"Are you sure?" our server asked.
We looked at each other. The menu was basically one large CAUTION sign, suggesting that the diner was probably was not up to it, spice-and-heat-wise. This wasn't our first time at the Thai restaurant rodeo, though. We thought we were man enough. We thought we were okay with medium. But our server gave us pause.
So we went with mild, which was, as it turned out, as hot as we could go, and maybe just a little bit more so. Even though at our regular Thai place, medium was fine, at this place, which was really, really good, medium would have been too hot, and that would have been a tragedy.
I remember when I first started eating spicy food--Indian--I thought the hotter the better. I loved it. I remember going to a place just a few blocks from my place of employ for lunch. One day, I suggested going there to a colleague. He looked doubtful. He said, "I have a meeting after--I was sort of hoping I wouldn't be digesting on the outside of my body." A good description--the heat sort of radiating from the inside out after eating curry.
At our regular Thai place, I can usually get curry--Panang is my favorite--at medium heat, but we have the papaya salad at mild. "With just one pepper," I always say when we order it, holding up the one finger. Because more than one pepper drastically affects my enjoyment and even my ability to eat it. It wasn't always this way. But now, it is. It just is, and no amount of aspirational ordering, nostalgic for the heat, will ever make it otherwise.
One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons has a man sitting up in his bed, the Angel of Death standing at the foot. "I'm the Angel of Death," he says. "I'm here to take your muscle tone and your ability to digest fried foods. That's all for now." I remember when I was in my early 40s and I was all hahahahahahaha I can still digest fried foods. And my muscle tone's not bad either! And then BAM. Fried food, spicy food--I am the equivalent of a woman of Scandinavian descent in the 50s who worries about too much garlic. It's tragic.
Today, after a couple of weeks of not enough sleep, I woke up with my payback-cold. My body's making me slow down for a minute, DayQuil and green tea. We had leftover Thai food in the refrigerator. I heated it up, ate my curry, the medium heat feeling plenty spicy. It was hot and it was hot, medium hot. It made my lips tingle and it cleared my sinuses. For the moment, and a few moments afterward, it was just right.