I'm a chilihead - addicted to chilies, just like potheads to pot. I crave them if I don't get any for more than a day, and I get high on them. Granted, the high is not as powerful as with drugs and the withdrawal symptoms not nearly as strong, but it is fundamentally the same. When you overdose on chilies, your tongue sends pain signals to the brain, which releases painkillers called endorphins, and you get high. At the extreme, you feel like you're floating. Addiction is the reason that chicken tikka masala
is sweeping Britain, for example. Chilies are very good for health, so I don't really mind my addiction.
The trouble, though, is that it's hard to find hot enough food unless I cook it myself. Indian restaurants in the US cater largely to second generation immigrants, so they keep it down. Thai restaurants almost make the grade (if I add generous amounts of Sriracha
). Nothing else comes close. Chili con carne
is a joke. The reason that hot food in India is on a whole different plane is that, oddly enough, it is a hot country. It turns out that before refrigerators were invented, people in hot climes had to make their food really spicy to keep it from spoiling. I don't know what I'd do if not for Taj grocers, who import stuff from India. The hottest food that I used to eat on a consistent basis is Gobi Manchurian
in IITM (which is actually not all that hot by Indian standards). I get cravings for it all the time. Does anyone know if Nandhini is still around?
I also get another craving from time to time - for fatty food. Not because I'm addicted, quite the opposite - my regular diet is extremely low in fat. I could triple my daily fat intake and still be healthy. So when I get a craving it means my brain thinks my diet is getting unhealthily unbalanced, so I obey it. Sometimes at the grocery I stand immobilized by the bakery section for a minute or two, unable to take my eyes off the cakes but with enough self control (and lots to spare) not to buy one - craving or not, no cakes, cookies, chocolate or ice cream. Its a pity that I gave up cookies right after discovering the perfect cookie I'd been looking for all my life up until that point.
Its funny that humans should have trouble finding food that is both healthy and tastes good, considering that taste basically evolved to detect nutritious food and reject spoilt food. The difference, though, is that our hunter gatherer ancestors had trouble getting enough calories to survive, whereas with our sedentary lifestyles we have the opposite problem. Perfect illustration of the term "evolutionary baggage". Bring on the engineered genes.