Where my Love of Spicy Food Began

My father liked hot and spicy food. He liked pickled chili peppers, fresh horseradish, candied ginger, etc. My mother did not cook spicy food so at home it was just condiments that could be bought at the grocery store. He did order spicy food when eating out if it was available. We traveled quite a bit, but availability was limited in those days. If we were in the South or South West, spicy BBQ would do it for him.

I was naturally curious and would try a sneaky bite here and there but really could not understand the why of it. That food hurt! I even remember seeing my father take a bite of gefilte fish with very fresh horseradish that induced a tear to roll down his cheek and take away his voice except for a croak to say that it was good.

As a child, watching my father cry in public was odd enough, but to hear him say that it was good in a voice that sounded like he had hands strangling him was truly weird. It took me almost 10 years after that incident to understand what it all meant.

As an older teen in the mid to late 1970s, my sister took me to a BBQ place in Berkeley called Everett and Jones. She told me there was a branch in San Francisco but it was in Hunter’s Point and not a place I should go. We arrived at a fairly modest looking joint, but it was clean inside and the Q was first rate.

The menu consisted of sliced beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken, and their own house made hot links. You could get your chosen meat as a sandwich or as a dinner plate. They did not actually make sandwiches though. In true Southern BBQ style, a sandwich was just a smaller portion. On the plate would be your meat of choice, potato salad, 2 pieces of Wonder style white bread for a sandwich or 4 pieces on a dinner portion. The chosen sauce would be generously slathered over the meat. There were no substitutions and at the time there were no other choices to substitute for.

They had sauce in mild, medium, and spicy varieties and I think I ordered medium on that first visit. This was the best BBQ I had been able to find outside of the South and it was a place I would definitely take the BART train to get to if I was not coming with my sister.

They would sell you their sauce to take home, but only if you brought your own bottle. To buy the sauce, you had to go around the corner to the liquor store, buy a soda that came in a screw top bottle to drink with your Q. They sold soda from a fountain but if you were going to buy sauce then bringing in a bottle was OK.

After several visits I decided to try the hot BBQ sauce on my favorite meat which was their excellent links. I really have a soft spot for home made sausage. The sauce was really hot, much hotter than the various Chinese dishes I had tried at the time. I was drawing in air through pursed lips trying to get some relief and working on that soda which had no affect at all on the rising fire inside my mouth. A buzz rang in my ears and I could swear that I was getting a high from that sauce, but damn it was hot!

I was determined however to not be beaten by a plate of hot links, I would not throw in the towel. My face was sweating along with the rest of my body and then I made the worst mistake one can when eating spicy food with your hands. I wiped at my eye with the back of a finger and then the tears started in earnest. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and even dripping onto my plate.

I told the woman behind the counter that I had sauce in my eye and she just laughed out loud as she said in a thick voice, “ Dat hot sauce, it always makes dem cry!”


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