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.
Papaya 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.
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?