On a table, such as many in México, a tourist sits down to have a meal just like he has done so many times before in his life. The waiter comes over to offer him something to drink while placing a set of small bowls containing sauces of different colors and aromas in the middle of the table. Our unsuspecting victim, while reading the menu trying to decide on what to order, reaches out to the small basket containing tortilla chips called “totopos” takes one and dips it into one of the colorful sauces in the center and takes a real good bite at it.
If you have ever been to México you probably are smiling by now because you know just as well as I that what ensues is “Hell on a Dorito”. Eyes water, heartbeat rises, breathing suddenly becomes difficult and there is this unbearable sting in the mouth and throat. Yes, you may even recall the first time it happened to you because let’s be honest, you never forget it. I remember mine and it wasn’t pretty.
Chilies are a force to be reckoned with and you should always be mindful of trying anything placed at the “center” of a Mexican table because it will probably be spicy hot. But how hot is it really hot in chilly language? To answer that question one should refer to the Scoville Scale:
The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers—such as the jalapeño, the bhut jolokia, and the world’s current hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper—or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration.
México has some of the hottest chilly peppers in the world. Jalapeños are mere candy compared to really spicy ones such as Habanero, Morita or Manzano chilies. Because of that, it is a safe practice to always sample the smallest of drops of any sauce before committing to a full bite. Oh… and never ever ask the waiter. He will probably tell you it is “mildly hot” which is Mexican for “you will see your ancestors and wish for them to come and deliver you from this pain”.
Ok, so you did not have the opportunity to read this warning and you are in chilly trouble. The best you can do is have a glass of milk and wait. It will pass.
With time I have learned to enjoy the wonderful nuances that chilly brings to any dish and am very grateful to all of my Mexican friends for showing me how to do it. Because “tacos” wouldn’t be “tacos” without a very good and spicy chilly sauce.
Well, that is all for now. I hope you share some of your chilly stories with me and in the meanwhile have the greatest of days.