There is a restaurant near me, here in Seattle. A Thai restaurant, by the name of Thai Tom. That it exists shouldn’t be surprising, as there are about eighty thousand Thai places out here (possibly only seventy thousand, clearly I need to do more research). What makes this particular hole-in-the-wall notable is it’s consistently amazing food.
The one unfortunate aspect is that some of the cooks have, let’s say, differing views on the spectrum of spiciness. Some days, I’ll order a dish, and request a three out of five, which will result in a pleasantly piquant, but still very edible, meal.
Today I was feeling like a wimp. There I was, sitting at a table with Paul and the Lovely Anya. Please note that just because Paul doesn’t get the title of “Lovely” doesn’t imply that he’s somehow monstrous. It’s the fact that he’s a hideous beast who doesn’t like brussel sprouts or mushrooms that makes him a monster. Best to keep these things straight. Regardless, I went with a two out of five for my Drunken Noodles, which I thought, silly me, would make it a touch milder than usual. This was brunch, after all, and I generally save the more dangerous foods for dinner, or at least brillig.
This two star dish was, to say the least, a very generous two. After the waitress refilled my water for the fourth time, the three of us tried to figure out how this cook’s ranking system works. We came to the conclusion that there are only two valid answers. One possibility is that to him, this really was a two, meaning a three causes instant sweating, a four can incapacitate an elephant, and a five is likely classified by the government as a toxic spill. The other interpretation is that there simply isn’t much variation; his dishes range from hot to hotter, and three through five are essentially the same.
“But,” I said, “there must be some distinction. Just look at the guy, he clearly knows what he’s doing.” Thai Tom is a tiny place, and you can see the cook hard at work from nearly every seat. The Lovely Anya had pointed out earlier that this cook had been an institution there since time immemorial, and his ability to pull out and replace jars of ingredients with looking away from the stove was a testament to his ability. In fact, he could do so while keeping his eyes locked incredibly intently on the pans of delicious things sizzling away.
That intensity led me to a moment of inspiration.
“Ah ha! That’s the difference!” I declared to my companions. It wasn’t a matter of how much chili pepper ended up in the food, but rather his burning glare imprinting itself, which our primitive taste buds then translate as heat. We weren’t drinking glass after glass of water because of any mere variance in spice content, but actually to dilute the uncontrolled fire of the cook’s blazing spirit. Should that man ever enter a boxing ring, his opponent would spontaneously combust. Eating his cooking isn’t just a matter of taste and sustenance, but an encounter with the unquenchable, vital vigor of humanity itself.
And as trying as that was four hours ago, I’m glad to have leftovers. Time for round two, wish me luck.