A few years ago, I took a friend to a well-known Hunan-style Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant is very small, with only a dozen or so tables and a counter where you can also eat. Behind the counter is the “kitchen” where the cooks wok up the orders. Hunan food is very hot and spicy, but the problem with this particular restaurant, I’d explained to my friend, was that the cooks could see you. If you were not of Asian ancestry, they would figure that you couldn’t take the heat, and would make it mild. I’d told my friend that in order to get the food as hot as it was supposed to be, you really had to insist that you liked it that way.
So we sat at the counter and ordered. I told the waiter that we truly did enjoy it hot and spicy, so go ahead and make it that way. When the first dish arrived I tasted it, and it was far too mild. So I called the waiter back over and told him that this dish was not spicy enough and to please make the rest of them much more spicy. He walked a few feet down the counter to where he was opposite the cook, a grandmotherly looking woman who was cooking our next dish in a big wok. He said something to her in Chinese, which caused her to put down the spoon she was cooking with. She looked down the bar at us, regarding us for a moment, and then got this faintly evil smile. She then reached underneath the stove and pulled out a big jar of red “stuff.” She scooped out a big scoop of this red stuff, and flung it into the wok, all the while looking at us with this evil smile.
Now, I really do like hot and spicy food – much more so than the average person. But when this food arrived, it was absolutely inedible. Within a couple of bites, my entire mouth, throat and the rest of my upper digestive tract was on fire! My friend and I each drank a six pack of beer choking down that food, while the waiter and the cook laughed at us. But there was no way, having insisted, that we were going to wuss out – so we ate the whole thing.
We then thanked the cook for making it “just the way we like it,” and she just laughed. Needless to say, we paid for it the next day too.