuff with Da Bomb after the fact would. I would also add that I'm no great fan of heavily seasoning dishes with salt and pepper at the table. Would much rather incorporate salt and pepper into the cooking process, for textural reasons if nothing else.

                                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                                              "generally am really tired of the testerone-fueled competition schtick among fireeaters to sweat each other out, as it were."
                                                                              ~~~~~~~~~
                                                                              well, for some of us it's not about that. i'm not out to impress anyone or compete - i don't care if someone can tolerate a greater heat level than i can. for me, it's about a mutual understanding between like-minded (like-mouthed? like-palated?) individuals. i certainly don't think less of people like yourself who prefer milder food - it's your choice, just as five-alarm heat is mine. but i have found that people who don't love spice the way i do tend not to "get" why i enjoy it, so i particularly appreciate the opportunity to share with others who "get" the appeal.

                                                                      2. My husband is from India, and still has a pretty thick accent.
                                                                        A few months after we started dating, we noted that whenever I placed a phone order for "medium spicy" takeout food at our favorite Indian restaurant, it would come bland.

                                                                        When HE placed the order for "medium spicy," it came perfectly hot (for our tastebuds).

                                                                        I realized there are two "spicy" levels -- Indian-accent "spicy" and American-accent "spicy." Our solution is that he does all the ordering from now on.

                                                                        Of course, this isn't a good solution if you don't have an Indian spouse :)

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: anakalia

                                                                          Guess I better start working on my accents then. :)

                                                                          1. re: anakalia

                                                                            At the Thai restaurants around here, it's pretty ubiquitous to have the menus describe both American spicy and Thai spicy scales available. Ask for Thai hot, and the'll generally shrug, remind you that there's no refund if the dish is too much for you, and pour on the heat to the nth level.

                                                                          2. I used to have a thai friend, who unfortunately moved away. we would go for thai and he would order while i waited outside. then i would come in after the food was prepared.

                                                                            28 Replies
                                                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                              Shaogo Thanks a lot for the menu items. I will give them a try. Seems to me that the reoccurring theme here is culture verses heat if I am reading correctly. In an effort to appease the masses and satiate or dumb down for the American palate, the food is made because culturally they think we do not or cannot take the spice/heat.

                                                                              I guess that makes sense to a degree. I have always heard that a lot of Asian restaurants and Mexican (authentic not tex-mex) have 2 menu's. One for us and one for {insert your ethnicity here}

                                                                              You all have given me some thing to think about and try to apply and I appreciate it. I am really enjoying this conversation. :)

                                                                              1. re: Liveitloud

                                                                                You're spot on about the two-menu concept. Any Chinese restaurant, for example, worth it's salt is going to have a specials menu, typically in all-Chinese but some places in larger cities actually do a rough translation.

                                                                                Upon entering the restaurant look at where the hostess/host takes the menus from. There may or may not be a stack of the "real" menu next to or underneath the one they give the rest of us. They'll be delighted to give you one but you've gotta ask, or, in a pinch, just grab one and ask permission to order off of it.

                                                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                                                  Though many Chowhounds attest that they are often refused the "authentic" menu, with words like "you will not like this" et cet. Part of me perceives this as a cultural difference: for a Chinese host to serve something to a guest to which a guest openly objects is a truly horrible thought for him - Americans don't play the part of the well-mannered Chinese guest - so the host is determined to reduce the chances of this happening. I realize there are bi-cultural people on both sides at times, but if there are not, then you have this obstacle.

                                                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                                                    Starting to feel like I need a decoder ring or secret handshake. :) All kidding aside, I will try getting my hands on one of those guarded menu's. Perhaps that might be just the ticket.

                                                                                    1. re: Liveitloud

                                                                                      Well, if you are interested in a video of how the water-cooked (or "wok-steamed") beef is made, here's a fascinating video:

                                                                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko6cxi...

                                                                                      To bad you can't just show this to a server as a decoding device!

                                                                                      1. re: Liveitloud

                                                                                        15yrs ago or so, a friend of mine and I would go to this little Vietnamese restaurant across the street from our office at least 3 times a week. All family run with the "old man" the obvious boss.
                                                                                        In addition to their ethic dishes, which we loved, they also served things like sandwiches and burgers.... also great. It was so varied we could eat there often and still never get tired of it... anyway...

