Sexy Feast: Mirch Masala Gives a Spicy Lesson about Sex in India

As much as I enjoy Asian cuisine, I rarely crave food from India. I don’t dislike it. In fact, last year, I looked for different takes on Indian food, sampling creative plates at the suave new Shanik, and tasting thalis at Poppy and Travelers. But the typical tandoori, biryani, and curry dishes served in Seattle restaurants aren’t quite compelling to me. So when an Indian friend talked up Mirch Masala in Capitol Hill, I thought I’d follow her recommendation.

In addition to a requisite order of naan, I wanted a couple of entrees. The server said butter chicken is the most popular item. A safe selection, I know, but fun to compare with Far Eats’ version, which I ate last year. Seeking a lamb dish that would offer a contrast in flavor, the server steered me to the simply named “lamb curry.” I requested both at 5 (extra hot) on the 1-5 spice scale, with the heat thankfully covering up the sweetness of the butter chicken (Far Eats’ is much, much better) while providing extra zip to the onion, garlic, and curry spicing of an otherwise ordinary lamb dish.

So what does Mirch Masala’s Indian food teach us about sex?

It’s all about silent heat.

While I wasn’t wowed by the food, I do congratulate Mirch Masala on one important note: It’s the first restaurant in memory to not question me when I ordered at the spiciest level. On top of that, they didn’t dumb down the heat. How refreshing for a restaurant to respect my request! So many Sichuan and Thai places, for example, ask, “Can you really eat that?” and still make my food less spicy than desired.

Maybe this is a sign of surreptitious spice in Indian culture.

On the surface, India can seem like a sexless country. Sex is rarely depicted on television or in the movies, and even kissing was taboo until recently. Forget about pornography. It’s illegal to produce or distribute porn in India, though private consumption is legal. (That said, a few months ago, Sherlyn Chopra made headlines in being proclaimed the country’s first porn star. She’s the first Indian model to pose nude for the cover of Playboy, though publication has been delayed–yet supposedly imminent.)

But there’s silent, hidden spice in the arena of sex. Remember, India is the home of Tantra and the Kama Sutra. And before Independence brought censor boards to broadcasting, there was sex on the screen. In some ways, one can say that India has been innovative in the area of sexuality.

Let’s be realistic. India is home to traditional gender roles, and there’s high incidence of child sexual abuse. While there may not be steamy sex on the screen, there are depictions of rape in the media. The brutal rape and murder in December of the 23-year-old student in Delhi is shining international spotlight on some of the sexual woes in India.

Conservatives in India are blaming Western influences for “decay” of their society. In contrast, I’d argue that sexual repression (connected to gender inequity and lack of sexual openness and communication) contributes to problems like the recent sexual assault. It’s another sign that internationally, including here in the United States, when it comes to countering the war on women, it’s time to bring the heat–and maybe not so silently.

First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on January 17, 2013.

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