{12/10/2012}   Eating chilli* peppers in Addis Ababa

I cannot and do not eat spicy food and for that reason alone there are certain countries’ food I have not experimented with.  For example, I love the idea of Mexican food but have rarely eaten any as chilli peppers do not agree with me.  However, yesterday I discovered I am probably going to Ethiopia for work next month and this has sent me into a bit of a chilli panic and my current thinking is to slowly introduce chillies into my diet, starting with a Thomasina Miers recipe for “chile* con carne” tonight (there is no way – NO WAY – I can add the four chillies she suggests in her ingredient list, albeit that one variety of chilli she suggests is supposed to be mild, though not available in my  local shops).

It is not that I am a chilli wimp, I have exceptionally sensitive lips and mouth and chilli makes my lips puff and tingle and it isn’t pleasant (I also get this from some fermented food and acidic food, eg oranges, touching my lips).  As a result of not being familiar with it, on the rare occasions I feel it rude to leave an entire meal based on the pain factor (really, truly, it can be pain rather than mere discomfort) my stomach goes into meltdown and I don’t think I need detail that further.

For my 21st birthday, a group of us went for a let’s-try-something-new birthday meal in San Francisco the night before flying back to the UK.  I loved the novelty of eating a new kind of food, all eaten with your hands using a foamy, tasteless pancake (injera, which, incidentally, is a sourdough flatbread made from fermented teff flour) but I struggled to eat much as it was so hot and full of ingredients that I really, really struggled to consume.  I also remember being in a degree of discomfort on the flight back the next day!

My only other experience of eating Ethiopian food was at a stall in Greenwich Market, about ten years after the San Francisco experience.  I recalled that it was hot but I also remembered that there were some amazing flavours, so asked which was the mildest dish and ordered accordingly.  It really was too hot for me but it was edible to a degree … until I ate a spoon full of a lime relish (or whatever, but I remember it was lime).  I was in genuine pain (as can be confirmed by at least two of the people who witnessed my suffering) and all I could do to save myself from exploding was to get it out of my mouth as quickly as possible.  Seriously, that hurt, and I haven’t even contemplated eating Ethiopian food again.

So you can see why I want to build up at least a tiny tolerance to hot food.  I am not someone who has any real interest going somewhere new and exciting and eating fish and chips.  For me, one of the best things about going abroad is trying new food and new flavours.  Plus, in a country that I associate primarily with famine, I do not feel it acceptable to leave any food.  However, for this trip I know my stomach needs to be settled and my lips not bright red and botox-looking as I am supposed to work for three days.

As for tonight’s chile con carne, I won’t be able to bring myself to use a whole chilli pepper even, let alone four.  Usually I will chop up about a tenth of a jalapeno (or similar sized) chilli and I will feel a bit of heat, which will be bearable.  I do not understand how some people can eat really chilli hot food.  Where are your tastebuds?  They must be shot to pieces!  I fear I will not do a good job of acclimatising my mouth but I wonder if I will find ways to at least make Mexican food palatable to me, for there are some amazing looking recipes in Miers’ cookbook.


*The spelling of “chilli pepper” has long bothered me.  In Thomasina Miers’ “Mexican Food Made Simple” there is “chile con carne” which has “ancho chillies” and “chiles de arbol”, so two of the three main spellings (chilli, chile, chili) in one recipe .  I get the impression, from a bit of Googling, that “chile” is the purist way of spelling it, largely because that’s how it is spelled in chile-growing countries.  Americans Americanized it to “chili” and Europeans largely use the “chilli” spelling.


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