Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hurt so good

One Indian laborer came into Palas, one of the few hotels in Kanglung, Tashigang. He asked on, what was on the menu for breakfast. Only balays were there in the offing. Balays are the Bhutanese version of Rotis but thicker, often served with green chili paste. It is often said that ignorance is bliss but sadly not so for Ramu. The instinct of hunger took over the normal behavior of questioning or enquiry on what it was. He was hungry. He took a hungry bite of the balay while his finger dipped in the paste. One lick and his eyes were filled with tears and his mouth with uncontrollable burn. He asked for water.

Kanglung is a cold place and the waiters often serve you with hot or warm water. Ramu instinctively took a huge gulp. His panicky state did not help. It was too late to realize that he had been served with hot water. He fainted. The heightened pain must have been unbearable. Chaotic, everyone around him went in to help. One waiter was sprinkling ice cold tap water to his face, while another fanned him. He finally woke up only to realize that a crowd had gathered in. In the midst of giggles and examining eyes his big frightened eyes met with the quirky smile of the observers which in a way said, welcome to Bhutan.

We Bhutanese, often say that there are stages of aftermath of indulging in the fiery experience with chilies. Stage one, burns the mouth. Stage two burns the stomach and stage three explanation would not be appropriate. Let me pass out a hint, it concerns to attending nature’s call. Now you can see that Ramu had just experienced the first stage and other two were to follow, one more painful than the other.

It is no surprise that food specialist who travels around the world indulging and describing the various cuisines in the offing, never think of Bhutan as an ideal place. Like shaolins being trained over time to be able to accomplish certain feats, one has to be trained in order to be able to make sense out of the experience one gets from eating chilies or simply be in a position to enjoy it. The Bhutanese menu should add a line next to ema datshi or eezay. ‘Try at your own peril’, or something like, ‘Not for the Untrained.’

We Bhutanese are in a way different from people of the western worlds. No meal is complete without chili being a part of it. It is here that chili is considered a vegetable and not just a spice. The vegetable market’s top selling item is the wide range of chilies. We are not exactly built for the kill like some animals and insects shown in National Geographic but we are surely built for the chilies.

“These chillips are weird. They drink sprite when they have a stomach ache, whereas, we simply take a dump,” said Jurmey Chhowing who is dating an American. We do have different take on things. It is normal to see mothers encouraging children to eat chilies saying that it will help them grow taller. However no studies have been done on whether chilies actually help spur growth.

I do have a theory on what chili actually does to the growth of a child. I will go against the mothers. I love chilies and if there was a rating, I would be a professional when it comes to eating chilies. Now the sad part, I stand but 5 feet 5 inches tall. That gives the teeth to my theory.

If you still think otherwise:

Mexico, Nagaland (India) and Nepal are the places where the hottest chilies of the world are found. Nagaland has the hottest of them all, the Raja Mirchi or the Naga Jolokia. Nepal has the other devil, Dalle and Mexico has the previous Guiness World Record holder, the Red Savina. See where I am getting to?
Let me break the ice. The populace of these areas is often short or average in height.
My theory is well reasoned. I would be surprised to see a 6 feet guy who actually loves chilies.

However, the benefits from chilies outweigh the ill effects. There is lot of health benefits but helping you grow is sadly not one of them.

Benefits or no benefits, chilies have been and will be an essential part of the Bhutanese culture. For most Bhutanese, it is like our own version of thrill that is equivalent to a roller coaster ride. It’s a thrill that most of us can’t do without. Consuming chilies lets you experience extreme sensations like pain and fear without actually causing you any harm. The experience of being in Bhutan is never complete without the taste of chilies. If you are a foreigner and you can stand the heat of the fiery experience of chilies, you are surely in for an extreme enjoyable ride. With a taste like that, it hurts so good. I have, however, warned you of the consequences. So complete the journey at your own risk.

Possible Health benefits

It is said that all hot chilies contain phytochemicals which are collectively known as capsaicinoids.

• Capsaicin was shown, in laboratory settings, to cause cancer cell death in rats.
• Capsaicin in chilies has been found to inhibit chemically induced carcinogenesis and mutagenesis in various animal models and cell culture systems.
• Recent research in mice shows that chili (capsaicin in particular) may offer some hope of weight loss for people suffering from obesity.
• Researchers used capsaicin from chilies to kill nerve cells in the pancreases of mice with Type 1 diabetes, thus allowing the insulin producing cells to start producing insulin again.
• Research in humans found that "after adding chili to the diet, the LDL, or bad cholesterol, actually resisted oxidation for a longer period of time, [delaying] the development of a major risk for cardiovascular disease".
• Researchers found that the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar after a meal is reduced if the meal contains chili pepper.
• Chili peppers are being probed as a treatment for alleviating chronic pain.
• Spices, including chili, are theorized to control the microbial contamination levels of food in countries with minimal or no refrigeration.
• Hot peppers are claimed to provide symptomatic relief from rhinitis, but a review study found no effect.
• Several studies found that capsaicin could have an anti-ulcer protective effect on stomachs infected with H. pylori by affecting the chemicals the stomach secretes in response to infection.
• By combining an anesthetic with capsaicin, researchers can block pain in rat paws without causing temporary paralysis. This anesthetic may one day allow patients to be conscious during surgery and may also lead to the development of more effective chronic pain treatments.

Possible health risks and precautions
• A high consumption of chili may be associated with stomach cancer.
• Chili powders may sometimes be adulterated with Sudan I, II, III, IV, para-Red, and other illegal carcinogenic dyes.
• Aflatoxins and N-nitroso compounds, which are carcinogenic, are frequently found in chili powder.
• Chronic ingestion of chili products may induce gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).
• Chili may increase the number of daily bowel movements and lower pain thresholds for people with irritable bowel syndrome.
• Chilies should never be swallowed whole; there are cases where unchewed chilies have caused bowel obstruction and perforation.
• Consumption of red chilies should be avoided after anal fissure surgery to aid the healing process.

***Health benefits and health risks source: Wikipedia


  1. Great post, thanks for sharing - really really useful.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I understand why you aren't 6 feet tall ;) Jokes apart, that was a great read!

  4. thank you...and learn from me... dun feed ur baby chilies all the time

  5. This is a lovely article. Even i seem to have been fed more chillies- a victim to stand by you..hehehe. Well researched article, any way. Nim

  6. Hi Nim, Maybe its a blessing in disguise. Minus the height i guess we are reaping more benefits...