I love to eat hot (spicy) food, food that’s so hot it’s guaranteed to knock everything out of my sinuses. A few years back I stumbled onto a brand of salsa called “Pain is Good.” That just about says it all. Much to my delight, there are many hot dishes in Chinese cuisine.
Sichuan cuisine is probably the most famous for its heat, but Hunan food is also very spicy. I lived in China’s northeast for 8 years and was pleased to find that they also have a love of firey peppers, thanks to the Korean influence.
As I’ve studied Chinese over the years, I’ve made note of the various ways in which Chinese people talk about their food. I’ve also found that food is a popular topic of conversation and one well-placed question or comment about food can keep table talk at a banquet going for hours on end. Invariabley the matter of spicy hot (la) will be raised, and this is where the linguistic fun begins. The language has an elaborate set of colloquialisms to talk about a person’s tolerance for hot food. They are:
pa la: pa means “to be afraid of,” or “don’t like” and la means “spicy hot.” Someone who is pa la can’t take hot food.
bu pa la: bu means “not” so this phrase means “not afraid of hot,” or “I can eat a bit of hot.” It emphasizes that one can eat hot food. The food is hot? No problem! I can handle it!
pa bu la: this phrase is the strongest, meaning “I’m afraid it won’t be hot,” which is to say bring on the hot food. The hotter the better (yue la yue hao).
Last week I ran across this amazing video clip on Twitter of spicy hot pot base soup being made. If you like spicy food, it will be mesmerizing (and mouth-watering); if you don’t, you may run screaming from the room.
That looks to me like it’s going to be super la!
Fortunately, we now have some good hot pot restaurants in the Twin Cities. My favorite is Little Szechuan Hot Pot on University Avenue in St. Paul. If you’re in town, check it out!
Image credit: Wikimedia