The shame of not being able to handle spicy food when its a huge part of your culture

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Spicy food is part of loads of different cultures, especially the Indian subcontinent.

When you Google Indian culture, youre met with images of stunning women in traditional get-up with spices and colours everywhere (probably linked to Holi, the Hindu spring festival).

The reality is, for a lot of British Asians like me, spicy food is pretty unbearable.

Though most south Asian people do love some heat in their cuisine, the idea of everyone being able to handle it is a myth.

My nose starts running and, in extreme cases, my eyes tear up and I end up with heartburn when I consume hot food. Even a jalapeño in nachos have that effect.

And yes, Ive been called out for it by both Asian and non-Asian peers.

Its not racist if someone assumes I can handle fiery food but it is a bit of a stereotype.

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Indian cuisine in the UK, often a mix of Pakistani and Bangladeshi food alongside Indian but marketed as Indian regardless for broadest appeal, is almost always spicy so people assume that its creators enjoy the fierceness.

But people have different palates. Not everyone is able to consume it and not everyone enjoys doing so.

When Ive revealed to friends about my aversion to it, Ive been called a coconut – the slur used to describe people who are brown on the outside and white on the inside (implying that white people arent able to take spice)

My friends are only teasing but what I dont like is the assumption that just because I am ethnically Asian does not mean I can handle a jalfrezi.

Sabah, a self-described foodie, from Pakistan has had the same experience:

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I used to feel really bad, she tells

I was married before and my mother-in-law used to make such a fuss that I wouldnt eat her food. .

I actually cant handle the spice, I start sweating and it just hurts my tongue so why would I put myself through it. She used to make me feel really guilty about it.

My friends tease me about it because some of them are Asian but they dont do it in a horrible way at all because I wont even try anything that has spice in it as its better to be safe.

But thats just some banter. It means I get my own food and dont have to share.

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Writer Ana, of Bengali descent, also has an aversion to spices.

My mum would just adjust the spiciness of basically everything she cooks, even if its pasta, but my sister expects everyone to handle the heat, she tells

Initially, I felt the pressure to build a tolerance and my parents assumed wed handle it because of our culture but then they accepted that were English.

The teasing wasnt bad at my house, just occasional.

My friends jested, it didnt feel like anything that made me feel inadequate, but also, they did stop eventually.

They mostly retorted with “it isnt hot” and “mix more rice and salad with it” except that makes no difference to me.

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Waqel, a south Asian doctor, physically cant tolerate spices.

Despite his medical background, he is unable to figure out why his body rejects it to such an extent, he tells

When he ingests something spicy, he starts shaking.

I can handle it but not the after effects, probably like the moment the spice hits me I start freezing, he says.

Doctors find it super weird, I have to get blankets and turn on heaters. I was admitted to hospital a few times because I couldnt stop shivering.


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He added that its not an allergy but even the slightest bit can trigger a form of hypothermia.

Ive tried to have it bit by bit to build tolerance. But my relatives and friends all know what happens so they sometimes make a bland version of the curry just for me.

As for me, I love my traditional food and dont see myself ever giving it up.

Just dont be surprised when I ask for medium to no spice when the waiter takes my order, thats all.

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