It seems to have started in the 80s as sort of a macho thing. A few specialty restaurants set up with menus where you had two choices hot and hotter. Then it started creeping into the mainstream places. National chains started offering Cajun this and Tex/Mex that. Till today you can hardly find a menu item that does not contain some kind of hot pepper. Even the fast food joints have Jalapeno cheese on some sandwiches.
I am all for cultural diversity and I greatly enjoy foods from all over the world. But why food that hurts? I know historically the hottest spices have been used in the hottest places. Partly to hide the fact that the meat being used had been sitting in the heat and humidity for most of the day and needed its flavor disguised. I also have read about why people like peppers. The pain in the mouth triggers the release of endorphins in the brain and you get a mild buzz. OK, I can deal with that. If somebody wants to inflict pain on themselves for the indirect pleasure that results that’s fine with me. But then I feel the same way about SMBD.
The problem is that this trend seems to have gone to ridiculous extremes. There are some restaurants where you literally cannot get anything that ranks below three alarm. Even the french fries are sprayed with hot pepper juice before they fry them. What is with that? Even in mainstream places you have be careful. My wife ordered a chicken sandwich that came with a hot pepper sauce that wasn’t even mentioned in the description on the menu! The wait staff’s reaction was, “Well no one has complained before.”
The point is that HOTTER THAN HELL seems to be the new base line. The prevailing mind set in the food industry seems to be that “everybody likes stuff at least HOTTER THAN HELL so we’ll start there for the wimps and then go hotter from there.”
I like all kinds of tastes in my food. I like a little hot pepper now and then. I also like sage and basil and garlic and meat and cheese and vegetables, etc. Why would anyone want everything they eat to taste the same especially when that one taste causes pain?
Then we get to the “chili culture”. Those over loud people who always seem to need to take the floor at parties and go on for hours about how they ate the hottest peppers known to man, “straight out of the jar” or how they went to the chili festival and had chili ice cream and chocolate covered chilies, etc. They talk about eating like it was some kind of extreme sport.
I just don’t get it.
Food shouldn’t hurt.
I do hope it is over soon. Maybe the next trend will be towards something a little more eclectic.
I’m a big fan of spicey foods, but I agree that they should be labeled as such. I hate it when some food has something I hate on it which wasn’t mentioned in the menu description, like mayonaisse.
Spicey foods are not painful to me, at least not the ones I enjoy. I’ve eaten a fresh habanero pepper before (did not know how hot they were) and THAT was pain, but I can’t imagine any restaurant selling a dish that approaches that level of heat. I almost always order spicey dishes because I like the way it enhances flavors, not out of some kind of masochism or machismo. I cannot imagine that Beef Vindaloo would be anywhere near as good if it was not HOT.
I heard that the heat from the spiciness is interpreted by the brain as being something much more painful than it actually is, and so it releases more endorphins than you need - maybe for some people it really is as painful as parts of their brain seem to think.
Spicy food is hot right now. (Sorry for the pun) It’s also easy. You take whatever you have on hand and blast it with pepper sauce, and, BOOM, instant cajun. (Or Tex-Mex or whatever ethnicity you have in mind to bastardize.)
So, it’s easy, cheap (Tabasco won’t break the bank) and it boosts beer sales. It’s the perfect restaurant fad.
I think you overstate how common spicy food is. I happen to like spicy food, and tend to look for it on the menu of wherever I happen to be. Most menus will have something, but only one or two items of the 20 or more. I’ve never received anything that was spicy that wasn’t labeled as such (although I have recieved dishes that were labeled spicy which I did not consider to be, so maybe that explains it).
The only food I’ve had that’s been actually unpleasantly painful spicy has been Dave’s insanity salsa. Not the insanity sauce, mind you which I knew to use sparingly, but the salsa which you’re supposed to dip chips in and put on nachos and stuff. Painful hot. I still need to use it up though. Maybe I’ll dilute it with some other brand. Even the fresh habeneros I get aren’t that bad.
I only use mild salsa. I find even the medium stuff too hot. So I probably am on the far end of the spectrum from you.
I don’t know how things are elsewhere, I’m writing form Michigan, but I have had some unbelievable experiences trying to eat out. We went to an Irish restaurant, (the place is called Hulahan’s for cryin’ out loud), and had to immediately eliminate half of the menu. The chicken was covered in a “hot 'n spicy” breading. The fish was “Cajun”. It was ridiculous and in an IRISH restaurant.
I am sure that some people eat this stuff because they like it but when I see some guy wolfing down whatever the latest ultrahot dish is with his eyes watering and sweat running down his face I got to wonder what would possess somebody to endure that kind of pain just to be part of this silly food fad.
I love spicy foods. I do agree, however, that there should be ample warning and less intense alternatives.
My love of spicy foods isn’t a macho thing (It’s hard to be macho when you are a girl with pink hair). It’s also not a trend thing, as even at the tender age of twelve I would order plates of “extra-spicy” chicken at the local Chinese restraunts. It was almost a game to see how spicy they could make it.
It really is a taste thing for me. When I go out, it is a good taste thing. I am on an ongoing quest to find well made spicy tomato sauce (my favorite in Italy that I havn’t seen done right here). In a well made one, the hotness adds to the flavors, not overpowering them. Hot food also has an extra dimension to it. It turns a simple meal into a total body experience. It also forces you to slow down and savor the food, instead of wolfing it down. Mmmm…now I am craveing salsa…
When I cook at home, I often make things spicy when they turn out bad. My jar of crushed red pepper is my general meal fix it. If you can’t make it good, you can at least make it hot. Methinks this is more along the lines of spicy food in restraunts than the search for total taste.
