On Monday, on this very blog, I argued that English lacks a pithy word or phrase to accurately capture the sensation felt when eating chilli. The terms we already have don’t really do the job: ‘hot’, more usually denotes temperature, and ‘spicy’ makes me think of aromatic ingredients like cinnamon before I ever think of chilli. And as we’re a nation in love with Vindaloo, a term to denote the extent of the capsaicin burn in our favourite dish would probably come in very handy.
Since the British Empire used to extend its tentacles to the parts of the globe where chilli is widely grown and eaten, it is an act of wilful neglect to accept this lamentable situation. In my original blog post I recommended that we learn from the chilli-eating nations of the world and adopt one of their spot-on terms for chilli heat. Right on cue, one of my excellent readers responded with the following suggestions:
Pedas (Malay) and La (Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese) = Chilli-hot
Much as I’d love to see more Chinese in the English language, I’m thinking that most of us wouldn’t be able to handle its tonal aspect. We’d have to enlist pronunciation help from one of the many primary school children currently attaining fluency in the language. And without the right tone, ‘la’ would probably just sound blah.
The thing which most makes me want to go ahead and adopt the term ‘pedas’ is that even plain-eating English speakers already use some Malay words in a culinary context: namely agar and ketchup.
Finally, I can easily imagine people round here using the term. Every Friday morning, City boys on the 0515 to Liverpool Street would be saying, “I had a curry last night and it was well pedas. A real ring-stinger.”
So it looks as though ‘pedas’ wins the day. Unless, of course, you have a better suggestion.