Indian food has a reputation for its rich, strong and spicy flavour profile — which doesn't make it an easy cuisine to explore for those with delicate palates — but an Indian restaurant in the US is trying to bridge the gap.
The menu of Biryani City in Bethesda, Maryland went viral on Twitter after Aditi Shekar posted a screenshot of her ordering a paneer butter masala from the restaurant on Sunday.
Shekar was asked to choose a spice level from an extensive list, starting from “zero spice” to “Indian very spicy.” In the caption, she said: “I just tried to order Indian food in Bethesda and this is hilarious.”
The tweet, so far viewed 2.3 million times, evoked both appreciative and tongue-in-cheek responses from other Twitter users, most of whom agreed that a granular distinction of spice level was a necessity.
“This is perfect. I always get confused which restaurant has what kind of spice level. Everyone has different mild, medium spicy. This is a very good distinction,” said user Madhur Shrimal.
Another said “most people are not prepared for the actual heat in most recipes from south and South-east Asian cuisines”.
Biryani City further describes its spice levels as:
- American mild: Really really really mild. You can taste the proteins (or the veggies).
- American medium: Really really mild. Literally only half a chilli (or the equivalent) being used. You are almost there. No, we are not daring you.
- American spicy / Indian mild: Now we are in business. You are on the line waiting to cross over into utopia.
- Indian medium: This is it. The way it is supposed to be … just like the menu has been telling you all along.
- Indian spicy: Do a little dance, break a little sweat, get spicy tonight.
- Indian very spicy: Woah! You are on your own now buddy, sign a waiver and you are good to go.
Many Twitter users said other restaurants also have their own spice charts, especially those serving Thai and Korean cuisines.
The spice chart describes the mildest spice levels as “American mild”, “American medium” and “American spicy”, before it goes to “Indian mild” and up to “Indian very spicy.”
“Indian spice level is definitely different from American spicy,” Ajay Singh, the head chef of Bombay Brasserie in Dubai, tells The National. “Most people with lower spice tolerance would prefer their food to be more flavoursome rather than feeling the heat from the influx of chillies.”
Singh says at his restaurant chefs can reach for milder spices such as cumin and mustard seeds to accommodate requests from diners who, in a country like the UAE, come from various nationalities and have different gastronomic preferences.
Referring to the US eatery's spice chart, he adds: “We often get the question about the spice level and this is quite a fun way of addressing it.”
A detailed spice chart, another Twitter user said, removes the stress of guessing at the spice level of certain dishes. “I like things spicy, but not hubris-level spicy,” she adds.
Other Twitter users recalled experiences of ordering food without clear spice levels, which didn't quite work out. One said he ordered a mild chicken korma, and “it was basically a dessert.”