Readers, a confession: I was born in Syracuse, New York, and I was raised by parents who grew up in Ohio. In other words, I didn't learn about the existence of spicy food until adulthood.
We thought onions were spicy. Black pepper--an incredibly powerful spice--had to be used with great care. There was even a joke back then that says it all about my childhood food environment:
Q: What's the definition of a long and successful marriage?
A: When you've opened your second bottle of Tabasco sauce.
And they were referring to the tiny 2-ounce sized bottle.
And then my lifetime bubble of blandness imploded during a visit to Dallas, Texas. My older sister had just moved there, so I paid her a visit during Thanksgiving weekend. I was maybe 18. She wanted to introduce me to Tex-Mex cuisine, we went to local restaurant, and I saw something on the menu that changed my life forever: a dish called "The 911 Hotplate."
I don't even remember what was in it. It was probably a mixed sampler plate with a burrito, a chile relleno and a taco or something like that. It doesn't matter. All I remember is how my entire mouth was so burned out with all the spice that I literally couldn't taste anything for the next four days.
Which was unfortunate, because this was the night before Thanksgiving dinner. Which meant that the turkey, the stuffing--even the apple pie--all tasted like Styrofoam to me.
To someone born and raised on bland cuisine, it was practically incomprehensible--even vaguely kinky--to learn that people could actually find pleasure in spicy food. More importantly, I felt like a complete pansy when I couldn't take the heat. I was determined to learn to like it.
That mouth-searing Tex-Mex meal had me hooked. And over the next few years, I made a point of sampling hot, spicy food wherever and whenever I could. It took a few years, but I eventually adjusted. Now, in Indian restaurants, I order the vindaloo without fear. I add cayenne pepper, chipotle pepper, and hot curry powder to spice up everything. And by now Laura and I are well past our hundredth bottle of Tabasco.
I'm not sure what that says about our marriage, but I'm pretty sure it means we've both adapted to spicy food.
Readers, what was your first experience with hot, spicy food? Share in the comments!
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