5 Awful Life Lessons Learned During a Spicy Food Challenge
Fact: 62 percent of the population enjoys spicy food. How do I know that's a fact? Because I read it at this totally trustworthy-looking website. And since when has the Internet ever lied about anything?
I proudly count myself among that 62 percent of the population, and not just because I'm a pathetic joiner who will hop on any bandwagon that offers the promise of finally having some friends. I mean, that's part of the reason, of course. But I also genuinely enjoy spicy food. Like, extremely spicy. Painfully spicy, even. It probably won't surprise you to learn that I don't exercise much, so downing a plate of fiery chicken wings is the closest I get to actual cardio work on account of all the unsightly sweating that comes with that kind of meal. It's a level of sweating that's somewhat on par with being NFL quarterback David Garrard standing next to a hot chick in a nightclub.
I trust that you get the joke now.
After so many years of eating the spiciest food I could get my taste buds on, my palate has become conditioned to handle a lot of foods that would send the average person sprinting for the nearest water fountain (provided they're at a restaurant that doesn't serve beverages of any sort). So, whenever a restaurant boasts about serving a dish so spicy that most people wouldn't dare cram it into their pansy-ass mouths, I'm always willing to give it a try.
My latest adventure in devouring the kind of food that requires you to sign a waiver absolving the restaurant of any responsibility for the intestinal chaos that is to follow went down at the Brick Lane Curry House in Manhattan. There you will find a dish called phaal, which they tout as a curry so absurdly hot, the chef has to wear a gas mask while preparing it. You might remember it from an episode of Man v. Food a few years back.
Just like mom used to make.
Food so hot that it hurts just to cook it? Why wouldn't I put that in my mouth?
Armed with nothing more than a sweatband (we'll get to that later), a video camera and a diminutive sidekick who goes by the name of Gladstone, I made my way to Brick Lane Curry House in hopes of defeating the terrifying Phaal Challenge. Along the way, I learned some valuable life lessons. For example ...
Recognition Is the World's Greatest Motivator
Make no mistake about it, these spicy food challenges are not for the faint of heart. No matter how delicious the dish in question may look, it's going to be nothing short of hell once the food hits your unsuspecting mouth. And what will you get in return for it? Usually, you walk away with nothing more than your picture on the wall of a restaurant, a certificate that assures the world that you make awful decisions and an impending bowel movement that will feel like a volcano deep inside your intestines has finally erupted. This brings up an obvious question. Why in the hell do people willingly put themselves through this kind of torture?
Because this shirt is a lie?
The answer to that question is simple. At our very core, the one thing human beings seek more than anything else in this world is recognition. It's ingrained into our psyches from our earliest school years, when good behavior in the classroom and the ability to color a picture without looking like you went into an epileptic fit halfway through the task is rewarded with a bullshit little gold star. Being good at something is worthless to us if nobody notices, and nobody noticing us is a fate worse than death. It's the very reason why rich kids who grow up showered with gifts but completely lacking parental guidance and attention often develop into dead-inside drug addicts.
If the world wasn't driven by the need for recognition, rest assured, strip clubs would not even exist. There wouldn't be a sufficient number of hot chicks seeking the attention they never got from their father or husbands seeking the attention they don't get from their wives to keep the business afloat. The need for recognition is just basic human nature.
In my case, finishing the Phaal Challenge means I get a certificate of completion, my picture on a website and a free beer. My picture on a website, you say? Well, it's not like I'll ever have that chance again.
Let's do this!
We Revel in the Suffering of Others
One thing that's consistent with any heat challenge is that, if there is a crowd present, they will surely gather around to watch. Is that because we're inherently inspired by the sight of someone completing a difficult task? No, of course not. It's because we love watching people suffer. There's something about knowing that your fellow man is in far more pain than you are that gives us a sadistic sense of well-being, even if just for a moment.
For me, the Phaal Challenge was no different. From the moment the assembled Brick Lane patrons heard I was planning to willingly ingest what amounts to poisonous Indian food, every eye in the house was aimed at me. In addition to that, my fellow columnist, Gladstone, decided he would tag along to document the suffering. That's him in the photo at the beginning of this entry, the concern for my well-being clearly evident on his stupid jerk face. For the record, I know him well enough that I refer to him not by the last name he uses in the byline of his columns, but by his lesser known first name, which is Marion.
Prior to heading off to dinner, we gathered at a nearby pub where we exchanged pleasantries that mostly revolved around him explaining that the high-heeled boots he had on were merely a fashion statement and not a tool to mask the fact that's he's approximately the same height as the guy who played Tattoo on Fantasy Island.
Pictured: A dramatic reenactment of Gladstone picking me up for dinner.
After downing enough liquid courage to make eating a bowl of fire seem like a good idea, I tossed Gladstone and his camera equipment into a backpack and off we went. I was ready to subject myself to immense amounts of pain, all for the enjoyment of a miniature sized Cracked columnist and whatever readers have low enough standards of entertainment to keep reading an article even after learning that Marion Gladstone's name is associated with it.
Regret Is a Curse
After settling in at our table, it was time to order. Gladstone chose the chicken fingers and fries off the kids' menu, because his itty-bitty tummy can't handle much more food than that. I, of course, courageously ordered the phaal, much to the delight of the sadistic patrons of the restaurant, as stated earlier.
