Spice Up the Night

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

I went to Seattle this past weekend to visit Kris and help him shoot a fashion performance (which I can only describe as… Interesting). On the Saturday night, we (Kris, Lindy, Aaron, Morah and I) went to a Pho restaurant. I had always wanted to try Pho, so I was really excited about the meal. I chose to get steak strips, flank steak, and quail eggs in my soup. When it came, Kris and I starting spicing it up (because, not only do we both like spicy food, but apparently so do the Vietnamese and far be it for us to eat Pho the wrong way).

There were some chili pepper slices on a plate of stuff that you could add. Kris said they were pretty hot, so I tore the middle out of a couple and tossed them into my soup.

Why did I tear out the middle? Because that’s where the heat is. A lot of people are under the impression that the seeds of the pepper are what cause its piquancy (spicy heat); not true. The seeds are piquant because they grow on the white membrane, which is where an oil called capsaicin is produced. The piquancy of a pepper depends on how concentrated its capsaicin is. You’ll typically find that the smaller the pepper, the more piquant it is. The white membrane is usually found in the middle of the pepper and forming ribs down the sides. To make something spicy, you would leave the white membrane intact. To make something flavorful (but not spicy), you would cut the membrane out.

So, since I didn’t want the peppers to be too spicy, I removed the white membrane in the middle. This would prove to be my worst mistake of the night.

I have this habit of unconsciously touching my face; my eyes in particular (I’m sure you can already see where this is going). So we’re sitting there eating and my left eye starts to feel weird. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but soon it really tingles and burns. Then it dawned on me: The peppers. I had used my fingers to extract the membrane from the peppers and subsequently touched my eye. The burning became worse and before long, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. That’s right, even though only my left eye was affected, both of my eyes had to be closed because of the awesome burning power of the capsaicin.

I started to get a little scared (I always get nervous about my eyes because I absolutely require them to be able to do my job), but managed to remain calm and just try to bear the pain. The searing pain. A blast in the eyes from pepper spray must feel something like what I felt, only worse. I was told that the restaurant’s wait staff looked nervous (I was trying not to make a scene, but when someone is cringing in pain, it’s hard not to notice).

After several minutes, I was able to open my right eye and navigate to the bathroom. I washed my hands extremely well with soap and hot water twice before attempting to rinse out my left eye. It helped a bit (capsaicin is an oil, which is why water doesn’t help stop the burn), but as the head chef said, I was just going to have to wait.

I returned to the table and finished the meal, which was delicious.

So I think the moral of the story is don’t touch your face. Ever.

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  1. Be glad you washed your hands before you “used” the bathroom.

  2. Oh my god! I was touching my face while I was reading that! Why didn’t you put that warning at the beginning??

    I always get nervous about my eyes because I absolutely require them to be able to do my job

    Did that remind anyone else of:

    Carl Reiner: Now, as a director, I am constantly using my eyes and this Opti-grab device has caused irreparable harm to my career. Let me show you a clip from my latest film where my faulty depth perception kept me from yelling cut at the proper time. (scene of a little red sportscar speeding off a cliff. Reiner yells “Cut!” just after the car goes over the edge) If I had yelled cut on time, those actors would be alive today.

    For the record, pepper spray feels exactly like hot burning coals have fallen into your eyes. It is immediate and incapacitating, and you can’t really imagine it unless you’ve experienced it (or, alternatively, had hot burning coals fall into your eyes).

  3. Gravatar icons stop working?

  4. We watched that episode of “Good Eats” when you and Morah came over for Talk Like a Pirate Day. Didn’t you remember that?

  5. Phoenix: Gravatar can be slow and sometimes doesn’t work. If it keeps up for too long, I’ll get rid of them altogether.

    Mike: I didn’t really have any rubber gloves handy, did I? Plus, it’s not like I put capsaicin in my eye on purpose.

    Man, did it ever hurt.

  6. Yeah, Yeah. You’re just a masochist.

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