Contributing author Cameron here:
Over the last 4 months, we’ve spent virtually all of our time in Peru. When you think of Peru, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Machu Picchu, maybe? Or the Andes Mountains, perhaps? What probably doesn’t pop into your head is food. In their defense, Peru is world-renown for their ceviche (a seafood dish made of raw fish marinated in lime juice) and rightfully so. Ceviche is delicious, but it should only be consumed near the coastline. When we were volunteering in Huanchaco on the ocean, we could eat ceviche as much as we pleased. Once we moved inland and into the mountains, however, eating raw fish wasn’t the best idea. As much as I’ve really enjoyed my time in Peru, their typical cuisine leaves something to be desired.
I love traveling in South America. Don’t get me wrong. I love the new sights and smells, the new people, and all the new adventures that come along with it. However, one thing that I really miss from back home is the variety of food. In Peru, there are over 200 different types of potatoes and I can honestly say that we’ve probably tried just about every single one. Yes, they have an incredible variety of potatoes, but you can only cook a potato so many ways. I miss the all you can eat Indian buffets, the Mexican taco trucks where I can get cow tongue tacos, and, of course, Dairy Queen Blizzards.
Since we started our adventure in Colombia back in June, I’ve heard rumblings about an incredible Indian restaurant in La Paz. Everyone who has been through La Paz has ranted and raved about this authentic Indian restaurant called The Star of India. Personally, I love Indian food. I love Indian food so much that I once made it my New Year’s resolution to visit Indian buffets only once every other week. Clearly, I’ve been pretty anxious to check this place out for almost the last 6 months.
Last week, we arrived in La Paz and guess where the first place we went for dinner was? The Star of India. After inspecting the menu, I noticed a description for the chicken vindaloo. It warned that it was one of the hottest dishes that you will ever eat. It contained 35 of the hottest chili found in South America. If that wasn’t enough of an incentive, they also offered a t-shirt for anyone who was stupid and/or brave enough to actually finish the entire plate. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of vindaloo, I prefer a tikka masala or rogan josh any day of the week, but this challenge was too good to pass up.
After I’d already ordered the chicken vindaloo, I noticed a man sitting across the restaurant who couldn’t sit still. He looked like he had just spent the morning crossing the Sahara Desert with nothing to drink. I watched as he raced up to the counter and ordered a bottle of water and some yogurt. I quickly realized, that he also found the offer of a free t-shirt too tempting to ignore. We watched him struggle for a few more minutes before finally throwing in the towel.
I wasn’t that nervous before I ordered, but watching this grown man struggle, made me a little uneasy. I love spicy food and I love Indian food, so it seems like I should also love spicy Indian food, right? The dish finally came out and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Not only was the dish cooked with 35 of the hottest chili around, but they kindly made sure to cover the entire dish with all of the seeds from inside the chilis. Thanks alot guys!
How bad can it be? I’ve eaten plenty of spicy foods in my life. When I was 5 years old, Phad Thai was my favorite food. I’ve been raised to complete this challenge, right? Wrong! After the first bite, my mouth was literally on fire! Not the kind of fire like, “I accidentally put too much Tapatio on my taco,” but the kind of fire like, “Holy shit! I just stuck my entire head in a deep fryer and can’t get it out!” It was easily the hottest thing I have even tasted in my entire life. I can’t even begin to think of a legitimate comparison. I started to sweat out of every pore on my body and pretty soon, all the other tables sitting near us started to take notice.”Here’s another one of those stupid idiots who just wants a t-shirt,” they must have all thought.
At this point, my mouth is on fire, I’m starting to feel a little dizzy, and I have no idea what to do. The mango lassi drink isn’t helping, the naan bread isn’t helping, and the raita yogurt that I poured on top of the vindaloo in hopes of cooling it down isn’t helping either. I see a blurry image of someone sitting across the table from me who I think is Corinna and she asks if I’m okay. She makes me squeeze her fingers to make sure I’m not having a heart attack. The waiter walks past the table with a smirk on his face having seen this scene already once this evening. Am I about to become just another statistic?
Suddenly, I thought of the show Man vs. Food and all of the crazy and oftentimes idiotic challenges the host has completed. He’s eaten 150 oysters, he’s drank a 6 pound milkshake, he’s eaten a dozen buffalo wings covered in ghost chilis without being allowed anything to drink, and he’s (almost) eaten a 12 egg omelet. If he can conquer all of those challenges and live to tell the tale, then so can I.
I order my second mango lassi, wipe the copious amounts of sweat off my brow, and try to calm myself down. Now I’m ready! Slowly but surely, bite by bite, the mess of food on my plate begins to get smaller and smaller. My mouth still feels like it’s on vacation in the bowels of Hell, but I somehow manage to keep spooning heaps of chicken vindaloo down the hatch. With only a few bites left, I realize that my dream of owning one of the legendary t-shirts is about to become a reality.
A clean plate and pair of armpit stains indicate that I finished my meal. Was it worth it? You be the judge…