I think my palate is the definition of a paradox: my tolerance to spicy food is minimal; with just a bite of anything spicy, my eyes well up, blinking repeatedly as they widen; my breath speeds up, every exhale coming out with a fiery hotness, every inhale begging for the cool air to rush in.
But still, I always find myself ordering the item with the three red chillies sign next to it. I always scan the menu for the spicy options, a momentary amnesia blocking the tears, sweat and sharp inhales that will go with my order. And then my dish comes.
So I think that might explain why three pairs of eyes are searching my face for all of the above signs. I am sitting in front of a big soup bowl, wearing a bib, and even after a big mouthful of my Bun Tom Hue (hot and spicy juicy tiger prawn soup), my eyes are still dry, my breathing normal, my lips forming a smile.
You see, I am inside Pho, one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants in London. For some reason, they seem to get it perfect every time. Spicy but not painfully so; hot but not scorching; the tastes are not overpowering; they compliment and complete each other, allowing all the different layers to come through in every bite.
What adds to the food is the people in Pho. The team Leader is a combination of a style icon and a service guru, always around to give you the best advice on what and how to eat (you will be surprised how necessary a bib is sometimes).
If you go there, you need to try Goi Cuon Tom (fresh summer rolls with prawns and fresh herbs), Rau Muong Xao Lai (stir fried morning glory with garlic), and Pho Tai Lan (Hanoi style soup with flash fried steak and garlic).
Where was I? Oh, yes; spoon in one hand, chopsticks in the other; back to my tear-free Bun Tom Hue!