Sunday, July 10, 2011

Adventures in Food (or Stupidity, Take Your Pick)

I used to consider myself a spicy food aficionado (one of my readers is already laughing, and I know who you are). I grew up in a house where jalapeños and Tabasco sauce were staples. I love wasabi. Among my college friends (for most of whom Cajun food and Americanized Chinese were the outer limits of exotic), I was considered a daring, even foolhardy eater.

Well, I'm a chile wuss. Sometimes eating a mere vindaloo just hurts. Once in Chapel Hill I ate buffalo wings that made me feel as if my mouth was about to blister. I quit, on the verge of howling with pain, while everyone else around me ate with relish.

I was reminded of how low I rank among chile eaters last Friday evening. Earlier in the day I had been in O'Hare Airport in Chicago. I had not had lunch and knew I wouldn't have time to sit down and eat before boarding my plane. I discovered, to my delight, that Rick Bayless (the Julia Child of Mexican food, for those of you unfamiliar with the name) had opened a take-out restaurant in that very airport.

I scanned the menu and ordered a cochinita pibil (Yucatán-style pork) sandwich. The plan was I would eat half for lunch on the plane and half that night for dinner. The sandwich came with salsa in a small little plastic container. I did not use the salsa on the plane for fear of making a mess. I just ate half the sandwich (and very tasty it was).

At home that night, I unpacked the uneaten half of the sandwich and the salsa. I had a Homer Simpson moment of longing: mmmmmm.....chipotle salsa (chipotles are smoked jalapeños). I opened the sandwich and poured the salsa on it. I replaced the bread and started eating.

A minute or so later, I entered a world of pain. I hurt so much I couldn't sit still. I was walking around manically. I drank milk to to try to get relief (lipids are the quickest way to counteract pepper). No dice. I put ice in my mouth for temporary relief (even though I knew the melting water would actually distribute the capsaicin.)

After about four or five minutes the pain stopped. Another two or three minutes and I stopped sweating. I thought, "God, I can't even handle chipotles now? What has happened to me?" Then I had a vivid visual memory of the Tortas menu.

I had briefly considered a chicken sandwich. That was the one that had chipotle salsa. The cochinita pibil came with habañero salsa. I should have known better: the people of Southern Mexico (where the Yucatán is) consider habañeros the only real peppers. If you eat jalapeños like Northern Mexicans do, you're little better than a gringo wuss (at least according to the good people of the Southern third of Mexico).

Check out this chart that ranks chiles. As you can see, habañeros approach the frontier that divides food from weapons.

And yes, I did finish the sandwich: I'm way too cheap to not eat food I paid for.


3goodrats said...

Had you known ahead of time, you could have had another Homer Simpson moment and poured wax in your mouth to protect you.

Eric said...

Oh, I can sympathise... I have Jalapeño, Cayenne, Habañero and Thai Red Dragon pepper plants growing in my garden. I picked a ripe I picked a nice jalapeño last night, roasted it on the grill and at it with my veggie burger... and then I had some 911 milk to chase it with. I am now looking with dread at the ripe Cayennes sitting in my fridge.

I so wanted to enjoy that pepper - but it HURT me! Me! The person who raised it! Hateful spiteful pepper!

Kevin said...

@Linda: It totally sucked. I didn't even meet a coyote that sounded like Johnny Cash.

@Eric: it is cruel when our creations turn on us isn't it?

kt said...

" habañeros approach the frontier that divides food from weapons" -- wonderful!

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