                                                                                        We got the 2nd menu for the first time one day. It was just a typed 8 1/2 x 11 sheet in clear plastic. As I scanned it, there was one dish who's name seemed to go across the entire page. I asked "How do I pronounce this?" pointing it... with a glint in the old man's eye he looked at me and said
                                                                                        "Number Eleven".

                                                                                        Still have no idea what it was, but I know everything I got off that 2nd menu was fantastic.

                                                                                        AzD

                                                                                        1. re: ArizonaDave

                                                                                          Love the Number 11!!! That sounds like a restaurant of my dreams. "You can get anything you want at Alice's I mean the Vietnamese restaurant!"

                                                                                          1. re: buttertart

                                                                                            reminds of the joke of the old chinese couple. it's their 50th anniversary and the wife asks if the husband wants to try anything special and different in bed for their anniversary. The husband says he always wanted to try 69 in bed.
                                                                                            the wife says "you want mu shu pork in bed?"

                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                              #69 is beef and broccoli.

                                                                                              1. re: Duppie

                                                                                                I confess, the beef and broccoli euphemism is new to me.

                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                  The way I originally heard the joke was that #69 was beef and broccoli because just about every Chinese restaurant's take out menu on 2'nd Avenue in NYC had that dish as #69.
                                                                                                  Dumb I know but it just came back to me when Thew brought it up..

                                                                                                2. re: Duppie

                                                                                                  mu shu pork is a much funnier punch line

                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                    No argument there.

                                                                                                  2. re: Duppie

                                                                                                    Jackie Martling Joke

                                                                                                    1. re: pikiliz

                                                                                                      Who? I always thought it was a regional joke considering that just about every Chinese Restaurant on 2'nd Ave between 59'th and 14'th streets had "Wok" in their names back in the day and had beef with broccoli as selection #69 on the takeout menus. Who knew?

                                                                                        2. re: shaogo

                                                                                          Well, these days it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a Chinese resto that is not a bloody super buffet. I do miss the days when the modest mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants (with or without the two-menu system) were the rule.

                                                                                          1. re: shaogo

                                                                                            Some years ago a linguistics prof at Univ. of Chicago wrote a little book titled (something like) 'A diners guide to Chinese characters'. It was supposed to help you read the Chinese menu whether printed or hanging on the wall. At their annual meetings, the Chicago Linguistics Society distributed his guide to Chicago restaurants.

                                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                                              I own this, but haven't read it yet (haven't had time, always forget, etc). My understanding though is that it is using the older characters vs the more common simplified characters.

                                                                                              1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                Traditional and simplified characters are both in use (traditional in Taiwan, simplified in the PRC and HK, so yes they are more common). I have to say that I found "The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters" a bit hard going even though I studied Chinese all through university, lived in Taiwan and travel in the PRC (and read menus w/o a problem). A new and more user-friendly trot to menu Chinese would be a boon to western civilization.

                                                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                  That review certainly doesn't make me all that much more ambitious about reading it :)

                                                                                                  1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                    I hate to discourage you, give it a whirl if you're interested, but don't expect to be able to read easily immediately. Chinese isn't nearly as hard as it's cracked up to be - the grammar is very easy - but character recognition takes memorization (and a number of the menu characters are low-frequency in the language as a whole). If you have the time a beginning course in Chinese would be a great way to start (I started learning it in an extension course at Cal).

                                                                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                      Oh no worries, I was joking. The difficulty of chinese was why it promptly went on my bookshelf and never came back off of it ... seemed like a good idea at the time though. My intention was to just try to learn to pattern match well enough to get beyond translation differences between menus - however two things happened before I got around to reading it: 1) I got better at reading through the translations and more importantly 2) I started learning some characters and realized that without memorizing the whole damn pattern for a dish it wasn't going to help me much :)

                                                                                                2. re: jgg13

                                                                                                  "My understanding though is that it is using the older characters vs the more common simplified characters."

                                                                                                  __________________________________________

                                                                                                  jgg13,

                                                                                                  Careful there. There are many Chinese ex-pats from the mainland living abroad who would consider them to be fighting words.

                                                                                                  The simplfied characters are not necessarily "more common"; rather, they are simply "in use" in China. And the traditional characters are not "older" but rather just traditional (and depending on which side of the political lines you fall on, the traditional characters are the "right" way to write Chinese).

                                                                                                  I took a gander at this book and found it sort of awkward because many of the menu descriptions are not really accurate descriptions -- some are sort of outdated, some are just odd. Still, it seems like quite a tome to have put together.

