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Archive for May 9th, 2017

Too Hot for Me

We used to enjoy the biryanis ( particularly the goat biryani) at the Paradise Pointe Biryani restaurant in Edison, NJ. The meat was tender, the basmati rice tender and fluffy, the meat falling off the bone, the entire dish delicately spiced and not at all hot. The restaurant is part of a chain founded by an ex-pat Indian IT engineer who was homesick for the succulent biryanis he used to enjoy in Hyderabad. There are over 40 such franchise restaurants all over the US. After we moved to Somerset NJ, about 20 miles away from Edison, we started patronizing the Paradise Pointe in North Brunswick, the original where it all started. It was even better than the one in Edison… for a while. Then the management seemed to change, there were some new faces and the food became spicier, much spicier. We switched to ordering the biryani mild, rather than medium, but it was still too hot. Last Saturday, we tried the Paradise Pointe at a different location but there too the food was too spicy.

Why do restaurants make food so spicy-hot? Indian restaurants are among the worst offenders but there are other cuisines who do the same. I remember a Thai restaurant on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village where the owner/ waitperson warned me the food was spicy as he took my order. I’d ordered it medium spicy but when it arrived it was liberally sprinkled with birds-eye chillies and was so hot  that I couldn’t eat after the first mouthful. Needless to say, I never went back there.

Though most Americans prefer non-spicy, if not bland, food there is a growing contingent of chilli pepper  fans for whom eating the hottest foods is a challenge to their machismo. Thus we have a proliferation of chilli pepper eating contests all over the country, but especially in the South and Southwest. On Saint Patrick’s Day, there are jalapeno eating contests in which contestants compete to see who can down the most jalapenos in a certain time, usually 10 minutes. More dangerous are those competitions where people vie to see who can eat the hottest peppers. And, believe me, those peppers can be plenty hot!

According to the Scoville system for measuring hotness, here are the ratings for some of the common peppers:

Banana Pepper, Cubanelle                              100 to 1,000 Scoville units

Jalapeno                                                           3,500 to 10,000   ”

Serrano                                                              10,000- 30,000     ”

Habanero, Scotch Bonnet                          100,000 – 350,000    ”

Komodo Dragon, Ghost Pepper            855,000 – 2,200,000    ”

For me, the jalapeno is hot enough. Even eating a serrano in a dish produces a burning sensation that turns me off. Considering that the upper limit of the range for a serrano is only 30,000 Scoville units , I cannot even imagine trying to eat a Komodo Dragon or a Carolina Reaper. Why would anyone want to if the end result is having a mouth on fire and a burn in your gut that can persist for many hours , if not days? In some cases, it has even resulted in a hurried trip to the hospital. Is it worth it? Not for me.

I asked one backyard gardener why he grows these superhot peppers. He admitted he wouldn’t dream of eating them raw. His wife grinds them to a paste, small quantities of which are used to flavor the dishes she cooks. But couldn’t she get the same effect with larger quantities of jalapenos or serranos. Yes, but…

For me, peppers are a way of enhancing the flavor of a dish. Too much heat can obscure the true taste of the ingredients, just as heavy, spicy gravies will. Also, not all dishes have to be hot. In fact, a mixture of hot and not-so-hot dishes provides variety to the palate in the course of a multicourse meal. For me, hot peppers are fine, but only in moderation and certainly not in every dish.

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