Dear Salty: Over the past year, I’ve been going to a small, local Japanese curry place that lets you pick your preferred spiciness on a scale from 1 to 10. During my early visits, I started with a 5 or 6 and was pretty happy with my order, but I wanted something hotter. Yet, as I moved toward the higher end of the scale, I noticed something odd. My orders were actually getting less spicy.
One day, I went to the restaurant with a friend of mine. We both ordered a level 8, and while we were eating, she made a comment that her food was almost too hot for her to handle.
I tried a bit of her order, and damn, it wasn’t only spicier than mine, but it was spicier than probably anything I’d ever eaten there. It was also absolutely great. We’ve gone there more than a few times since, and it’s always the same story. We actually came to an agreement where we order for each other, then swap dishes when they come out.
The food has never been spicier, or better, when we go together. But, whenever I’m by myself, I’m immediately back to no spice, even when I order a 10 on the scale. I’m a skinny, geeky-looking white guy, while my friend is Asian. I don’t know if that has something to do with it? But all I want is to order something genuinely spicy without all the subterfuge.
How can I convince them that I really do want the spice to flow?
I’m no mindreader, but my hunch is the spiciness of the food you’ve been served does have to do with you being white and your friend being Asian. It’s polite of you not to assume, but I feel like we have evidence above to make that call. It’s probably because the restaurant has had (white) customers send back too-spicy food in the past, and now the chefs are wary. After all, you can make a bland dish spicier, but you can’t really un-spice a spicy dish. It’s like a purposefully rarer steak, in a way. So what’s a geeky-looking white guy who loves curry to do?
Depends how much of a long-game you’re willing to play. You could send the curry back next time you get the bland version, politely asking them to up the spice: “This tastes good, but I was actually hoping for it to be even spicier. Would it be possible to put a hotter curry on this?” You could have been doing that this whole time, though I suspect you were trying to be polite. But by not saying anything, you’re actually making the restaurant think you like the bland version. Plus, your friend is getting food that’s too spicy for her. No one’s winning. Not wagging my finger at you, Paul, but I swear, the restaurant and relationship problems that could be solved by just asking for what you want could fill a book. (Who wants to be Salty’s literary agent?!)
Hopefully, if you eat at this place a few more times, the server would remember you mean it when you say you want a level-8 spice. It stinks that the restaurant doesn’t believe you when you say it, but I’m guessing that’s because they’ve been burned in the past. Flashback to an imaginary scene five years ago: White dude on a date wants to look impressive, orders the level-8 curry. Fifteen minutes later, he’s downed an entire pitcher of water and pulled all the fire alarms to set off the sprinklers. Just speculating here.
If asking nicely doesn’t get the restaurant to spice up your food, then it might just be time to find a new heat fix. Odds you have a Sichuan place in town?
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