                                                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                    This Memoriam page from the U Chicago Linguistics Dept gives some insight into the the Dr Mccawley
                                                                                                    http://linguistics.uchicago.edu/peopl...
                                                                                                    Comments about half way down by Jeff Harlig, focus on his cooking and dining knowledge. I particularly like this bit about visiting an Indian restaurant near San Diego:

                                                                                                    "Jim was once a visiting fellow in India. True to form, he had studied Hindi in preparation for his trip (and while there, I assume). When we entered the restaurant in La Jolla, a vacuous blond (female) came to take our order. Jim proudly produced his list of exotic specialties, written in Hindi. The waitress looked perplexed. Jim said, "Take it to the chef. He'll understand." At this she looked even more perplexed. We followed her gaze to the pass-through from the kitchen to see another vacuous blond (male) contentedly preparing the evening's dishes. Jim was crestfallen, we were stunned, and dinner, by the way, was not particularly good. "

                                                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                      Simplified characters have their roots in handwritten cursive traditional characters as I understand it. And codified they are certainly newer than the traditional ones ,which were standardized in the Qin in the 3rd century BCE, the simplified being instituted after 1949. "Common" in jgg13's post (and as used in mine) I take not to have been intended to have any pejorative meaning, simplified characters being used by a billion plus people in the PRC and traditional ones by 26 million or so people in Taiwan. Common as opposed to rare, not common as opposed to refined.

                                                                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                        I didn't take the post to be perjorative (nor was I trying to suggest that it was necessarily).

                                                                                                        I was just trying to point out how sensitive and touchy a subject this can be for some people.

                                                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                          Very true. With the high-stakes politics involved it's hardly a wonder.

                                                                                              2. re: Liveitloud

                                                                                                the thing si it doesn't only happen here. in thailand, for example, i found it very difficult to get a dish as spicy as i wanted, because they just presume i dont know what im talking about.

                                                                                            2. I've always thought that people get "spicy" and "hot" mixed up. A dish can be spicy without being hot or hot without being spicy. I have a pretty high heat tolerance but admittedly don't understand how people can eat something so mouth-numbingly hot that's all that can be tasted. When I think "spicy" I think "something spiced." I'd rather eat a dish that has a nice mosaic of flavor than something guaranteed to flame my anus the next day that tastes only of heat. Sichuan cooking (which I've had at proper Sichuan heat levels as dictated by a friend of mine who hails from that province) is a good example of judiciously used heat but with great flavor.

                                                                                              16 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: MandalayVA

                                                                                                If it doesn't hurt twice, I want half of my money back. ;)

                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                  Ah, the Masochism Two-Step! :D

                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                    There is a simular concept in the Jamaica called "Twice burn pepper". If it don't burn you twice it's not hot enough.

                                                                                                    1. re: Duppie

                                                                                                      Don't suppose that pepper is the duppie, i.e. ghost pepper? ;)

                                                                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                        You have "Outed me" Yes, a Duppie is a ghost or Blythe spirit in old West Indies.
                                                                                                        No. I speak of the the Scotch Bonnet that is abundant in and around South Florida and the Carribean.

                                                                                                        1. re: Duppie

                                                                                                          The Scotch Bonnet is a fine pepper. In fact, I recently made some chili and dosed it up with a healthy dollop of Scotch Bonnet powder, and it was excellent. The Scotch Bonnet contributed a nice, fruity flavor and a great deal of heat.

                                                                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                            I absolutely love Scotch Bonnets for their fruity flavor, and they are a pretty good source of heat.

                                                                                                  2. re: MandalayVA

                                                                                                    If you want to play that game, "hot" can also refer to the temperature.

                                                                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                      The Spanish term for chile hot is 'picante', which I think derives from 'picar', to bite or sting.

                                                                                                      It might help in a Mexican place to ask for something 'muy picante'.

                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                        Or "Muy picante! Tan picante como te gusta!"

