by Anita Cheung
When one mentions spicy food, all sorts of images come to mind depending on the taste and experience of the individual and it is very likely that my perceptions of spicy food differ greatly to that of a friend or relative. However, in my own discovery of spicy food, my taste buds have radically changed to when I was a young adult in New Zealand. Although fusion cuisine in New Zealand has developed a lot and is very popular there, I can’t say that spicy food is - or was - a priority in kitchens.
My discovery and love of hot and spicy food developed over time as an adult and started in Singapore. I was with Singaporean Chinese friends and we were eating in a hawker centre. One of the group decided to order ‘laksa’, a spicy Malaysian fish soup. I think that was my first introduction to true spicy food. A few mouthfuls of the soup was enough to open every pore in the body and make one’s nose run and eyes water. To be honest, I wasn’t quite prepared for that!
Several years later, I ended up teaching English in Changchun in Jilin Province in the northeast of China. Changchun is located six hours away from the Russian border and winters are harsh. The winters last for around six months during which time the city of seven million and the whole of the northeast of China is turned into a frozen winter wonderland. It is incredibly beautiful as the landscape is white and framed by a blue sky with sunshine, but it is incredibly cold. The temperatures drop down to -34℃ (-29℉) and living through the winter is a matter of survival. So the local cuisine has developed to become extremely spicy in order to warm one up on the inside, kill off bacteria and keep one healthy. It was here where I developed my love of spicy food. And perhaps it would be fair to say that it wasn’t love at the beginning, but an acknowledgement of my dependence upon spicy food to keep me alive, healthy and warm.
In the northeast of China, it is normal to have a jar of chillies in oil which the local people spread over everything as though it were a sprinkling of salt. One of the traditional dishes is called ‘malatang’, which translates to ‘hot and spicy soup’. It is a large bowl of spicy soup that contains noodles, meat, vegetables and an egg. In short, it is a complete meal in one bowl and once finished, it is impossible to eat anything else. I nicknamed this traditional dish the ‘five-tissue soup’ as I generally went through five tissues (needed for blowing my nose and wiping sweat off my face) per bowl of ‘malatang’.
Fast-forward to my current life in Spain where spicy food is not popular and often the presence of garlic is referred to as ‘picante’ - ‘spicy’. Needless to say, it has been difficult to satisfy my quest for hot and spicy food here and in general, I am left disappointed. I remember ordering noodles from a Thai bar and being excited as they had a hot and spicy code of three chillies. One chilli was mild, two were medium and three were hot. I requested the three chillies to which the waiter confirmed it with me three times. When my dish finally arrived, I was disappointed by the lack of flavour and spice. In my opinion, the three chilli ‘heat’ ranked less than one chilli. I called the water over and politely asked for the jar of spice that had been used for the dish. He brought it to the table with comments of it being ‘muy picante’ - ‘very hot and spicy’. Very spicy, my foot! A baby could have eaten that! I then proceeded to add tablespoons and tablespoons to my noodles, trying to arrive at some point that could have been considered hot and spicy. I did manage it after about five or six tablespoons of additional sauce, much to the disbelief of the staff.
From the time that I arrived in Málaga eight years ago, I have been fortunate in that a very small Chinese store has supplied me with noodles, sauces and ingredients so that I have been able to continue to prepare a few Chinese dishes at home. One of my favourite dishes is ‘mapo tofu’ - spicy tofu. I have made this to varying degrees of success depending on the spices that I have had to hand and whether they have actually been hot and spicy. A friend gave me something which says spicy on the tin yet I could use the whole tin in a recipe and really not notice the difference. I was therefore delighted one day when I found a packet of a special sauce for ‘mapo tofu’ and took it home to prepare my favourite dish. Once again, disappointment. I finally went back to my Chinese store and asked for the hottest sauce or oil that they sold. I was shown a jar of chillies infused in oil which had five chillies on the jar as an indication of the heat to expect. The shop owner told me to use just a little of the oil or chillies as they were very spicy. I was excited. I took it home and prepared my favourite ‘mapo tofu’ dish and finally, I had the heat that I had been wanting for so long in a dish that cannot be served any other way.
Currently, I have a new weakness which only adds to my ability to do things in the easiest possible way with the least amount of disturbance to myself. Yes, I have just admitted to being lazy in a roundabout sort of way. I am English so of course, I can’t just come out and say it… Anyway, once more I digress. My favourite dish of ‘mapo tofu’ requires some preparation and is generally eaten with rice. However, here’s where laziness is setting in for me. The other day, I had blanched a packet of tofu ready to be used in the dish and the blanched tofu was in the fridge awaiting the right moment for preparing the rest of the dish. As often happens with my timetable during the day, I had 15 minutes in between classes and felt not only a little peckish, but also in need of supper and I was aware on that day that I was going to work straight through normal eating times. So I found myself at the fridge wondering how I was going to resolve my problem and I saw the tofu. Seeing as I love tofu, that was an easy option for me. And then I spied it. Burn Yo Face Hot Sauce. It was winking at me from the fridge door and I thought; ‘What if I just pour a little over my tofu…?’ It was worth a try and I will be honest and say that it was perfect! In fact, because I’m a bit of a hot head when it comes to spicy food, I then poured more sauce over the tofu. And then a little more. This easy snack was delicious and satisfied my desire for hot and spicy food.
Perhaps like me, you are a bit of a hot head and love spicy food. Perhaps you have also been on the search to find a sauce that gives heat and flavour to meat, tofu, rice, Asian dishes and other cuisine. The Burn Yo Face Hot Sauce does not disappoint and although I have used it in only one dish to date, I am looking forward to discovering the versatility of this sauce in many other favourite dishes! I am also aware that there is a good chance that the more I discover how versatile it is, then the lazier I will become, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For the time being, a snack of blanched tofu with Burn Yo Face Hot Sauce is waiting for me and I think that as I snack, I will contemplate other combinations with this delicious hot and spicy sauce. But don’t let me just tell you about it. Try it for yourself and see how easily it transforms favourite dishes and your kitchen.
¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!