Pride cometh before the fall. I had brazenly mentioned to a colleague in the kitchen that the food in Hong Kong was not as spicy as I had expected. In the heated exchange, I also accidentally implied I was a chilli aficionado, a well seasoned hot-shot who could handle chilli without getting burnt. It wasn’t long before I was staring down the barrel of a chilli-laden menu, surrounded by grimacing and obviously expectant colleagues.
With the weight of heavy expectations on my palate, I couldn’t go past the “very hot” dumpling and chive soup. My colleagues did the same but opted for entry-level spiciness, throwing in some fried chicken wings for good measure. On the side we ordered fried greens and eggplant with chilli, along with shredded fried potato with chilli (the eggplant is seriously delicious). The restaurant itself was famous for its giant noodle dish – literally one stringy noodle, served with your choice of meat and reams of chilli.
My dumplings arrived, surrounded by a radioactive red soup. The mere smell of the dish on the table made my eyes water. I started briskly with the dumplings (in the vain hope they hadn’t soaked in the nuclear-level chilli). All eyes were on me and my initial reaction.
“Is it hot?”. Grins, grins everywhere.
I nodded slowly. Meanwhile, a typhoon of chilli decimated my very soul. With intense focus, staring into an abyss, I reached for my fun-size Pepsi Max to placate the horror.
My attempts to cool down with any liquid were futile, and nor was there any cucumber, radish or bread in sight. The meal brought tears to my eyes, partly because of the heat, but partly because – beneath the chilli fury – it was very flavoursome.
As Friedrich Nietzsche would happily point out, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger“. Without being an Übermensch, I would question whether this applies to near-death experiences with chilli.