                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                          There's a basic cultural difference at play here...with spicy food, we Anglos have the sensation that our tongue and mouth are being BURNED, so we use terms like "hot" and "flaming" and "heat." But Mexicans (I can only speak for México, where we live, not for all of Latin America), the same sensation caused by spicy food is similar to that of a bee sting or an insect bite. So Mexicans, referring to spicy food, use a word that comes from the verb "picar," to bite or sting...they will say things like "Esta salsa no pica" (this sauce is not spicy; literal translation would be "this sauce doesn't sting"). In both English and Spanish, the word is "picante," which is definitely a derivative from the verb "picar." If you tell a native Mexican waitstaff that you want your food "hot," you can expect it to come to the table steaming and untouchable. In Spanish, "caliente" refers to temperature, not to spiciness. So don't ask for your food "muy caliente" unless you want to burn your fingers on the plate. Having lived and worked throughout México for the past ten years, I can tell you that most of the food is not picante...but they always serve a variety of salsas (sauces) that people can add to taste. One more thing...the word in Spanish is "chile" (pronounced "chee´-lay"), NOT "chili" and not pronounced "chilly." And it covers virtually everything from the tiny chiltepín to the jalapeño (NOT pronounced "hal-uh-peén-yo"), and the larger chile poblano and chile de arbol. Mexicans have been eating chile for centuries, but they really don't have any dish that's similar to "chili con carne." When Mexicans find the food overly spicy and they feel they've been "bitten" (eyes start watering and they choke a bit), they're likely to say "Me enchilé," which means..."I just got stung by the spiciness of the food."

                                                                                                          1. re: davymex

                                                                                                            Here in West Texas the local Hispanics also call salsa "chile."

                                                                                                            1. re: davymex

                                                                                                              There's a different sort of communications issue with South Asians. If you ask a South Asian (at least one less familiar with Americans) to make something less spicy, they'll reduce ALL the spices (including turmeric, onion, etc).

                                                                                                              1. re: davymex

                                                                                                                I was thinking the same thing. When I'm at Mexican restaurants where Spanish is the primary language and the issue of spice comes up, it's always something to the effect of,

                                                                                                                "¿La salsa, quiere que pique o que no pique?"

                                                                                                                One place that I like has notes by certain menu items like, "¡Pídalo picosa!"

                                                                                                                I always use "picosa" instead of the more-familiar-to-English-speakers "picante". In general though, Mexican places that cater to recent immigrants are the best about giving you what everyone else gets.

                                                                                                                1. re: davymex

                                                                                                                  Very helpful post - thank you!

                                                                                                                  AzD

                                                                                                              2. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                True.

                                                                                                            2. I am completely in the same position as you. I ask for things extra spicy, but the combination of being female and white does not help in me actually getting spicy food, then when you ask for hot sauce, you get maybe something mild. Any advice would be great.

                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Rachael5000

                                                                                                                Maybe they think a lady should only glow, not sweat. :)

                                                                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                  I think they should glisten. :)

                                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                    a lady who is a good glistener is better than one who only gtalks

                                                                                                              2. well tonight i had some seriously head sweating lip swelling thai noodles here in NYC. yay

                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                  What was the name of the dish? Was it just Thai Noodles?

                                                                                                                  1. re: Liveitloud

                                                                                                                    kea moa

                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                      Around here they call that dish Pad Ki Mow (or Pad Kee Mow). Nice heat but I'm not a big fan of Thai basil. Or Italian basil for that matter.

                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                        I love Thai food and the owners know how hot we like it. My husband has the sriracha sauce cooked in with his pad thai. Gives a whole new taste to the rice. Our Chinese take out got the message when we told them to "make me cry" spicey!

                                                                                                                  2. I carry a printed note in Chinese which I show to the waiter/waitress and says 2 things:

                                                                                                                    I want my food prepared the way Chinese people eat it.

                                                                                                                    If spicy is 1 to 10, I want spicy 15.

                                                                                                                    This usually seems to works for me.

                                                                                                                    1. Great tips, I love the card idea! What I usually do is chat a little bit with the waiter/tress about their food and let them know that I know what I'm talking about. When I request the spice level I specifically say, 'your spicy, NOT white people spicy'. This usually makes them laugh and then they want to watch me eat it without breaking a sweat. Weird, but they are always really happy to see a white person able to take the heat!

                                                                                                                      Of course, becoming a regular is the best idea for take-out and order the dishes that are not supposed to be spicy to be served that way, so you don't look like someone just trying to eat chili, but that you respect their food.

                                                                                                                      1. before we moved to the albany,ny area, one of our favorite places was a vegetarian dosa restaurant in hicksville,ny. the regular waiters got to know we could handle anything on the menu. one night we were there and had a waiter who had not seen us before. my wife ordered her usual dosa special which happened to be the hottest item on the menu and he wouldn't take the order. we aked him to check with the others to make sure it was ok.

                                                                                                                        there's a pan asian place in albany called buffalo wagon. the owner is very nice and open to suggestion. we asked him about doing a spicy dish for us one night and he prepared a shrimp and jalapeno dish that was not on the menu. it was just what we wanted.

