So a friend of mine and I were lunching at a cheap-but-effective Indian eatery recently. When it came time for the waitress to take our orders, she offered the standard array of spiciness options that you are frequently faced with in Indian restaurants: Would you like mild, hot or medium?
My friend plumped for “medium”, while I asked for “mild” instead. Interestingly, my dish (mild shahi paneer) turned out to be spicier than his dish (medium eggplant masala), which was not particularly spicy at all. We speculated on the reasons for this... had they just got the order wrong? Or had they decided to have mercy on a poor white guy who didn’t know what he was getting himself into? (He is white, while I am, well, 50% less white than he.)
Now I am quite partial to spicy food, yet I regard asking for anything other than the “mild” option to be fraught with risk. Because I’ve had allegedly “medium” things before that were hotter than the breath of Satan and threatened to burn a hole in my stomach; yet other restaurants serve “medium” dishes that would have any self-respecting Indian labeling it as being tasteless and asking to pass the extra chilli.
So as there is no universal measure of spiciness that every restaurant adheres to, how does one adjudge the right level to ask for?
I figure you can make an educated guess from the clientele of the restaurant. A place which mostly caters to a middle-class white crowd will probably have a completely different idea of "hot" than a place that caters to fresh-off-the-boat Indian students. So when they ask how hot you would like it, you might need to look around to decide whether "hot" means "hot for Indians" or "hot for white people", because the two things are quite different indeed.
(Cross-posted at Brown Pundits)