Fickle Friendship with Food

Liberating Spices

“It’s true that hot foods can help your body burn more calories. When you eat foods with a kick, the spiciness elevates your body temperature and makes your heart beat faster, both which require energy. But the main reason that those who consume spicy foods are able to stay slimmer than others does not lie solely in the metabolism-boosting effects.”

When I was around nine years old, my grandfather told me that eating spicy foods would make me warmer in the cold weather. Since I was so skinny, I bravely examined and consumed a simple peppered piece of stir fry. I forced myself to eat what I considered spicy, like peppers or hot sauce. Eventually, I got used to it, though I did not necessarily feel any warmer.

I realized at the time that some spicy foods were tastier than others. Being able to handle the spiciness meant changing my palate to accommodate a variety of Asian flavors and tastes such as

  • spices in Indian and Malaysian curries;
  • chili oil in Northern Chinese food;
  • Taiwanese food;
  • chili powder in Korean kimchi and other dishes;
  • Latin American food;
  • horseradish in mustard and Japanese wasabi;
  • American chicken wings, including those with Buffalo sauce; and
  • Vietnamese American invented Sriracha sauce used in many kitchens and restaurants.

Even as a fan of occasionally eating spicy foods, I was like the average Cantonese or Southern Chinese person who did not appreciate Mala and chili oil. Soon enough, with my Taiwanese best friend, I realized how Sichuan and Northern Chinese style dishes can be so beautiful and refreshing.

Being able to consume spicy foods is somewhat liberating as one of the ways to actually enjoy and taste most of the food in this world. Unrestricted by allergies, I am empowered to seek the culture and history in food simply by tasting it. The willingness to let a little spice in my life allowed me to try foods of different cultures and outside of the food my mother makes at home. I can’t imagine what my little cousin would do if she could not eat maybe 50% of the world’s food because she won’t eat anything slightly spicy. Still so young and sensitive, she has started to try as I did.

In an important note, eating too many spicy foods is not particularly healthy for anyone. One should always consume anything or any type of foods in moderation, as a balanced diet is the most nutritional.