I was 14 and I was visiting my sister in Santa Cruz. We went out to dinner to her favorite Thai restaurant, Sabieng. Perusing the menu, I took important notice of the little red chili peppers that were next to some of the entrees. Those I would steer clear of.
I had made the safe choice of pad thai and was now chatting with my sister, enjoying the oily, thick noodles. Then all of a sudden, fire. Pain. Shock. Coughing. I spat out my food into a napkin and discovered the culprit — a thin, dark, evil red pepper had made its way onto my plate. As my sister burst out laughing, I heartily chugged my ice water and surveyed my plate. There were more of those spicy little devils infiltrating my sweet, dear pad thai.
“Oh, they probably just add those for flavor,” my sister explained to me.
“Hm,” I thought aloud, “No one needs that much flavor.”
And for seven years, I didn’t. I avoided Tapatío, Tabasco, Hot Cheetos, spicy tuna rolls, jalapeños, pizza pepper flakes and anything labeled “medium” or “hot.” I was a “mild” gal through and through.
Then something peculiar happened. I had returned home from a spring semester abroad in Ireland, where the “your-mouth-will-catch-fire” type of spicy didn’t exist. Irish food isn’t really known much for its fiery flavor. The “spiciest” sauces at some of their restaurants I could down no problem. Therefore, it perplexed me when I arrived back in SoCal, after months of this bland food, with a hankering for the hot, heated, hell of spicy foods.
It started with 911 salsa from a restaurant back home and has evolved into regular consumption of Sriracha. It has truly boggled my mind. I had tried the red Thai concoction before and had revolted. Now I’m putting it on everything — chips, soup, chicken, pasta. I can’t stop. Everything I eat just needs that little extra kick!
“Therefore, it perplexed me when I arrived back in SoCal, after months of this bland food, with a hankering for the hot, heated, hell of spicy foods.”
I know that this newfound love of spicy food may seem like a simple case of transformed taste buds, but a deeper meaning to this heat hype was revealed to me when one of my best friends noticed my newly acquired vice last Fall.
“Woah, Marlena putting Sriracha on her meal? That’s like a new Marlena!”
“Yeah, I’ve had all these new cravings! I guess my life has just gotten so boring that the only way to make it more interesting is to eat a bunch of spicy food.”
Although this was primarily a joke, there was definitely a vein of truth in it, like all good jokes have.
It was at that moment I realized that I had become bored with my life. After having spent the spring and summer traveling abroad, the rigmarole of everyday life — going to class, writing papers, taking midterms, binge-drinking as a stress reliever to the latter — seemed to leave me feeling a bit lackluster. While I was happy to be back in Berkeley, to be back with all my closest friends and to have a renewed appreciation for exploring my surroundings, the reality of the day-to-day was less than exciting.
The routine wore on me. Wake up, drink coffee, finish assignment, go to class, come home, eat dinner, read, go to work, go to bed and repeat. The days went by so fast with little consequence, they blurred into one another and just became “Fall Semester”— an abstract haze of stress and relief, of ups and downs fueled by caffeine and beer.
“It was at that moment I realized that I had become bored with my life.”
But Sriracha? Sriracha let me live a little. Its potency broke up the humdrum. Its strong vibrancy demanded to be recognized. It jolted my senses into awareness, reminded me that I’m here, that I’m human, that new feelings and experiences are still possible and can manifest themselves in the smallest of ways.