Love is a tough thing to put into words. A little more then two years ago Angela and I forged a relationship over a fondness for food. Our first date was all about showing a batch of her homemade Chinese spare ribs what was up. And what was up? I'd found a girl who could cook as well as she could eat and people aren't wrong when they remind me how lucky I've got it.
Time goes on and these things get taken for granted all too often, but there's always those tiny moments that remind you. For me, it's watching her pop oysters like bar peanuts. It's how she knows her way around a slow-cooker. It's biting into the crispy skin of her fried chicken. There's the old adage about the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but I'm not convinced that the heart and stomach are closely related. To me, they're the same organ. And I'm happy to be in love.
One such moment presented itself recently at Jitlada in Hollywood. We've been for the spicy Thai food before and Angela had vowed to return for the 'Dynamite Challenge'. For the uninitiated, we're talking about the Bhut Jolokia Pepper, the hottest pepper in the world. This challenge isn't for amateurs. This is the guaranteed-to-ruin-your-weekend kind of spicy. You'd be very hard-pressed to find a restaurant serving something hotter in Los Angeles. In fact, I'll save you the trouble. You won't.
Coming into the event, she was wavering on whether or not she should do it. After all, she hadn't exactly been training for this.* But before she could talk herself out of it, she flagged down the waitress and bravely put in her order for the Dynamite Pork (below). I watched her from across the table, heart all aflutter. My girlfriend's a total bad-ass.
Our experience was enjoyed with fellow bloggers Savory Hunter and EstarLA. We even ran into Jo of MyLastBite who, along with her party, was there to eat her way through dishes 211-221 and just happened to have four empty seats at her table and kindly invited us to join. Speaking of labors of love, Jo's epic goal of eating her way through Jitlada's 300+ dish Southern Thai menu has been very well documented, and we were lucky enough to sample a couple of the fantastic dishes that they had ordered. The honey crisped duck and deep-fried Thailand salmon were especially memorable.
But back to the main reason we were there! With our appetites whetted for some spice, Angela's pork soon arrived. With ghost pepper, it's not the first bite that gets you. There's no knee-jerk reaction. It is a slow, painful death. It stings the tongue, yes, and swells your mouth, too. The real challenge, though, is what starts to take place inside you. You become a human combustion chamber. Your body is now a nuclear reactor for a very destructive and uncontainable force.
It's hard to say whether or not it's a good or bad strategy to attack the dish before its effects start to get the better of your body. But Angela came out of the gates strong, composed and determined (below). One might even say machine-like. While she methodically shoveled bite after bite into her mouth, she remarked how surprisingly tasty the dish was - there is a lot of flavor hiding under the heat.
But even well-oiled machines can be bested by the ghost pepper. Halfway through, she was showing fatigue and even slightly flushed with bee-stung lips that women would drown thousands of dollars for (below). That glass of pink liquid is Jitlada's 'emergency' drink, a sweet, milky substance that tastes like bubble gum and is your best friend in providing an (albeit brief) defense against the fiery blaze. Angela finally gave in to the pink concoction. Human after all.
Angela didn't technically finish the challenge. She did eat all of the pork, and put away about 2/3 of the dish. I think she could've finished, but made the right decision to stop considering we had an entire day of drinking craft beer at the ColLAboration event in Hollywood ahead of us. We'll be back and there will be more Jitlada Dynamite Challenges in the future and I can assure you who'll be winning. I left the restaurant that day beaming with pride.
The table full of hungry companions not only made for some great rallying support, but made for a noteworthy afternoon enjoying incredible food with incredible company. Angela bounced back from the challenge in no time and was all smiles posing here with Jo (below).
If you're thinking about doing the Dynamite Challenge at Jitlada, make sure you're well prepared. There's a huge difference between those measely jalapeños, serranos and habaneros and the mighty bhut jolokia. Also, as Jo wisely advises, make sure you've got no place to go the following day. That is to say, for every reaction there is an equal but opposing reaction, and as challenging as it may be to eat... well... you get the point.
*Jo's done the challenge several times and trained for a year before trying it the first time. No joke, kids! Leave this one to the professional spice-heads.