Today I finally got around to going to Persian Palace, an Iranian restaurant in Seoul. I don’t ever recall having had Iranian food before, but in many ways it was similar to Indian food. There were many curries and there was nan bread. On the other hand, there was a notable lack of oil. The Nan bread was not dripping in oil like it often does at an Indian restaurant. Pools of oil did not form on the dal dish I ordered either.
The big attraction for me was the fact that this restaurant allows you to choose the spiciness level you would like on a scale from 1-10. A note says "For levels 5-10, please seek counselling." That statement indicated to me some promise from the restaurant. I am often extremely disappointed in places that claim to sell spicy food. Often the spiciest food I can buy has enough spice that I can taste it, but not nearly enough that I can actually feel it.
My original intention was to order a level 7 and go from there. The host at the restaurant said a first timer could not do that. Kimchi was listed as being a 2.0 on the scale. I explained that I don’t think kimchi is spicy at all. The guy seemed to indicate the scale was not actually linear, and pointed out that even he never eats something above a 2.7. I eventually persuaded him to allow me to order a level 4. My friend with me ordered a level 3.5.
The first bite I took was enough to cause hiccups.
Then my nose began to ran. Over the course of the meal, I used a lot of tissues.
It didn’t take much longer for my eyes to water and my ears to ring. It reminded me of a time my uncle brought some chili peppers from South America and bet I would not be able to calmly eat them. I ate that chili pepper whole and maintained calm. I didn’t drink anything that would make it seem like I could not handle that chili pepper.
That was just one chili pepper. My entire plate was that spicy. I was drinking water like mad, and it was having no effect at all. The white rice, which normally annoys me because it absorbs what little spiciness most meals have, did not seem to measurably reduce the level of spiciness. In fact, all the rice seemed to do is increase the quantity of ultra-spicy food to eat.
Persian Palace has a menu remarkably free of fatty things I could order to absorb the spiciness. I don’t eat meat, after all. I ordered a Persian Mast, which seemed to be some sort of yoghurt dessert. A few minutes later, I ordered another. The waitresses were extremely quick to handle orders, which was a definite plus in the situation – though even the yoghurt did not noticeably reduce the level of spiciness.
It crossed my mind that this would be great stuff for an eating contest. Perhaps because of the spiciness and the amount of liquid I was drinking, I quickly felt full. I thought this would be the match of many professional eaters. I can eat most chili peppers just as they can with little effect. But I still had about half of my dal dish to go. I had finished my nan bread and my rice. I could meditate and ignore the burning to a large extent, but I had a friend to talk with.
I decided to eat the rest as if I were in an eating contest. I exhaled, then scooped up the dal quickly, spoonful after spoonful, until I had finished. I didn’t savour the food – I swallowed as quickly as possible and meditated.
The host reappeared at the end and asked us what we thought. My friend thought he would go for something a little less spicy next time. I just said I was impressed, and hadn’t eaten something that spicy in years. Next time though, I will bring a handkerchief and attempt a level 5.