15

As a person who (at a glance) fits all the "can't handle spice" stereotypes, yet loves spicy food, I often find myself in the awkward position of having to ask for corrections after my food comes out. Some restaurants don't have chili powder on hand for the table, and I have to send the dish back, prolonging my meal. Even if I order a dish as spicy as the restaurant offers it (5/5, "extra hot", "Thai spicy", whatever), my dinner partners are almost always served spicier food than I am, even if they order their food lower on the scale.

For example, when joining my Asian friends (I am not Asian) for a meal at a Thai restaurant, even if we all order the same dish, at the same level of spiciness, it's a total crapshoot whether my meal will come with any spice whatsoever. We've all noticed this as an issue, and tried each other's food, so I'm sure I don't have some abnormal resistance to spice.

What is a polite way to impress upon my servers that I know what I'm asking for? I've had mixed success with saying things like

"5/5 - and I really mean it!"

or

"really, just serve me a plate of lava, I'll be fine"

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    I am not clear about what the interpersonal relationship issue is? Of course it is between the business and its customer, but you need some more details. 1. You need to describe the "stereotype", since you seem to assume the server knows this. 2. Is there any standard scale for spiciness? I have this problem when I go to the deli and ask for a certain thickness sliced cheese. Everybody is different. – user3169 Aug 20 '17 at 0:50
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    @user3169 - how is navigating / overcoming a stereotype not an interpersonal issue? – ArnoldF Aug 20 '17 at 0:51
  • I'm asking what the stereotype is, not whether it exists. – user3169 Aug 20 '17 at 0:52
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    @user1369 the 'interpersonal issue' seems to be that people tend to serve less spicy food despite OP's explicit request 4 more spice -- the stereotype seems to be that white people can't eat spicy food -- it's not just a question about better communication but also asking 'how can I politely but firmly communicate that I need more spice in my food, without coming across as aggressive or offending the restaurant staff?' Moreover, communication difficulties between people in a business setting (whether a personal or cultural difficulty) ought to come within the scope of 'interpersonal issues.' – English Student Aug 20 '17 at 22:34
16

I'm from India, so I guess that makes me Asian. I've seen the same treatment meted out to various westerners in restaurants here. The real reason it is done is that at the beginning when the first person from the west had come to the restaurant, the food was too spicy for them to handle, and so they complained to the management there and told them to reduce the spice in their food. When more people came along, and they said similar things, the management decided to make it a rule that whenever a westerner came to their place, they would take care not to put the kind of spice that people from around here normally eat.

So, as a result of the people that came here before, the management decided to change the style of food they serve to western customers so that they feel more comfortable. There's no real problem that they have with serving you spicy food; it's just that you might complain about the spicy food. But as you like spicy food for real, you certainly won't complain, but they don't know that...

Now, in your case, when you ask the waiters to give you the kind of spice that the Asians are eating, they feel afraid, due to their previous experiences. They feel that if the customer concerned goes and complaints at a level higher than their own management, their restaurant/hotel/shop might get closed down. I know about all this from my cousin who works as a hotel manager.

What you can do is:

  1. Assure the waiter that you love spicy food and that this isn't the first time you're eating something like this.
  2. Tell him or her that if you can't handle it, you won't blame them.
  3. Ask them, very clearly, to treat you like an average Asian, and that you have an idea of what you are in for.

Basically, try to make them understand that they will not be held responsible in case you find the food too spicy, which you obviously won't. (no offense intended) That way, they'll not feel scared to give you hot and spicy food. Problem solved! :)

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    Totally excellent answer coming from direct experience -- It says what I would have said as an Indian so I will not write my own answer now, but I only upvotes! – English Student Aug 20 '17 at 22:39
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    Say "you CANNOT make this too spicy for me, but please try" – user3316 Nov 22 '17 at 22:23
8

It seems to me that if you are a connoisseur of spices and food that is picante, then you should be able to name the spiciest dish or the hottest chili pepper you are comfortable eating.

Without bragging or coming across as someone who is defending their manhood, in a matter-of-fact voice simply state that you have eaten XYZ dish in India/Thailand/Vietnam/Mexico etc.

If you have never eaten in any of the aforementioned countries and feel uncomfortable about fibbing, then say you have eaten home cooking, i.e real XYZ” in a [nationality] family. For example,

I've had real chilate de pollo in a Mexican home. Trust me, no punches were pulled!

5

What is a polite way to impress upon my servers that I know what I'm asking for?

If you think they see you as this not able to handle it that much spicy kind of person, I would not first take it at a discriminatory fact, but as a protection act (both sides). I'm pretty sure they don't want you to have a bad experience, and that you may later complain. They are wrong, but shouldn't be blamed for that at first sight.

If I were you, I would have some ready-to-use sentences, with the help of my friends.

If the waiter is Thai, you can even learn a couple of simple words/sentences about spicy food. Not only people will like the effort of speaking their native language, but they usually also take it more seriously, as they see you as the one who knows.

