Chinese Restaurants - Hot and Spicy?

I’m looking at a menu for my local Chinese place, and about 35% of the items have a small red chili pepper next to them, indicating the dish is “Hot and Spicy.” Huh? Shrimp with garlic sauce is not hot and spicy. Maybe it would cause a tingle to the tongue of that one guy who’s never been 30 miles outside of Ottumwa, Iowa in his whole life, but for the rest of the population, it makes no sense. Anyone who has eaten at Taco Bell has experienced far spicier fare.

Cuisine from all over Southeast Asia uses real spiciness - Thai, Vietnamese, even Mongolian Barbeque has some kick. This places “Szechuan” dishes barely rise to the level of cracked pepper.

Is this an anachronism from the 60’s when garlic and paprika were an assault on the American palate? I mean, these guys even label their Hot and Sour soup “Hot and Spicy”

I’m in Colorado, BTW, and people here know what spicy food is all about, and this stuff ain’t it.

I’ve wondered this, too. I’m in Manhattan, and I have no idea why they even bother with the litttle red spicy icon next to designated dishes on the menu. Nothing here is spicy–nothing!

Um. There are people I know - Americans I guess, though I’m an American too - can’t even stand radishes and think they’re too spicy. Forget anything with a bit of pepper in it. The Indian restaurants around here do the same thing, even though it tastes normal to me.

The restaurants probably get lots of complaints from people who say the food is too spicy, so they just go with it.

Obligatory spicy Chinese food story:
In college, I went to a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant with a friend for dinner. We both liked spicy food. They had kung pow shrimp on the menu, and we decided to order it. The owner came over to take our order, and when we say “kung pow shrimp”, he says “(do the accent yourself) kung pow very spicy today” . We say, “That’s OK, we like it spicy”. He replies “No, kung pow VERY spicy today”. We look at each other and say OK. He shrugs and takes our order. When the food comes, it was like eating fire. I’ve never had Chinese that hot. We eat about half, and leave. HOURS later, my mouth was still burning. And, I DO like spicy food.

I think they are playing it safe in labeling many of their items “hot and spicy”. The dishes you mentioned could be concidered to many Americans as spicy, especially Hot and Sour soup. Not to mention most of the Chinese restaraunts in the US are as Chinese as Taco bell is Mexican.

Yeah, same here in Michigan. The locals think ketchup’s a spice.

A few weeks ago I was layering pepper sauce on a sub* and the natives were looking at me like I was upending a bucket of molten lead over my head, the same sort of look your cats give you when you’re in your shower: “How can that mad man do that and LIVE?!”

  • Because Lenny’s pepper sauce is composed of PURE CRACK.

Gawd, you got me snickering, then chortling, then full-out laughing. I mean the amount of funny things in this comment alone…

“molten lead”
“look your cats give you”

And then the connection between your cats looking at you in the shower and the naitves…BWAHAHAHA!

Oh come on. For all too many Americans, MILK is a spice.

KFC changed the chicken fingers/whatever the frack they call them from being spicy, to being bland. Lost me as a customer in the process. Because too many people couldn’t handle them being a little hot.

Of course, now you see places pulling out these Jalapeno and Pepperjack with Hot Sauce burgers, so perhaps there is hope.

But in regards to Chinese, yeah most places put little peppers or stars next to them to denote that they’re “hot” (no, it isn’t) and “spicy” (you mean it contains actual flavor?) There used to be a place called Szechuan Express in Uptown Minneapolis that had that system, plus up to 5 stars of hot on top of that which could be requested. I usually asked for 3 stars, but would occasionally do 4.

And I don’t really go in for hot peppers and all that crap.

No answers, just an anecdote

I was introduced to General Tso’s Chicken in college. The restaurant we ordered it from made it pretty flavorful, but not TOO spicy, unless you ate one of the little peppers running around the dish.

While eating Chinese food elsewhere with my family, I ordered General Tso’s Chicken. That restaurant served it a bit on the mild side–although they may have asked how spicy I wanted it, and I probably didn’t know how to convey “just as spicy as my usual restaurant which is not local to us here” properly.

My grandmother ate it and enjoyed it. She then went back home and ordered it sometime later, and ended up with something too spicy to be enjoyable (for her–she’s had issues with spicy food for a while). Figuring out that she’d gotten a mistaken impression about the “normal” spice level for the dish took a while.

