Not All South Asians Like it Hot

How eating spicy food became so intertwined with South Asian identity, and why it’s time to retire the stereotype.

Sadaf Ahsan

January 17, 2023

Not All South Asians Like it Hot
'Mirch Masala' (MUBI)

As beads of sweat roll down her forehead under the scorching Karachi sun in the fourth episode of Ms. Marvel, “Seeing Red,” Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) feels far from an eponymous superhero. It’s been some time since she visited her family’s homeland, and everything feels foreign, from the weather to the fashion to, of course, the food. After swallowing a pani puri whole, as someone who has never been able to handle much spice, she quickly realizes her fatal mistake, her eyes growing wide and tearful as she forces herself to swallow.

When her relatives ask her if she’s so hot because she foolishly wore jeans to lunch, Kamala shakes her head, too embarrassed to make eye contact and confesses, “It’s not the temperature…you didn’t warn me this thing was death.” With knowing looks, her mother, aunt, and cousins burst into laughter.

The scene highlighted that rare South Asian who is seemingly too Western to stomach her culture’s cuisine. But the thing is, it’s not all that rare. Not all South Asians can tolerate spice — mild, hot, fire, or diablo if we generously go by Taco Bell’s adorable scale. Some can handle a bit, some can handle a lot, and some not at all — whether they live in the East or the West. But thanks to a history of cooking with a whole lot of heat in the kitchen, South Asians have earned the long-time reputation of being the kings and queens of spice. But for the contingent who don’t, perhaps it is also time for a reckoning, nay, an understanding. As George Eliot once said, “it’s never too late.”