We first came across Naga peppers years ago. A colleague of J's had traveled to Northeast India and brought back a few. So she gave us some, and J whipped up a mango chutney at home and added about a third of one very small pepper.
It was delicious, alright. And hot too, to be sure. As I am fond of saying, rather very extremely hot. But we were just starting to wonder what all the fuss was about- wasn't this one of the hottest chili peppers in the world?- when reality hit. It began as a sort of slow, purposeful heat that intensified first in the mouth. Then, equally leisurely, it made its way s-l-o-w-l-y down the throat. And there it stayed.
We gnawed on ice. We downed bottles of cold water. We chewed strong mint gum. Then we looked at each other, the unspoken questions being, "Are we going to die? Have we killed ourselves? Whom should we leave our books to? What about the ukuleles?" Because none of our desperate remedies were coming remotely close to working. It seemed like hours, our suffering. And we began to see why they're also called ghost peppers, because this heat just hung around: amorphous, persistent, inexplicable, and very very scary.
Clearly, we did not die by Naga pepper. So what did we do, a few years later and none the wiser? Bought a jar of the pickled stuff! He he he. Part of the thrill was finding it in a local Bangladeshi store that gave us the giddy feeling of being in India proper. The clerk even made a comment about the pickle's hotness, backing it up with a feeble laugh. We didn't heed him.
And now it sits on the kitchen counter months later, the level barely even dipping. That's because we've taken to adding it in fingernail-sized quantities to any big batch of food we make. And that old, slow heat is there again, but this time its terror-inducing qualities have been tamed a bit. It does give off the most complex aroma, also, making the house smell delicious for hours. Whoever has cooked, the other has taken to timidly asking, "how much?" And the other answers, "Don't worry, not much," meaning, the usual minuscule amount.
But the other day there was something rather special about the stew we had. J gave this astounding answer to the usual question: "Half a teaspoon!"
Does this mean we are slowly building up our tolerance to the thing? We'll have to wait and watch. If one day I find myself floating above my laptop, strangely hot and no longer able to post anything here, I'll know I've died and gone to ghost chili hell.