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I’m Feeling Hot! Hot! Hot!

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I scanned the menu of the dimly lit Thai restaurant where we had chosen to have lunch. It was really breakfast, being our first meal of the day. It was still only 11:30 in the morning.

My tongue ruminated on memories of peanut sauce and bean sprouts, quickly tasting each dish with which it was presented and re-shelving the phantom platter for a later craving. When my eyes came to rest on the Spicy Green Curry, I knew my mouth had found what it wanted.

Something in me was telling me that this was the dish I should order, despite the warning label under the menu description advertising this as a “very spicy dish.” Or maybe precisely because of that label.

As I barreled my way through that burning sensation that was my breakfast, I wondered why on Earth I was doing this to myself. There was so much spice that I could barely taste anything else. There were hints of coconut milk here, and eggplant there, but mostly my mouth was a wasteland of curry on fire.

That got me thinking about my whole relationship with spicy food. I can’t say that I really like how it tastes. So why do I love eating it?

As a child, if I thought I saw even one speck of pepper in a dish, I wouldn’t eat it. I hated hot food. It burned. It hurt. I had good common sense. Except there was always this nagging part of me that said, “You are Jamaican. You are supposed to like spicy food.”

Nowadays, telling me that an item is superspicy is like dangling catnip in front of a cat. I have gulped chunks of wasabi, gobbled whole jalapeno peppers, and guzzled teaspoons of hot sauce on request. I make a great show of being unaffected by the fact that my head is imploding.

I think it goes along with some unrequited need for a rite of passage. I put it right up there with my extra piercings, substance experimentation, and tattoos. There is something about spicy food that says, “I am no longer a child,” even if it doesn’t quite say, “I am an adult.” I am subjecting myself to the pain simply to prove that I can do it.

Don’t we all have our little tests of self-mutilation? Like stalking around on stilettos for the entire day, or going through cramps with no Midol, or running the entire five miles even though the last six months have been spent lazily on the couch?

However much I have to suffer, it doesn’t look like I’m going to stop eating spicy foods anytime soon. The other day I ate half a block of cheese full of jabanero peppers. Yum.

If you’re feeling adventurous (or slightly masochistic), here’s a recipe for some Jerk Chicken that will scorch your tastebuds.

[photo from img.timeinc.net]

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