“Great cooking is about being inspired by the simple things around you – fresh markets, various spices. It doesn’t necessarily have to look fancy.” G. Garvin
The Latin root “spec” became Old French of espice or epice, what we now commonly call as “spice”. Add to it the original Nahuatl “chilli” of today and voila, we are ready for the International Hot and Spicy Food Day tomorrow. The origins of both happened quite exclusive of each other, although when we blend the hot and spicy, a whole new palatal feast is experienced.
“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.” Erma Bombeck
Spice trade had developed in Middle East, South and East Asia as early as 2000 BCE with predominant use of cinnamon, black pepper and herbs. As the Egyptians practised mummification, the constant demand for imported spices and herbs kept the “spice trade” alive. The earliest written records from the Egyptian, Chinese and Indian cultures connect spices with magic, medicine, religion and tradition. On the other hand, capsicum and chilli peppers were originally in wide spread use in the Americas primarily, Central and South America as well as Mexico around 6000 to 7500 years ago. With the advent of Portuguese trade and spread of the chilli peppers to Asia around the 15th century, the cooking of hot and spicy food took onto newer shores.
“A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavour and fear.” Adam Richman
For every food enthusiast, celebrating ” International Hot and Spicy Food Day” ( January 16th) is different every year as each spicy cuisine ranging from the Indian masala to spicy Mexican tortas or Vietnamese Bun bo Hue to Cajun cooking and so on; no cuisine mimics the taste of the other. As for those who have been challenged to enter the hot and spicy waters on this day, keeping the spice to low numbers as per the Scoville scale ( the spiciness or heat scale) helps to ace the test. An additional tip would be to keep starch rich food like bread or “naan” with cold water to combat the heat and spice. Hot and spicy can be tuned to one’s own taste bud, for the beauty lies in experience, experimentation, fun and art of cooking and dining.
“From a young age, I understood the idea of balanced flavor – the reason you put ketchup on a hamburger. I was that kid who wouldn’t eat something if there was something missing. I never really understood it until I began cooking professionally, balancing acids, sweets, spicy flavors and fat.” Michael Mina