“We like spicy foods,” we told our host. He laughed and said “Ok, we’ll talk in a few days.” I assured him we understood that spicy here meant put-a-hole-in-your-mouth spicy, but that we were prepared, and really, we do like dishes with a kick.
Somehow we were still unprepared. Last night we ate at a small restaurant around the corner from our temporary apartment where the owner didn’t speak any English. After a series of hand gestures, nods, and lots of smiles, we ended up with two plates of a yellow curry with chicken and rice. We sat down ready to dig in, and the woman came over to our table to drop off a plate of sliced cucumbers. Little did I know, those little guys would save my life.
It was hot from the first bite, but by the third, I knew it was going to be a struggle. My mouth started to burn in the way it does when you accidentally dump too many red pepper flakes on your pepperoni pizza. But it didn’t stop. I dumped half a water bottle over the ice in my metal mug and gulped it down. No relief. Then I remembered the cucumbers. Those glorious crisp little cucumber slices were the only thing that helped, but even that wasn’t enough. I soon abandoned the chicken and curry and tried to just eat bites of rice. It was too late, though, the damage was done and I was sure my mouth would never be the same.
Even after desperately eating half the cucumbers, everything tasted spicy. I couldn’t chew and swallow a bite fast enough to get it off my tongue before the burning became unbearable so I started swallowing rice whole. I realized Eric was hiccuping uncontrollably and I was starting to sweat.
In a stubborn attempt to prove (to myself?) that I could handle authentic Thai spice, I choked down rice through the tears and in between coughing fits. Eric and I occasionally made eye contact and burst into laughter that didn’t last long before we had to gulp down more water.
So now when we talk to our host again we will have to admit that we were not totally prepared, that we do not have a Thai tolerance for spicy, and that we won’t be afraid to use the phrase “mai phet” which means “not spicy” when ordering curry in the future.