Don’t fear the reaper, the scorpion, the ghost
This quote: “The best spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavor and fear,” from former “Man v. Food” host Adam Richman, sums it up pretty well when it comes to spicy foods. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t help but tease my small army of “spice wimps.” I even have a special voice I use when making fun of them on the radio. I think it’s funny, but I’m not sure everyone does. That notwithstanding, I do have friends who militantly avoid spicy foods, and I just don’t get it – other than for specific medical reasons, of course. Nobody ever died from eating a hot pepper – though there are probably some who wish they had.
All sorts of health benefits are attributed to the chemical capsaicin (the stuff that makes you wish you hadn’t eaten that pepper). One of the most notable is the release of endorphins – the feel-good hormones. Maybe there’s some truth in the old saying that a small bit of pain can bring lots of pleasure. Capsaicin is also affectionately known as 8-Methyl-N-vanillyl-trans-6-nonenamide. Keep that in mind the next time you order your wings extra hot.
On the brighter side, 8-Methyl-N... yadda, yadda, yadda is also a powerful antioxidant, and it has been proven to reduce the severity of migraine headaches. It relieves arthritis pain and has strong antibacterial properties that help prevent sinus infections. And whatever sweat it might generate can cool you off on hot days. Ever wonder why spicy foods tend to be popular in hotter climates? Yup … that’s it.
There’s no shortage of places here at the beach that will happily spice up your mealtime. One of the most notable is Confucius Chinese Cuisine, where Chef Shawn Xiong keeps a secret stash of mean little peppers from Hunan Province in China. And Dos Locos’ satanic “melt your face” brew is probably among the hottest around. Just a few steps east is Indigo Indian restaurant. I love the lamb vindaloo, but be careful when you order it! A few months ago (after a couple of … um, refreshing beverages) I was offered the choice of “1-to-10 hot” when I ordered my vindaloo. Partially because of the beverages and undoubtedly due to a bit of undeserved bravado I told them, “15 hot!” I had to eat the whole thing (there’s that bravado again), and I (just barely) lived to regret that decision.
One of my favorite spicy dishes is served up at the tiny in size but big in flavor Sticky Rice Restaurant in Lewes. Chef/owner Sawanya’s green curry bowl will definitely get your attention. And, in a polite nod to Richman’s quote above, it’s not just about the heat. Sawanya’s combination of authentic flavors is downright delicious.
Of course, no discussion of spicy heat is complete without mention of Bethany Blues. Truth be told, the hot pepper maniac who gave me the above information about capsaicin was commissioned to brew up the spicy BBQ sauce for Bethany Blues. That aforementioned chilihead is, of course, our very own Chip Hearn, proprietor of Peppers.com, purported to be the most extensive online selection of sauces (hot and otherwise). Chip is an interesting guy. Among many other accolades, he was inducted into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame as well as winning the Delaware Restaurateur of the Year award. For four years in a row, he was recognized by the National Restaurant Association for Dedicated Service to the Foodservice Industry. He’s still a regular on Food Network when it comes to BBQ competitions.
But what about sushi (you might ask)? The accompanying wasabi can be an entirely different – yet still memorable – respiratory experience. The pain-producing compound in wasabi (a type of horseradish) is different from capsaicin in that it dissipates quickly. So though you still might long for death while you’re eating it, you’ll change your mind quicker than if you’d popped a habanero pepper. Pure wasabi is expensive and difficult to keep fresh, so most sushi/sashimi joints serve a green-tinted paste of horseradish, starch and mustard. Some restaurants do offer the real thing, grating it fresh to order for perhaps a small upcharge. In most cases, you have to ask for it.
Other nearby sushi/sashimi spots include Stingray, Saketumi and Tokyo Steakhouse. If you’re ready for the head-popping experience of genuine wasabi, be sure to ask the next time you cozy up to your favorite sushi chef. If he’s got it, try it. The pain will be gone before you know it, and your sinuses will thank you.