I’ve always had a soft spot for Kerala cuisine.
Of course, my bias lies in the fact that I’m a Malayalee by birth, and hence, for the most part of my life, I’ve been exposed to a lot of great traditional meals from ‘God’s own country’.
Fish curry and aviyal? Yum.
Naadan beef fry? Double yum.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor during Onam while a kind young man places a huge banana leaf in front of me laden with two dozen different curries and a hearty helping of rice at the centre?
Yum to the power of infinity.
But if there’s one thing that Kerala cuisine (and South Indian food in general) is notable for – it’s being spicy.
Now I’ve met people on both sides of the fence – the people that love spicy food, and the people that detest it. I fall under the latter category for one very clear cut reason…
… spicy food hurts.
Now of course, everyone’s threshold for spice varies – and unfortunately, I’ve been burdened with a taste palette so sensitive, that even the mildest of sambars can make me tear up in pain.
Let’s put on our geek glasses for a minute and jump into some science.
Now the spiciness of foods is attributed to a class of compounds known as capsaicinoids. And the sensors in your tongue and mouth that react to hot temperatures and pain are the same sensors that are driven nuts when you eat spicy food.
And geek glasses – off! Now to an interesting story…
I have a notable experience wherein me and a friend of mine (let’s call him John Doe) went to a Kerala restaurant near office on a weekday for a nice leisurely lunch to relax after a long morning of work.
Boy, was I in for a hell of a ride.
We ordered the usual Kerala sadhyas (a vegetarian meal consisting of rice and an assortment of curries served on a banana leaf) and a side order of beef fry.
Our orders arrived – and we immediately dug in. I reached out to the dish containing the beef, scooped up a handful and stuffed it into my mouth.
I began to chew – and I noticed that the beef was a tad bit spicier than usual.
Five seconds passed – and my mouth just kept getting hotter and hotter.
My goodness – I thought to myself – did Satan himself take a dump on my beef? Because I feel the fury of hell inside me.
Things progressively got worse – and a minute later, my eyes were tearing up like I just stepped out from watching ‘Inside Out’ (Hey, that movie made me cry happy tears, ok? Don’t judge!) and I was sweating profusely from every orifice in my body.
I looked up to the heavens (well technically, the ceiling of the restaurant, but that doesn’t possess as much of a dramatic flair, now does it?) and questioned my life decisions – and begged God for mercy.
Two minutes went by – by now I had ingested every liquid and cool drink possible to quell the flames of Sauron on my tongue, but nothing seemed to have helped.
In a moment of utmost curiosity, I shed my pain aside for a moment to look up at John who had also eaten from the same plate of beef.
He was unperturbed, and possessed such a calm disposition. Yes, I could see that his eyes had a tinge of water in them too, but overall, the deluge of capsaicinoids did not affect him as much as it affected me.
“Are you enjoying this?” I asked him as a stream of tears ran down my cheek.
“It’s awesome” he replied. “Don’t you think so?”
And that’s the day I stopped being friends with him.
Ok, just kidding. Of course we were still friends. But the fact that he enjoyed his food even though the spice did hurt him a little too made me wonder – are all spicy food lovers masochists?
Personally, I do not consider spicy food a pleasure at all. Anything that brings me pain does not belong in my mouth – regardless of taste.
But hey – that’s just one man’s opinion. What do you think? Drop a comment below and let me know.