I agree with the other posters, one person’s definition of “hot and spicy” is different than another’s. If using only a single designator for “spicy,” restaurants can feel forced to lower the threshhold for heat, the lowest common denominator, in fact. They would be better served with an honest level rating.
A surprising number of people are wimps when it comes to spicy food. My sister-in-law for a very long time hated anything spicy. Or rather she avoided anything she thought was spicy or would be spicy. Tortilla chips, for example. I believe this came from her mother, who doesn’t like flavor of any kind contaminating her food.
My wife and I finally started getting her to try spicy things by not telling her it was spicy. “Oh that’s what spicy tastes like… not bad.” She’s not crazy like I am, but at least she isn’t afraid of a little tingle.

I have a theory that the “chili pepper” ratings on Chinese menus are spread largely by folklore among menu printers, rather than by the local restaurant’s judgment of the spiciness of their dishes relative to their local clientel.

There is nothing wrong with not liking food that hurts your face.

I’ve never eaten at a restaurant of any Asian cuisine and found it to be spicy at all. I have eaten at several Thai places and always request it at “10” or 5 or whatever their spiciest is and it only has a medium kick at most.

Nobody ever said there was. (assuming of course it hurts your “face” and not just burns your tongue).

It’s annoying to have to try to convince the waitress that yes, you can handle spicy. At one of our favorite Thai places, we have had to tell them “No, hotter than that.” about a dozen times to get the heat level up to something approaching what the dish is supposed to taste like.

Mo’ hotta, mo’ betta!

I used to work as a waiter at a chinese restaurant.

The cook had three levels of spicy,mild, medium and hot.Really only two, cause the cook refused to make anything hot.

One college age kid came in, and I think he was trying to impress his date, but he said he wanted it hot as possible,usually in these cases I would just take the order and put it in as medium.Instead I asked him “Are you sure? Our hot is really hot” he gave a PFFT sound and said “You cant make it hot enough”

I said 'Ok :rolleyes: " put in the order and argued with the cook about how hot to make it.

“He dont want hot”

“Yes he do”

When he got his food he was crying after one bite and sent it back.

And the thing is, they need to learn that some non-Asians can handle it better than Asians. I cannot eat vindaloo. And yet KeithT (I believe) eats it with no problem. Spatial Rift 47 (again I think so) eats more hot food than I ever could.

There’s a difference, see. “Hot” means with chili peppers and you know, full of that kind of heat. “Spicy” to me means flavorful. I like spicy. I don’t like too hot.

It’s odd, too, because my beloved Polish granny does not like anything that’s “ooh, too spicy!”

But we took her to PF Chang’s for dinner a few weeks ago and she fell in love with the hot and sour soup. Then again, it wasn’t all that spicy. There’s a lovely cheap Chinese place by my old apartment whose soup can clear my sinuses, and I have a pretty good spice tolerance.

The thing about “hot and spicy” food is not (or should not be) about how much it makes your eyes water, though. It should be about the flavor. I’ve had perfectly spiced food before – yes, it made my mouth warm, but it was perfectly flavored. The heat was part of the flavor, somehow. If it’s actively painful to eat, it’s too spicy, or at least too much for you. I refuse to agree that onion powder is spicy, though.

Oddly enough, the best Chinese restaurant near me serves ROTTEN Americanized Chinese food – but their actual Chinese food is astonishing. They can keep their sesame chicken, I just want some long beans with dried pork and scallion pancakes…

I tire of hearing these stories. I always beg for hotter when I can and never has anything been too hot for me. NEVER. Either there are some weaklings out there or you just simply don’t hear about the ones that ordered it that way and ate it all.

I go to BWW and get the blazing and have never had problems (I stopped asking it for hotter cause they all said it was as hot as they could make it). In fact last time I went I had 1/4 of a beer left and she asked if I wanted water when my wings arrived. I said no. She looked at me like I was crazy, but BWW wings aren’t hot enough to require much.

I always ask for the hottest at Thai places and am always disappointed. Other people try it and think it is super hot, but everybody I know can’t handle hot food. I don’t know any true spicy food lovers. (if you think Jalapeños are spicy, don’t even bother claiming this title)

Mmm. Try some vindaloo? It tends to be spicy. Ask them to make it as spicy as they can. Also S. Indian foods tend to be spicy, ever tried those? I’m not too familiar with S. Indian stuff but I think even their dosas are spicy.

Whatever you do don’t go to a Gujrati restaurant. They put sugar even in main dishes!

(And no, I am not going to try to compete with your title. You are the reigning champ. :))

I’m not the Champ. :slight_smile: I can chop up a habanero and put it in my spagetti sauce, but eating them plain is still beyond my abilities. I know OF people that can do that, and have even seen one do it a time or two.