Science asks: “Can you take the love of spicy food too far?”

Science can ask whatever it wants. I have no idea. All I know is this…I was sitting in my car when I did the first bad thing. It was in the morass of Federal Way’s 320th street. Stoplight headquarters. I knew I shouldn’t, but I wanted to. So I took the first bite of the bánh mì that would break me.

You may have heard of the bánh mì. A beautiful sandwich from your local Vietnamese vendor. But this one was different, it was a spicy chicken bánh mì, a rare flavor from Pho Huang in Federal Way. I just love these sandwiches so much that I want to harm them with my mouth. Especially when they are bathed in rooster sauce.

The other night I went to a poker game and brought a sandwich with me and no one had heard about them before. Everyone thought I was weird for asking them, then oddly trying to force them, to take a bite out of my sandwich. I was stupid for trying to share.

Me and my workwife Roberto figured out that the perfect amount of sandwiches to eat is one-and-a-half. Two sandwiches sounds like a good idea, but just ends up making you sad, and one sandwich is simply never enough. So now any stupid bets we make about fantasy football involve the loser buying three sandwiches that we split between us. I don’t even care who wins those bets because we all win.

But let’s clear something up. The clevererness of any pho restaurant’s name is inversely proportional to its deliciousness. Simply put, the smarmier the name, the worse the food. A more normal, or unintentionally funny, name means better food. And if you disagree with me, I bet you three sandwiches you’re wrong.

Anyhow, what makes the flavor of Pho Haung’s spicy chicken bánh mì so rare is the randomness with which it is spiced. Some sandwiches are only tasty, while others are bloody-nose hot. Both are good, but in-between is best. And it is usually, always, the last bite that gets you. I think it’s the way they hand mix their sauce. It’s not even.

But this time in my car, it was on the first bite. I have eaten dozens and dozens of these, and never had the first bite destroy me like this. My forehead went tight. My ears began to plug. And the pain. There was all of it and more on the way. This coming from a guy who uses hot sauce to keep his family from eating any leftovers he wants all to himself.

Anyhow, this is when I did the second bad thing. I grabbed some old liquid in my car and knocked it back. It was day-old coffee, and even though it was literally acid, I thought because it was cold that it still might help. It did for a second. Then all of pain pores in my face parts flowered like they were seeing the sun for the first time. I was in absolute agony.

The streetlight stayed red as I turned red. I started rocking forward a lot, thinking it would help. Sounds were escaping my body. Moan yelps. Finally the light turns and I jam on it, an idea on my mind. I was racing against the minutes that were melting my will to live.

The closest place was Trader Joe’s and I did not care what I looked like as I found my way to the sample display at the back. This was when the first good thing happened. There were plenty of crackers with random goop on them and no TJ employee to guard them. Those crackers died instantly in my gross mouth inferno. The goop was nice but not enough.

This is when the second good thing happened. The fridge was right next to the sample table so I grabbed a pint of milk and raptor-tore it open and drank. Being as it was the middle of lunch, there were plenty of people around to stare at me. However, all of the cares I gave were left in that stale cup of coffee back in my car.

I drank almost all of the milk, then went upfront to gladly pay for it. I was feeling much better, and only had a slightly sweaty sheen to show for my bad choices. I had never been more thankful for Trader Joe’s, and I’m always pretty thankful for them.

I felt so good, I double-backed and picked up another thing of milk. Seeing a grown man doing all of these things must have been quite a treat for everyone there. Then I paid for everything, headed back to my car, and finished the rest of that delicious sandwich.

When I read this story to my workwife Roberto, he approved. When I told this story to my real wife, it did not surprise her. When I told it to myself, I got hungry and wanted another sandwich.




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