I’m obsessed with spicy foods. I’ve conquered the Blazin’ Wings challenge multiple times, have devoured a raw ghost pepper, love to brag about my vast collection of hot sauces, and am an avid fan of Hot Ones, a YouTube talk show that forces celebrities to eat progressively hotter wings while answering your typical talk show questions. Whereas most bucket lists include skydiving or getaways to exotic locations, my dream is to travel to New York City’s East Village, home of the infamous “Spiciest Curry in The World” challenge.
That’s why the lack of spicy food in the dining halls bothers me. All but one Princeton dining hall (Whitman’s in-house hot sauce is what dreams are made of) offer generic hot sauce that does nothing but add a vinegary taste to anything you put it on. If you’re lucky, you find a bottle of Sriracha, which has an awesome flavor but barely cracks 2,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville Scale, the go-to measurement for spiciness. A jalapeño pepper, just for reference, can be over 5000 SHU.
While it might seem ridiculous to argue for more variety of spice, to some, hot food is an integral part of their upbringing. I remember speaking with one of my lab TAs last semester and the topic of eating spicy dishes came up. When I asked him if he enjoyed eating them, he said, totally deadpan, “My family would disown me if I didn’t.” And he’s not alone. While the dining halls attempt to represent diverse influences in their cuisine, they miss the mark by not giving us a well-rounded spice experience, thereby ignoring a requisite part of many traditional meals across cultures.
It’s disappointing, given that my favorite moment of trying new spicy dishes is seeing how each culture approaches giving a dish more kick. There are always different techniques, different spices, and different nuances that make each burning dish unique.
Spicy foods also have several health benefits. Studies have shown that people who eat hot peppers on a regular basis have increased metabolisms. It’s also been demonstrated that they do wonders for your digestive track and can even help fight off colds. For health reasons alone we should be trying to introduce as much spice as we can into our diets.
I’m not asking for every dish to be suddenly filled with unbearable heat. I understand that there are many people who hate the burn, avoiding all but the mildest culinary options. All I’m asking is that the dining halls recognize that this balance exists. Offering a few more choices when it comes to hot sauces or getting creative and making your own can go a long way in acknowledging the different palates that are present on this campus. Occasionally creating a culturally authentic hot dish would be even more amazing.
There is nothing wrong with spicing things up every once in a while.