I live, as you know, in the U.S. state of Minnesota, which is very nearly renown for its culinary blandness. Despite this, I have something of an affinity for somewhat flavourful foods – reasonably authentic Mexican or Asian food, in particular.
I’m not a huge fan of spicy food, mind – but I generally opt for “medium” levels of spice, and am usually well pleased with the results.
Earlier today, I was reminded that “medium spicy” is a [i]very[/i] relative idea.
The owner (I think…) of a little Hmong market here in town was offering samples of some homemade relish, basically, which he was rather proud of (and was selling). I say “relish”, though he called it “mustard pickles”. He only knew the name in Laotian, and had no idea how to spell it, and I for the life of me couldn’t transcribe what he was saying… but, he assured me, it meant “mustard pickles”. Shredded pickled cucumber, some onion, sundry seasonings…
It’s actually quite delicious. Like… relish, a bit. Just sour, and tasting a bit of… mustard.
Anyway, he asked how spicy of food I liked, which seemed a bit odd, but I replied “medium”, and then to try and avoid misunderstanding or personal injury, added “white-people medium”.
He then scooped out about an ounce of his pickle concoction into a little plastic cup, took a pair of scissors, and chopped up an entire fresh red bird chile, about the length of my middle finger, into the cup, which he then stirred with a plastic fork and proffered me.
If I can’t be any more specific about the flavour of this dish than “like relish” and “tasting a bit of mustard”, well, that’s why. One whole bird chile, seeds and all – into around an ounce of the stuff.
Hot? Oh holy hell yes.
“Mild”, he explained, would be half a chile. Hot would be two, “maybe three, if they’re small”.
And that, dear Diary, is why you never order anything at an Asian restaurant that’s “extra spicy”, unless you have a death wish…