If You Can't Handle the Heat, Try the Spice
So often the word “hot” is used interchangeably to describe both heat, and spice, but in reality, a clear line needs to be drawn to separate the two. For one, some people are deterred from eating certain foods or cuisines because their palettes don’t like “spicy” flavors, especially not foods that are going to bring in a strong element of heat—not to be confused with heat, temperature-wise. It’s that mouth-tingling, body overheating feeling that has people staying far away (or running for a glass of water). Oddly enough, when describing flavorful food made with bold spices, no one ever uses the word “spicy.” Therein lies the source of created confusion.
A huge misconception when it comes to Indian cuisine is that all of its food is “spicy,” and again, most people don’t like the excessive heat. Of course with many cuisines, there are dishes that traditionally have heat, but that being said, the heat level can also be adjusted. There are dishes that could have heat, but no spice, and then there could be dishes that have spice, but no heat; it’s simply a matter of understanding the difference between the two and trying designated foods to “test the theory.”
Spice is recognized in food as providing a lot of bold flavor. A perfect example is Cafe Spice’s Chicken Tikka Masala. Chicken Tikka Masala is one of the most popular Indian dishes in America; but even though it’s the most popular, do not think for one second that Cafe Spice “dumbs it down” for the American palette—what you taste is what you get. The Chicken Tikka Masala combo meal is loaded with spice: flavors of cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom to name a few. Bold flavors, hitting every single note on the palette. The Cafe Spice meal package covers label how hot the dish is, designated by chili peppers, so there is opportunity to purchase Chicken Tikka Masala that has no noticeable heat at all (1 chili pepper). This all to say that people can have one or the other—heat or spice—or both, depending on their preferences. But do know that with Cafe Spice, regardless of the heat factor, there will be never any compromise on bold spice and flavor.
When discussing this topic with Chef Hari Nayak, Cafe Spice’s Culinary Director, he made a few observations that put America’s current food culture into perspective. Being heavily immerse in food, both at Cafe Spice and in a restaurant setting, Chef Hari is able to understand first-hand, what consumers are now looking for. “The time has come when American consumers, of all ages, are ready for and are craving big, bold flavors. Not only are they willing to try ethnic cuisines, but they are now better able to make the important distinction between spicy dishes and dishes that are flavorful.” Although more and more people are becoming aware of the flavor profiles and characteristics of the food they’re eating, there’s still a lot of work to be done with the changing the overarching stereotype. “For decades, Indian food was labeled as merely ‘spicy’ and now, this perception is thankfully changing! For me, there is no greater joy than to introduce a balanced, flavorful Indian meal, and covert someone who has previously stayed away because of this common ‘spicy’ misconception.”
Through the wide array of meals, Cafe Spice hopes be able to “convert” some people, just like Chef Hari said. With open minds, and open stomachs by that of consumers, this goal can be met. If there’s any interest in pushing the envelope flavor-wise, heat-wise, or both—do it, it might be a pleasant surprise. And hey, if the heat is too much to handle, have a piece of naan on the side as a delicious subduer. Heat it up, spice it up; and always remember to keep it boldly authentic.