When my order arrived, the intense smell of what I was about to ingest was enough to make me immediately regret my decision. This was going to hurt, very badly. But just then, I was reminded of the words of a famous philosopher ...
That philosopher was Jay-Z, and he's absolutely correct. There is simply no point in dwelling on bad decisions that you can't take back. I ordered the intestine-destroying curry, and now I must eat it (which I would regret in an entirely different manner a few hours later).
The waiter informed me of the rules, which were pretty basic. I had 30 minutes to finish the entire bowl of curry. Drinking water was acceptable, but I had a feeling that wasn't going to matter too much. Still, I was holding out hope that it would at least have some sort of placebo effect on my soon to be scorched taste buds.
Before digging in, I made a few strategic alterations to my attire. Translation: I put sweatbands on my head and wrists.
During a heat challenge, the resulting streams of sweat and snot that cover your face are an absolute killer. Not only is it insanely uncomfortable to have a marathon's worth of perspiration streaming down your face in public, but it's almost a given that at some point you will make the mistake of wiping your face with the same napkin that you've been using to wipe your mouth. At that point, congratulations, you now have ghost chili extract seeping into your pores. You might as well douse your face in gasoline and set it on fire.
With a sweatband on my head, though, sweat was not going to be a problem. And the wristbands provided a handy means of clearing the mucus from my upper lip. For the record, I kept these items and am willing to sell them, unwashed, to the highest bidder. Just get in touch.
Pain Is Temporary
My regret over deciding to willingly ingest food so spicy that just having it come in contact with your skin could give you explosive diarrhea was not at all lessened when I took the first bite. I put on a brave face for the camera (as you'll see later), but inside, I knew I had made a horrible mistake.
It wasn't just that the curry was unbearably hot; it was also kind of disgusting. Usually, even when adding excessive amounts of heat to a dish, most places will also try to give it some semblance of deliciousness. That wasn't the case here. It was just hot for the sake of being hot. When you add in the fact that I had to deal with the constant threat of one of Gladstone's Teen Wolf-like finger hairs falling into my food the entire time I was eating, this challenge was teetering on the brink of impossibility.
He sometimes wears it in cornrows.
With each bite I was constantly reminded that I really need to come up with better and less painful ways to attract attention. Like maybe running onto the field during a Major League baseball game and getting Tasered by overzealous stadium security. I'm pretty sure that would hurt less than eating this bowl full of lava that's trying to pass itself off as Indian food. I did find myself quietly appreciating the 30-minute time limit, though. Knowing I was on the clock kept at bay the intermittent bouts of crying that threatened to overtake me every time I looked down at my plate and the amount of most likely flammable food I had left to consume.
Pictured: Me, dismayed at the amount of food on my plate and the amount of Gladstone at my table.
But there was something else driving me as well, and that's the fourth life lesson here. I knew that, no matter how torturous this meal was, it was only going to last for a brief amount of time. Did I hurt? Yes, of course I did. But I also broke both of my arms at the same time once. Not only did the pain I was experiencing eating this curry not even sort of compare to that, but I knew it would be far shorter lived than that nightmare scenario.
Really, that's true with almost every other type of pain as well, be it physical or emotional. It might seem never ending when you're in the midst of it, but remember, it will pass. With that wisdom firmly implanted in my head, I powered on. Each bite of this devil curry was begging me to put down the fork and eat a plate of vegetable samosas like a normal person, but giving up would mean the pain had defeated me. And dammit, Corey Hart told me to never surrender way back in the 1980s, and I wasn't going to let him down. Also, if you understand that reference, congrats on being as old and, by extension, abundantly knowledgeable as I am.
Anyway, with just about nine minutes left, I found myself with just one last bite of this poison on my plate. With an equal mixture of dread and excitement rippling through my scorched innards, I lifted that last forkful to my mouth and downed it. And that's when I learned the last and most important lesson of all ...
Winning Is Forever
That's right, kids, winning is forever. And it's important. If your parents pat you on the back and tell you how great you are because you came in 10th out of 11 contestants in whatever bullshit contest you're involved in, then you have shitty parents who couldn't care less about whether you succeed or fail in life. Trust me, you want to win. It's way better than losing. Just, like, so much better. If your folks didn't teach you that, count your lucky stars that I did just now.
And finishing that last bite of phaal meant that I had won. Against the tyranny and evil of the most heinous curry India has to offer (in Manhattan, anyway), I stood my ground and refused to accept defeat. With that, my victory will live on forever. Not only is my picture posted on the "P'hall of Fame" (which you can see in just four easy steps by going to this website, clicking on "P'hall of Fame," clicking "Curry Monsters" and then clicking to the last page), but my courageous win was documented on video by Gladstone's bitch ass. So for time eternal, I have proof that, at least in this contest, I am indeed a winner. And now, you can be a winner vicariously through me, by watching this video of me facing down the ridiculously painful Phaal Challenge. Gladstone makes a few appearances also. I sincerely apologize for that.
For more from Adam, check out 5 Horrifying Food Additives You've Probably Eaten Today and The 5 Most Ridiculously Over-Hyped Health Scares of All Time.