My pet theory is that lesser restaurants use hot spices to hide the poor quality of their food. I know I’m a bad cook myself, and whenever I have to cook I make sure I throw in a lot of spicy salsa so it doesn’t taste as bad. Methinks some places are using the same strategy: hire a cheaper cook and use cheaper ingredients to save money, but just add a lot of spice to everything on the menu and nobody’ll know the difference…
Note: I’m NOT saying some traditionally spicy food such as Cajun, Thai or Indian cuisine is of poor quality. Not at all. I’m just saying that using a lot of spices is one way to mask the poor quality of some food.
sitting here, eating my popcorn with Death Rain dry spice, I have this to say to the people who dislike heat, spice, yea, even the fine stinging caress of the fire dragon Capascin:
Mainstream American food NEEDS more spice people! Been to Mickey D’s lately? Almost no spice, no heat, no flavor.
Bland, disgusting and flabby, much like the American electorate will.
I’m not suggesting mandatory shots of Tabasco in the arm fortnightly for each man, woman, child and dog, but American cusisine has come so far so fast that there’s bound to be fads–remember quiche?–and now it happens to be hot food.
More spicing (not necessarily heat) will get people to be more adventurous, think and talk about food, and enjoy what they’re eating, instead of treating lunch as a 20-minute break to cram before getting back to work.
Plus which, the endorphin rush induced by ingesting chiles and other hot stuff
a) is good for you and wakes you up
b) can improve circulation
This isn’t to say just because it’s hot, it’s good, but at least we’re trying. GOOD hot stuff is good first, hot later-beef vindaloo, chile verde, drunken noodles, salsa casera–all major staples in my diet. The mosquitos dare not bite me now, and they’ll use my blood as paint thinner after I die. Long live Chileheads!
About a decade ago, I asked a guy from Southern Louisiana if the Cajun food craze had hit there yet. His reply was that he couldn’t eat out in his hometown since the restaurants had all toned down their food for the tourists. If he wanted food that wasn’t bland, he had to eat at his mom’s.
Count me as someone who likes a fair amount of spice. And if your mouth doesn’t burn, there isn’t enough garlic.
However, I understand that my personal preference is not the Be All And End All. My predilection for three-star Thai food doesn’t mean anybody who has trouble with one star is a wuss, and I certainly don’t feel inferior to those who can tolerate four. It’s just different preferences, and the range should be available.
It would be nice if people experimented and tried out new flavors, and to some extent this is happening, but I certainly don’t think it should be mandated.
You guys are talking about spices? I thought this was a thread about food that injures you physically. Like hard candy when sucked for too long. You know, it gets really sharp and then, before you realize what’s happened, you’ve got a candy induced paper cut on your tongue.
Or like what happened to my sis-in-law a few Thanksgivings ago when she dropped a frozen turkey on her toe. She went limping to work the next Friday where her boss insisted she get the foot checked out (she works in a hospital). The frozen turkey broke her toe.
That would be a really good thread, not like this spice thing. Spices are good!
I think the traditional vindaloo is pork. It was a Portuguese influenced dish (vin=wine, alho=garlic) made by Indian Christians in Goa. You can use the same cooking method for other meats.
I like hot. I tend to know my limits - I know not to put too much West Indian pepper sauce on things, for example. The Radha and Patou’s brand of Indian green chili pickle (ingredients - green chilis, oil, mustard, lime juice) is a bit too hot for me.
However, I accidentally tested my limits last Sunday. I thought that harissa would make a nice addition to a beef sandwich, and mistakenly spread on as much harissa as I’d normally use mild Dijon mustard, ie shedloads. It was hot. Nice, but very hot on the roof of the mouth.
Just want to reply to the misconception that I want a return to traditional English cooking (IE no spice and cooked until everything is the same uniform gray). Not at all. I love Italian and Middle Eastern, German and Asian. I love strong flavors in my food, as long as those flavors harmonize and are not the only thing you can taste for the entire meal and three hours afterwards.
My only objection is using HOT spices to the exclusion of all else. I guess that by hot I mean only some variation of the pepper plant. I can’t think of anything besides those that cause the same lingering burn when ingested.
Have you ever had a bad sunburn? And then had some jerk come up and give you a good stinging slap where you are the reddest? Did you enjoy it? That sensation is the closest analogy I can think of to putting this type of food in my mouth.
Besides the pain you just don’t taste anything else when your tongue is over stimulated like that. I like complex flavors. If a food tastes like just one thing, whether it is bland overcooked glop or five-alarm chili, then it is a failure.
I respect everyone’s right to eat as they please and enjoy what they please. The point of this thread was to complain that at least half of the menu items in the US right now all taste exactly the same because they only have one spice. A spice used to the extent that renders whatever else is in the dish completely flavorless. A spice that renders that dish inedible to a large portion of the population.
I have been out to eat and thought I might like chicken for dinner. Unfortunately all three chicken dishes in this non-ethnic restaurant had hot peppers as the main, probably only, spice. That is nuts.
I used to live out west and we had a restaurant that was owned and run by a Mexican family. All of the food on the menu was ethnic. That was some of the best food I have ever tasted. Yes it had hot pepper in it but it was balanced with the rest of the flavors. I would never order the same dishes in a pop culture Mexican restaurant because I know that all I will taste is hot.
So I am not rallying for bland food. Just for a variety of food.