Mango Kuchela, Or How I Got Third Degree Burns On My Tongue
This one came with a disclaimer. A note on my desk reads:
Brett: This may be so hot it kills you. --E.
I ponder whether this sticky note disclaimer would hold up in court. Then I realize if something I eat kills me, my family will surely be too embarrassed to even acknowledge I ever existed, much less sue in my name. But after the last "spicy" food debacle, it's hard to get worked up about this one, no matter how severe the Post-It foreshadowing.
The label reads Trinidad Best Mango Kuchela. Sounds slightly delicious. Mangoes are good and Kuchela sounds like a pretty Spanish name. Then I remember the yellow note and my eyes dart to the ingredients. Shredded green mangoes (couldn't even wait until they're ripe I see), Flavored mustard oil, Amchar Massala, Garlic, Yellow & Red Scotch Bonnet Peppers, Salt, Potassium Sorbate. Oh joy, scotch bonnet peppers.
I figure since they're the fifth ingredient on the list, it can't be
too bad. Hell there's more garlic than hot pepper in this brown-green
mash. It looks like relish that's been left out in the sun for a few
decades too long. I open the lid and take a deep breath, expecting a
singeing of nose hairs. Instead, my nose is filled with a deep salty
smell. I spend a few minutes agonizing of where I've smelled this
before and I'm only able to narrow it down to a Chinese restaurant.
"MSG." Without a moment's hesitation, the boss nails the smell exactly.
Once that particular mystery is solved, I decide to give this kuchela a
shot. On the advice of John Linn, I spread some out on a cracker (not
his exact advice, as he suggested flat bread, but I'm on a budget here)
and bite down. The mango kuchela is soggy, dense, and garlicky. With
the gritty consistency of microwaved cole slaw, the kuchela has a
wholly unappealing texture.
The taste is not much better. What sweetness might have been in the
unripened mangoes is decimated by the mustard oil and garlic. Most
disappointingly, in my first bite there is only a mild tingling on my
tongue from the peppers. After I swallow down the rest of the cracker,
the heat picks up a bit, especially along the back of my throat. It's
not anything uncomfortable, just enough to let me know it's there. Then
I make a mistake I fear I'll be regretting for the next day or two.
Feeling cocky, I take a heaping spoonful and pile it onto a cracker and
bite down. Before I finish chewing the first bite, I take down the rest
of the cracker and get ready to sit down and finish the day's work.
Then it hits me. I bite down on a thicker slice of the green-brown mush
and my tongue immediately catches fire. Before I can even yelp out in
pain, my coworkers begin commenting on how red my face is turning.
That's about the time I make my second big mistake. Rather than
ignoring my ego and spitting the flaming substance in my mouth into the
nearest trashcan, I close my eyes and swallow it down.
Now I know what it's like to swallow a flaming hot dagger. The chunk of
scotch bonnet pepper slowly makes its way down my throat, leaving a hot
trail of napalm behind before igniting in my stomach. Now, a few hours
after taking that fateful bite, I can only hope this rumbling in my
stomach is temporary and somehow unrelated to the devil pepper swimming
its way around.
Who should eat this? People tired of being able to taste, aspiring
sword swallowers, and people in desperate need of flaming hot ipecac.
If you'd like to experience all the pain of scotch bonnet peppers with
none of the pleasures of a delicious dish, I'd recommend buying a jar
of Trinidad Best Mango Kuchela from Publix.
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