Here it comes. I can already feel it crawling up from under my scalp, like a dome of thin needles pushing it's way out of my head. I chat a little longer, taste some spicy seafood salad, glob a deep fried shrimp after having dipped it in a naughty orange sauce, and in ten more minutes my appearance has dramatically changed. My hair is completely drenched, my cheekbones are moist, my eyes are shiny and floating in the pools that have flooded their sockets, while drops of salty water, like translucent snails, are slowly making their way down my throat towards my still dry and odourless shirt.
What a disappointment: almost ten years spent in Asia, gorging on flaming Malay Laksas, spiced Indian Masalas, boiling Sichuanese hot pots and piping hot Thai Tom Yam soups, and my body, or better said my head, still reacts like this.
“When you say that spicy food makes you sweat, you really mean it!” This is Roberto, who can hardly suppress a smile between two spoonfuls of rice and vegetables in soy sauce. I pass a hand through my hair and then use up four tissues to take off my palm a thick layer of sweat, while the girls look at me and let go a respectful laugh. Not even a single pearl of water can be spotted on their foreheads or cheeks.
I start to crack the usual jokes in broken Thai or a mix of English and Siamese: “Look, it's just started to rain, and I must be sitting on the only chair standing out of umbrella range.” “Hey, does anybody happen to have a bottle of shampoo by any chance?” “Gosh, another idiot throwing Songkran buckets out of season!” Maybe it's the jokes, or more likely the way I speak the language, anyway my friends start to laugh and forget about my shower-like look.
The quantity of sweat released by my head upsets me a little and makes me want to tell my biological system that, what the hell, it is totally over reacting. I did study quite a lot of physics and chemistry when I was at school and I still wonder at the law-breaking ability of my body to turn each and every small bit of dry chilly fed into the wondrous machine into spoonfuls of salty liquid oozing out of my pores. The mysterious process reminds me of some of my mother's dishes which, though finger licking delicious, must be eaten with care and absolutely not earlier than half hour after having been taken off the stove, when their temperature have finally dropped a few degrees below the lead melting point.
The problem is, I love this food, and even though I often ask the waiter to have it made a little less spicy than the usual Thai papillae-burning level, I still like to feel that “kick” in my mouth. And if it means that I have to spend the rest of the dinner translating silly jokes in Thai or Chinese and amassing a ridiculous pile of soaked tissues next to my plate...well, that's a fair price to pay: I'll get over it!
© 2009 Fabio Pulito