Overcoming a Fear of Spicy Food in Thailand

I have never been a fan of spicy foods.  I was always the one that thought that something was spicy when no one else did, gulping down water and wiping tears from my eyes.  That was until I tried the food in Thailand.

My taste buds just haven’t been the same since!   The food in Thailand is an alchemy of flavors; sweet and spicy, salty and bitter, all balanced in amazing culinary harmony.

Papaya salad does not sound like a particularly intimidating dish, nor does its simple presentation give much of a hint about the spiciness that lies beneath the surface.

Thai Papaya Salad food in thailandPapaya salad (also known as som tam) consists of shredded green papaya with a cast of characters that can include chiles, peanuts, sprouts, green beans, garlic and lime juice.

This innocuous dish is said to be one of the spiciest varieties of food in Thailand, and the reason for this reputation becomes quite evident about 15 seconds after putting the first bite in your mouth.

The burn starts slowly, giving you you the false confidence that you can continue to eat more.  Before you know it, the heat has spread over your tongue like a wildfire that nothing seems to quench.

Despite the burning, I continued to eat because the unique flavors combined with the crunchy texture of the raw, green papayas makes a dish unlike anything else that I have ever tasted.

I not only survived my encounter, but thoroughly enjoyed it!  The burn slowly faded, and as the feeling slowly returned to my tongue, I realized that some of the fear that I had about spicy foods had faded as well.  A whole new realm of culinary experimentation had been opened up before me.

A couple of night later, I felt emboldened by my encounter with the Som Tam and I decided to push my boundaries a little further.

Tom Yum soup had been recommended to my as the next possible outlet for my culinary experimentation. It sounded safe enough.  Spicy Chicken soup with lemon grass and vegetables.  I enthusiastically ordered it for my dinner that evening.Thai chili peppers food in thailand

It arrived in a giant earthenware crock.  Without delay I anxiously picked up my spoon and started eating.

I had a moment of fear return when I asked my husband to try some and it was even a little too hot for him.  Had I gotten myself into more than I could handle?

After a few bites my mouth was on fire, and I could rapidly feel my tastebuds becoming numb.

Water did nothing to quench the blaze, yet I kept eating, spoonful after spoonful, because the flavors of the lemongrass and herbs mixed with the spicy chiles were so fresh and vibrant that I had to keep eating.  Every.  Last. Bite.

Since our return, I am happy to report that I have been readily consuming foods that were previously considered “much too spicy” and I feel like the sky is the limit to my new culinary horizons.  Anybody have any advice on what I should try next?

What is your favorite spicy, foreign food?

Have your food and travel tastes changed as a result of a specific place that you have visited?  Have you become more adventurous in your food choices as a result of travel?

 

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Overcoming a Fear of Spicy Food in Thailand

10 Responses

  1. Oh my god, Thai food is SOOOO spicy! Kali and I honestly can’t handle spicy food at all, which is ironic because our two favorite cuisines are Indian and Thai. So we always ask for it super mild… like, so mild a baby could eat it. We get laughed at, but at least we can eat delicious food w/o dying. 😛

    Christy @ Technosyncratic June 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm #
    • I think that it is likely that the only reason it seems to be getting easier for me to eat the spicy foods is because my taste buds are being burned off one by one.

      Shanna Schultz June 19, 2012 at 5:34 am #
  2. Though I do love Thai food, my absolute favorite spicy food must be schezuan food. I have to eat it with plenty of milk and some tissue (to paint a pretty picture) but all the pain is so worth it.

    Erica June 19, 2012 at 11:16 am #
  3. Alright. I know what I’m having for dinner now!

    Speaking of somtam, I accidentally ordered the Isaan version of the papaya salad and nearly gagged the entire time. LIttle crab legs stick out in every direction, so you can never tell if the bite you’re shoveling into your mouth is actually going to be chewable without breaking your teeth. And the sauce was so gross and syrup, like fermented crab corn syrup. Lesson learned: always order “somtam” and somtam only.

    Susan June 22, 2012 at 7:27 am #
    • Wow, that sounds traumatizing…you are a brave soul. One look at the little crabs and I that is as far as I would have gotten.

      Shanna Schultz June 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm #
  4. I have the weakest tongue when it comes to spicy food. But always enjoy eating it even though my entire face breaks out in sweat (super gross I know)! Love to visit Thailand some day soon 🙂

    Cole @ Four Jandals June 23, 2012 at 6:24 am #
    • Sweating is good for you…kind of like exercise without the work! Thailand was amazing, and super cheap, but it is a really long way to fly.

      Shanna Schultz June 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm #
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