NOTE: To me, "white" is not discrimination, especially when used in a cooking context. It just means mild / less spicy / more milk.

As a Latino, I'm used to eating spicy food (jalapeño / hot stuff), can you please make sure I'll enjoy a 5-star-devil-level-hot sauce, and not a "whiter" sauce?

You adapt the sentence to your personality / way of speaking, but you get the point :)

You can also ask your friends to make a small joke about you when you order, saying that you're the only one they know that can handle spicy stuff like they do!

If they don't take what you ask for seriously, someone has to back you up. Isn't that what friends are for? :)

  • I eat the spiciest among my friends, maybe I'll have one of them tell the server that when we go out next. – ArnoldF Aug 20 '17 at 18:43
  • @ArnoldF : worth trying... and hope it helps, let us know if you finally got the hottest you wanted ;) – OldPadawan Aug 20 '17 at 18:51
5

“You want the spice? You can't handle the spice!”

That's what typical Asian chefs think about westerners in their restaurants.

It's certainly bad to discriminate. But this isn't discrimination per se. They consider that it's better to play it safe, rather than upset the customers' stomachs and later watch them complain. It's well-known that westerners, unlike Asians are not the best consumers of spicy foods, and are therefore ill-equipped to deal with the probable aftermaths.

I'm an Indian, and I've eaten spicy food all my life. And I don't think any western restaurants I've been to have ever served me anything as spicy. It's just the way it is.

All you can try is ask them nicely as you usually do and convince them that you can handle the spice, or maybe:

Please add all the spice you've got. I'd like it to be extra extra spicy.

And if they ask "Are you sure?"

Yes, definitely. I can handle a lot more than you might think. :)

And hope that works. There's no guaranteed method for this.

Or ask your friends to order for you, if they're Asians. Maybe that would help.

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    Yeah, I'm white-passing Latino, which means I grew up eating habaneros and jalapeños, but no one would guess so at a glance. I grow bhut jolokia at home and eat them probably weekly, if not more often. I love spice, but I hate not being taken seriously when I eat out. – ArnoldF Aug 20 '17 at 6:18
  • I am also an Indian @ArnoldF : just like you I relish chillies and other spices and totally agree with NVZ -- not much more at all I can add to this answer, and hence this comment rather than my own answer: however 'spices' includes so many spices in addition to chilli, and at least in a few cases 'more spicy' may be interpreted as 'more of all the spices' leading to excessive flavor, which is fine if that's what you want; but if you simply want more chillies it might be better to be explicit: please add more chillies (or black pepper, depending on the recipe.) – English Student Aug 20 '17 at 22:10
  • I like the idea of having the friend order for you, solves pretty much all problems and makes everything faster. Well done @NVZ – baranskistad Sep 1 '17 at 15:31
3

First of all. Spicy is not native to Asia. Chili is not native to Asia. It was brought from Mexico (is it considered "westerners' " world?) around 500 years ago to India and around 300 years ago to China if I'm not mistaken.

I live in Asia and don't look like some people would like me to look to be a "true "Asian"". I got to know spicy food long time ago. My grandmother is of Tungus minority and she likes things like brainshaking mustard and wasabi-like horseradish. My favourite foods are of Mexican, South Indian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Sichuan/Dungbei/Yunnan/Hunan/Shanghainese/Hongkongese cuisines. I like mala, I like Sichuan food drowned in chili, I like Japanese spicy curry (30lvl), I make my phở look red... You get the drift. I outchili anyone who will challenge me. I eat so spicy food that can kill a horse. I eat so spicy food that I can hear my blood running through my veins and other people's blood running through their veins!

So I think I'm qualified enough to answer.

When making my special request I typically change the way I speak like I'm telling a government secret, or like they will never understand, or like a mob kind of style "you better don't mess with me, boy" and say one of these:

  • Make it really really... (lean on and give a sullen look) REALLY SPICY!
  • Make it devilish spicy!
  • Make it extra extra spicy yah! And give me chili separately, more chili lah! (this way you can fix if it won't be spicy enough)
  • Give me the spiciest you can!
  • I lived in / am from Sri Lanka/Mexico/Singapore/Sichuan/Thailand.
  • Make it look red!
  • Hou hou laat m goi! ("Super spicy please" in Cantonese). Asking in people's language can build more trust and give them more assurance that you won't die.

Sometimes a combination of two works better. Make an eye contact. You need to let them know you're no joke and this whole situation is damn serious.

