If you’ve come to Argentina under the illusion you’re in for a heat sensation of the oral variety, then you’re wrong. No warm reception here. I have a spice vice, a chilli fetish. I like it hot. And we’re talking serious heat. No pussying around with a Korma curry. I scissor skinny bird’s-eyes raw into salad and have been designing a twisting chilli tattoo for 7 years. At home in London, I had my own windowsill pepper plants and lovingly nurtured Alfonso the Tabasco, Guillermo the Habanero and the Scotch Bonnet, Hamish – until I came home drunk one night and ate them. I met my first boyfriend at a Vindaloo-eating competition, carry emergency Tabasco bottles in my bag and pals wouldn’t dare go anywhere without bringing me back exotic hot sauces, my favourite being the Ass Blaster from Louisiana. I wanted to call my first child Pepper until I found out it’s the name of a cartoon pig. I am hoping by the time I do have one (child, not pig), the character is extinct – like Tinky Winky, the handbag-holding Teletubby.
So, you get it, I like it hot. I get off on those teeny-weeny chilli peppers which send the brain a message to release endorphins, increasing your heart rate, circulation, sweating and euphoria, all similar to how your body reacts during sex (maybe why I eat so many – shame). Then what the hell am I doing living in the culinary equivalent of a ‘fluffer’, who promises so much heat, but doesn’t finish off the job? The Argentines cannot take the tongue-tingle. They might act like they’re OD-ing on something hot they’ve mainlined earlier, but they can’t handle the stuff. For a country known for being so fiery in temperament, this lack of food tolerance can be shocking news to travellers. We’re really not far from Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico, yet Argentines even shy away from ‘pimienta negra’. Generally, the only national spice is in the Malbec (the ultimate irony being that the local Malbec and Torrontes go well with spicy food). But do not fear, chilli aficionados, I’ve done a recce of Buenos Aires for you. When it comes to the hot stuff, like Harold and Kumar, if I get the munchies I will go above and beyond in my quest.
You too can live out your spicy fantasy here, because ‘picante’ does exist. You just need to know how to sniff it out…
For the full article of spicy secrets, go to The Real Argentina, September 2010: