Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spicy (Entry #2 in the madhousegazette South Dakota Lexicon)

I previously wrote on this topic over three years ago, but I continue to build my anecdotal evidence to support a SPICY entry into my new and developing lexicon. Please forgive me for my repetition to the throngs of loyal readers.

SPICY is a relative culinary term no matter where one travels. Spicy is often associated with a type of hot pepper; a jalapeno, chipotle or a habanero for the daring awakens the mouth for a party in some, drives others toward a state of panic. I consider myself one who enjoys a risky level of hot, though I didn't realize that this particular gastric joy would be repressed in South Dakota. Urban legend in Sioux Falls has it that some nascent ethnic restaurants have failed or changed their preparation because word gets out that the food is too spicy. I don't know this for a fact, but Thai food can't seem to gain any traction around here, and Indian food is rare.

So how does one assess the palate tolerance of the average South Dakotan? While serving a congregation in a small South Dakota town, I ate at one of two places available in town--the local Senior Center. After eating at this spot for several months, a few of the locals asked me about my favorite meals at the Center. I tried to avoid the local favorites of liver and onions, and scalloped ham and potatoes. The Center doubled attendance for those meals. I declared my love for the lasagna--it was well above average. It was a good meal to which I looked with positive anticipation. One woman responded to my proclamation, "ooooh. exotic!" Another tersely stated, "lasagna is too spicy for me." Several nodded in agreement. I never knew oregano could be such a tongue scorcher. Though not a South Dakotan, my mother-in-law has some similar feelings about spicy food, though she is much more willing to try new things than most South Dakotans. However, when she describes a food, I have developed a two-tiered system of spice: "Is it spicy? Or is it Norwegian spicy?" Some Norwegian-Americans are insulted by this distinction. However, almost all of them seem to get it. I referenced my Norwegian Spicy distinction out in South Dakota Ranch Country, and that inspired the most laughter I had ever received from that crew.

I wondered if the spice anecdote was confined to one town. Probably not. In another town over a meal I talked with a couple about dining favorites. After I shared my preferences, the wife stated that her husbands preferences were simple; he would only eat food that was white or brown. Maybe I should publish a cookbook called "White and Brown Favorites." Maybe it would only be a leaflet.

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