When you are hooked on hot, spicy food, finding out how much heat you can take becomes a little addictive. You start looking for more food that will bite you back. Thai food is a good bet, but you don't know until you try whether the chef will believe you when you say you really do want him to bring the fire. Chances are, you're not going to get it the first visit. You'll get a disappointingly wussy dish from a kitchen that has seen too many people ask for heat and then send the food back. So you prove yourself by returning several times and making it clear that you really, really want more: You want "Thai spicy."
Simply Thai in Middletown has been my "Thai spicy" target for awhile now. Their heat scale goes from zero to five. I've been hitting it up for level four Pad Thai lunches. I get some cocked heads when I order, but I do get some serious burn. We have an understanding.
I decided it was time to turn it up to five.
When I told my husband I had a taste for some level five goodness, he said he'd go along, but that I was nuts, or crazy, or something like that. He's more of a level two. Level twos don't get it.
I decided to veer from my usual order and go with the Woon Sen Pad Thai. It's a sweet potato noodle with peanuts, sprouts, egg and chicken. When I ordered it with a level five, the waitress did a silent whistle and my husband reiterated that I was nuts. These seemed like good signs.
We started with a couple of appetizers, first, though. The Curry Puffs, with a light potato-based filling, pair well with the vinegar-cucumber dipping sauce. They were gone in about two seconds. Even better was the Thai Pepper, a large banana pepper stuffed with a pork, chicken and asparagus filling, then fried whole and served with a sweet sauce (not everything has to be hot).
So, how was the level five Woon Sen Pad Thai? Tiny flecks of red and green pepper covered the surface, so there would be no avoiding the heat if it was more than I could take. After the first bite, a quick sting on my tongue was a good sign that we were really onto something serious here.
After the second bite, I got the hiccups.
Pepper eaters know: That is a common side effect of serious heat. You've got to push through. Four or five bites in, my lips tingled and my nose started running. I was holding steady when the waitress came.
"Are you doing okay?"
"Mm. Mm Hm." (Why do they always ask when you have your mouth full?)
"Do you want the chili paste?"
The little pot that soon arrived at the table contained more of a chili seed suspension in oil than a paste. A small taste gave more of a smoky, bitter taste to my noodles than clean heat, so I stuck with the original. I never really started sweating or experienced burning on my lips or tongue. The sweetness of the noodles may have helped the dish hold up with a satisfyingly steady zing.
This level five dinner was a success (and I have half of it in a box so I get to have it again tomorrow). Now I have a taste for another spicy dish. If you have any suggestions for hot stuff around Louisville, leave a comment below!
Photos: Kachina Shaw