                                                                                                                        1. I could write 200 pages on this topic. There's much much more to it than simply a question of red pepper. Delving into it unpacks all sorts of deep human behavior.

                                                                                                                          But the best line to stave off gringoization I've found is this one "PLEASE don't tell the chef I'm not Thai/Mexican/Laotian/Sichuan!".

                                                                                                                          And remember the root of this impasse: these waiters have faced indignant imperious gringos incensed at the spice level of their food, and some of those IIGs asked for it spicy to begin with....and some of them have refused to pay.

                                                                                                                          Be aware of this. Be aware that this is what you are working against. And be aware that in some cases, there is literally NOTHING YOU CAN SAY OR DO to get the food served authentically, aside from repeated visits to prove your credentials, whereupon you'll finally be paisanofied. It will happen in the end.

                                                                                                                          1. It's simple...if the dish comes to the table bland tasting...sent it back and tell them that you want it spicy, as indicated or as an authentic dish, with all the proper heat/
                                                                                                                            If you are then serves another bland dish, send it back as well and leave, telling them how they have lost you as a customer.
                                                                                                                            My sister doesn't like spicy food, but likes this one restaurant that serves Szechwan.
                                                                                                                            I refused to go back and when the owner asked about me, my sister explained and they told her no problem, they understood and would make sure the spicy dishes were just that.
                                                                                                                            Unfortunately, they didn't live up to their word and 10+ years later, I haven't and won't go back.
                                                                                                                            The irony is, that people will order a dish that is indicated spicy, THEN complain it's too spicy!

                                                                                                                            1. BALANCED spicy dishes can be hard to find, as some restaurants will just ramp up one heat element to be out of balance with the rest of the flavor components. I remember our first meal at the late, lamented Sri Lanka Curry House in Minneapolis. When we ordered our dishes 'hot," the waitperson assumed a worried expression and said that we might find them to be too spicy. After she brought our order to the chef, she returned with a message that THE CHEF was also really concerned. We held firm, and were served a meal that blew our minds and stomachs. Never before -or again - have we eaten a similar meal. I'm glad that we bought a copy of the now out-of-print "Fire and Spice: The Cuisine of Sri Lanka." http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/599679

                                                                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: CRF

                                                                                                                                I don't understand the idea of balancing the heat element (from chile peppers) with other flavor ingredients. Would you up the cumin or garlic when using more chile, in hopes that they aren't overwhelmed? They did have spices with 'bite' in Asia before the introduction of chile, specifically black pepper, ginger, mustard, and garlic. I wonder if there is any evidence of recipes changing after the introduction of chiles - other than just adding the chile.

                                                                                                                                Another way to put it, how does a good cook vary the other spices to balance the chiles? Are there examples from printed recipes, or personal experience? I don't recall ever reading a recipe that specified one amount of cumin when using 1 pepper, and different amount when using 3.

                                                                                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                  Good post, and not surprisingly, I agree with it.

                                                                                                                                  To my way of thinking, if you up the chile content you are simply accepting the tradoff of a lessened presence from the other spices. And I have no problem with that. I would rather just amp up the chile than elevate all the other spices proportially and wind up with a hyper-spiced trainwreck in which I couldn't taste what was being spiced.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                    not other spices, other tastes. thai food is the perfect example - thai cooking is a balance of heat and sweet and sour and salt. the heat and the sweet temper each other. indeed that is why so much thai here in america is too sweet is they cut down the heat w/out cutting down the sweet it was in balance with. if you drop one you need to drop the othr as well.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                      I am no expert, but I cook Pakistani food several times per week. I do not use more cumin, garam masala, onions, or other seasonings, etc., in a dish that I intend to make chile-hotter. E.g. A dish I like to make chile hot: In karhai chicken I use red chile powder and add fresh green chile at two different stages in preparing the dish, but I do not use more of any other spice than I normally would. I think if one did that, the entire dish would taste too masala-fied (spicy, not chile heat) and yucky.

                                                                                                                                      Continuing the question of cultural-linguistic conceptualizations of heat, spice, and chile heat that were posed further above, in Urdu spicy with masalas (not chiles) is masaledaar and with chiles, as in mouth is burning is mirchdaar or mirchi. The word for temperature heat is also totally different. It's kind of interesting to see how 'heat', spicy' etc., are classified semantically in different languages.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                                                        It is a lacuna in the English lexicon that we do not have an adjective for "pepper hot."