  • 'very strong' (high on the chilli scale) answer coming from direct and specific experience: I appreciate and upvote! – English Student Aug 20 '17 at 22:41
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    Note 2:Chilli might well have been introduced in Asia 500 years ago, but I remember reading that black pepper is native to Asia and has been used to 'spice up' food for centuries. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_pepper says that 'black pepper is native to south India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions. Currently, Vietnam is the world's largest producer and exporter (...)' I am South Indian myself, from where peppercorn begins its 'journey to the West'. So it's plentifully available & even the best quality pepper is therefore very inexpensive here. – English Student Aug 20 '17 at 23:00
  • I would say black pepper is spicey but not spicy 😃 – Nergüi Aug 21 '17 at 0:00
  • Black pepper being native to South India, it is the first choice for spicing up dishes in pepper-growing areas. It is eye-watering the way they use it here. However they are willing to crush and add a lot of it. If you mean that black pepper is 'not so spicy', then you are indeed an advanced user in the spice world, @Nergüi! – English Student Aug 21 '17 at 0:05
  • I'd personally recommend against saying anything in a foreign language unless you're certain of the waiter's ethnicity. If you say something in Cantonese, and they're not Cantonese, suddenly you're stereotyping them. – F1Krazy Nov 22 '17 at 17:09
2

I worked in hospitality for years and in my most recent endeavor prior to me starting my career, I worked at a chicken wing place. We served our sauces based on the scoville scale, but we also had a sauce with bhut jolokia extract in it, off-menu.

So it always helped when the customers asked us for recommendations. To me that was key when someone wanted something stupidly hot. if they wanted something to burn, I would offer the bhut jolokia sauce as a recommendation.

So when you're ordering your meal, just simply ask:

What's the spiciest thing you'd recommend?

If they don't eat spicy food normally, they would normally say

Well X is supposed to be really hot, I've seen a few people struggle with it

or if they're a fellow spicy lover, they'd be happy to bring you pain or recommend something flavourful with a kick.


If they say:

Are you sure?

if they're stereotyping, they will

You can then say, what you normally say

"really, just serve me a plate of lava, I'll be fine"

or my favourite:

Seriously, I want it to burn. I'm happy to sign a waiver if need be.

I think the way you order your food is key in letting the servers know that you're a man about your spicy food. It will also save you the hassle of having your meal prolonged when you send it back and you'll be able to notify to the server that you can handle it (as most of the original conversation pre-meal, would be emphasised on spiciness).

2

I have had tremendous success (that I wound up deeply regretting) literally saying, "I don't want a white-people 5, I want a Thai 5." Or a Korean 5, or whatever the ethnicity of the restaurant is, followed by '5.' I emphasize both what I don't want, and what I do want, and tend to add a goofy grin to soften the coarseness of my word choice. It's still a bit coarse and there's a hint of racism, or something akin, in my word choice but no one has ever seemed to take offense - if anything it tends to garner both a laugh and the results I was hoping for. Everyone understands the phenomenon I'm asking to be removed from, of course.

-2

I would tie the spiciness into the tipping. I would tell them upfront that unless you are sweating & coughing, you won't think it's spicy enough and if it's actually spicy enough, you will leave a nice tip. I'd even tell them that you have a hard time getting restaurants that serve it with the level of hot you are looking for and that you want it the hottest they make it. I don't like all spice. I am not interested in Mexican type hot, but I love love love a seriously hot that is more like a horseradish or wasabi. I don't even mind it it feels like a hot poker in my eye. THAT is when I am happy. I too have this issue. I just impose it on my server that the tip is tied to me getting something that makes my face hurt.

___ Editing because it seems I wasn't clear. I always tip. I do not tip the server well if I am not served well though. If someone looks at me and decides that what I ordered isn't going to be to my liking and without asking me then places a different food order for me with the kitchen, I consider that terrible service. If I order extra hot and my friend does too and my friend's food comes out considerably hotter than mine, I have no doubt what has happened. I will give 10% to anyone alive and breathing, but I am not giving 20% to someone who didn't even show me the respect to give me the food I ordered the way I ordered it.

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    Yes, but tying the spiciness of food into tipping doesn't change the fact that every individual is different, and it still doesn't change the fact that you weren't satisfied with your food. If the restaurant increases their "general spiciness levels" as a result, imagine everyone else who will end up being disappointed... – Zizouz212 Aug 20 '17 at 3:49
  • I might try this, but not threaten to take anything away, just promise something extra if they really knock me out of my chair. – ArnoldF Aug 20 '17 at 6:14
  • @ArnoldF I won't not tip, but the tip is relative to service & a server not giving you what you requested is not good service. – threetimes Aug 20 '17 at 6:54
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    @Zozouz212 OP already stated that at the same restaurant he is not being given food at the same level of spicy as people he is dining with. This isn't asking anyone to change restaurant cuisine. The restaurant is serving what OP wants the way OP wants it, just not to him. That is a service issue and serves to be addressed. And I am thinking you must not be familiar with hot cuisine. I can order food that makes my eye water at the same place my 3 year old can eat bland foods he prefers. They don't spice up everyone's meal in order to offer some very hot options. – threetimes Aug 20 '17 at 6:54
  • The approach suggested in this answer seems like it could be reasonable, though it seems incomplete in current form since it doesn't offer an approach to how to tell the server about the tipping incentive (as some might be unsure about how bluntly to state it). Also, it's unclear how the tip might be adjusted. Adding in some additional insight on those points could make this more useful. – Nat Aug 20 '17 at 10:25

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