• Carmen Marie Fabio

Spice girl


“Would you like it spicy?” asked the gentleman behind the counter at our favourite local Indian restaurant after I placed my order. I blinked for a moment like a deer raised on white bread caught in international culinary headlights. “Yeah, okay,” I told him before hastening to add, “but don’t kill me.”

I love trying new cuisines and though the choice of ethnic foods in our region continues to grow compared to what was just a choice of patates frites when we first moved here, I’ve yet to develop a taste for spice that delivers anything beyond mild discomfort. And while I have a degree of respect and awe for people who can down anything stronger than a jalapeño that reportedly registers around 2500 Scovilles on the pepper heat chart... or whatever... I pretty much draw the line at ingesting any food that’ll make me cry.

The internet is abound with people (mostly guys, see my column of January 15) ingesting the un-ingestible, usually on a dare but rarely attributed to the joy of basically eating something enjoyable. And though the supposed health benefits of developing a tolerance for and regularly consuming spicy food reportedly include protection from pathogens, lower incidence of cardiac problems, and a source of antioxidants, the delivery system is akin to the treatment being worse than the affliction.

I like the fact that my kids are culinarily adventurous but an adolescent birthday dinner with homemade pizza featuring a choice of toppings – including sliced hot peppers – left me lying awake that night with both hands aching and one eye burning, all from having blithely cut some peppers (I don’t know what kind, some red and yellow things) with my bare hands. I now know there’s a litany of tricks to deal with this phenomena should I ever decide to repeat that lapse in judgement.

My fridge is home to a number of containers of hot sauce, from mild Sriracha-mayonnaise to Swazi Fire Chili Sauce, that the family is unlikely to ever actually consume in their entirety. The latter is so powerful a mere drop is sufficient to add a slow burn to any dish and, as luck would have it, there’s no expiry date on the jar.

While on a business trip in the American southwest many years ago, I was taken aback at the overall blandness of the food and figured that was why hot sauce was as common a condiment as ketchup was in Canada. It took me a while to figure out the difference in the palatability of our respective dietary preferences was due to the Canadian taste-buds being accustomed to a diet higher in salt than our friends down south.

I’ve inadvertently ingested everything from Vietnamese pickled pepper seeds to mis-labelled homemade hot sauces, and have had myriad mishaps with cayenne, chili powder, and even wasabi, all experiences that seared the opinion that at a certain point, heat does not add taste – it just makes whatever you’re eating... painful.

Pass the salt.

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