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                          It doesn't mean English is lacking, and many languages describe food heat in the same way as English...Arabic for example, 'Haar' is temperature hot as well as chile-hot. Then you have languages that use different terms for each concept. In English we accomplish communicating the difference of meanings of our 'hot' via context.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                                                            The lack of said adjective still makes for awkward and cumbersome speech. English would be marginally improved by having a word for "pepper hot."

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                              i use picante with my 5 year old

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                I thought the French piquant was the generally accepted terms for "spicy hot".

                                                                                                                                                Heck, it's even in the dictionnary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictio...

                                                                                                                                                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piquance

                                                                                                                                                1. re: SnackHappy

                                                                                                                                                  To me piquant is not just chili-hot, it's anything with a spicy/tangy aspect - mustard, horseradish, vinegar, etc. This falls into the "aggreably stimulating to the palate". There really should be a word in English equivalent to la4 in Chinese, which is specifically hot chili-hot.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: SnackHappy

                                                                                                                                                    Piquant is close. But as buttertart says, it arguably denotes a "sharp" sensation rather than the burning we associate with hot chiles. Perhaps in time "picante" will be assimilated into English and will fill the bill.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                                                              Where do chiles fit in the warming/cooling classification? Or don't they have place, since they are so new (only 600 yrs or so).

                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                Chiles give heat to the body according to traditional food associations.

                                                                                                                                        2. For what is is worth I have found most restaurants that serve (spicy.hot,piquant etc.) are mainly concerned about making a dish to hot for your palette . so ipsedixit's approach is great
                                                                                                                                          or just ask them to make it authentic and tell them that you will pay first , many times it is the worry of a customer not paying because they have not had a authentic meal and if they get it they may not pay. sometimes we think we are stronger than we are

                                                                                                                                          1. I've found asking for a dish to be made authentically, or as the chef himself would eat it, does not work for me.

                                                                                                                                            What has worked for me (not always but often) is in an Indian restaurant, I tell them I want it "Andrha hot". This usually elicits some surprised responses and curiosity, but it gets me hot food. There is actually one state where my ex insists they eat hotter than Andrha but I've forgotten which one. I think it was Tamil Nadu, but it might have been Kerala or Karnataka. I used to order invoking the name of that state, but I've forgotten which one it was for sure, and I don't eat food as hot as I used to, so Andhra hot works for me now. Many people seem to think Andrha hot is as hot as it gets anyway, LOL! My in-laws did used to polish off a meal by eating a raw green chile . . .

                                                                                                                                            In a Thai restaurant, ordering Thai hot is often not enough. Last time I was successful in getting a dish hot enough the litany went like this.

                                                                                                                                            "I want that hot. I don't mean a little hot. I mean hotter than Thai hot. I mean hot hot hot so hot that you can't believe a human being could possibly eat it, I'm-not-kidding, hot."

                                                                                                                                            Not only did I get my dish hot enough, the cook came out of the kitchen along with a couple of the wait staff to (as unobtrusively as they could manage) watch me actually eat it. Whispers of suprise reached me as they realized I really WAS eating it, and I did not appear to be dying of it. LOL!

                                                                                                                                            I wouldn't start off ordering like that at a Thai restaurant, just in case they actually do listen when you say "Thai hot". But if I've been disappointed in the past, it does seem to work most of the time.

                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                              My brother has taken to expressions like "at least 5 spoons of hot oil hot" and asking for a bowl of hot oil as a condiment. When he uses it all up, the staff then gets the picture....

                                                                                                                                            2. there is this thai take out place i've been going to recently and the kitchen is in the front, open to view in which is pretty cool.
                                                                                                                                              the first time i was there i asked it to be made very spicy and the chef asked how spicy and i said 5 star thai spicy...he kinda looked at me like...ya sure?
                                                                                                                                              then he asked me my ethnicity (i was fine with it because i look like a bunch of different ones) and i told him i was indian...i guess it was a test cause he said...ok, you can probably handle it.
                                                                                                                                              after my food was prepared he handed over the bag and told me to let him know how it is the next time i stopped in. when i got home it didn't look too lethal....oh it was so spicy but not just spice it tasted really good too! i got what i wanted, it was pretty great!
                                                                                                                                              so yes i would agree that it is sad but sometimes the ethnicity makes you "prove" yourself able to handle the spice so others don't complain that it's too spicy, basically - what they ask for the few times they actually get it.