Hot Sauce is Dope

Last Saturday, I attended the Brooklyn Hot Sauce Expo. It was like a monster truck rally in my mouth: you’re filled with fire and gas.

Over 50 vendors had set up booths to sell spicy condiments in a convention hall. Amidst a thick crowd, my friends and I walked from table to table tasting dabs of hot sauce on corn chips. And sooner or later, one of those samples ruined each of us.

Visually, the hot sauce scene is aggressive. It’s the culinary cousin of the Metal scene. There’s a lot of skulls and flames, and skulls breathing flames. The hot sauce companies have names like Ghost Scream, Blair’s Death Sauce, and PuckerButt.

As we entered the building, I saw a guy doubled-over against a wall. He had a focused grimace on his face and was panting. Inside, a guy who looked like a roadie for Megadeth was working a booth called Hellfire Hot Sauce.

“Hey, do you want to taste Fear This or Pure Hell?” He asked.

“Which is hotter?”

Fear This is our hottest. It’s made with Carolina Reaper peppers.”

“Ok, I’ll try Fear This.”

I wanted to know my limits. He handed me a sticker with an image of the grim reaper. It read “I survived Fear This.” Next, he offered me a corn chip with a small heap of red sludge, which I ate. The burn’s intensity steadily creeped. I coughed and started crying. I laughed. I was breathing like a woman in labor. My girlfriend asked me something but I couldn’t hear. A sip of beer somehow made things worse.

Nearby, a Farmland Dairies booth was handing out school-sized milk cartons. I think milk is gross but at that moment, I’d have sucked it straight from the udder.

10 minutes later, the heat dwindled and I was high. Eating spicy food sends pain signals to the brain. In response, the brain releases endorphins. And endorphins are dope. Hot sauce vendors are a bunch of dope dealers.

I went back and purchased a bottle of the Fear This hot sauce. Not for the taste, for the power. It was like buying a grenade.

After the Hot Sauce Expo, my friends and I walked to a bar. It wasn’t long before someone asked the group, “How much would it take for you to eat a spoonful of Fear This?”

“$50?”

“At least $150.”

“$100 sounds right.”

“No way, you’d die!”

People started dropping bills on the table. The pot reached $120. Everyone internally weighed the consequences, tempted by cash, emboldened by alcohol. And then a young man stepped forward, he’d just arrived, he was someone’s friend from work. He had an innocent face.

“I’ll do it for $120,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yeah, why not?”

I got a spoon from the bar and poured him a pile of pain. Cell phones were out. He calmly put the spoon in his mouth and swallowed. His expression didn’t change. He said nothing. It felt anticlimactic but after a minute his composure began to dissolve.

“Are you ok?”

“I think maybe I need to step outside.”

He didn’t step outside, he ran for the bathroom and spent the next 45 minutes laying next to a dive-bar toilet. I brought him a gallon of milk from a nearby bodega. Everyone felt bad. He hadn’t attended the Hot Sauce Expo. He figured it’d be like eating Tabasco sauce, having never dined with the Carolina Reaper.

An hour later he’d recovered.

“I think I’m ok now,” he said.

“I’m sorry man, I feel bad,” I said.

“No, don’t, it was worth it.”

“No way, really?”

“Definitely!”

I believed him. He was upbeat and smiling. In response to the extreme pain, his brain had released a tsunami of endorphins. He was super high!

Hot sauce is dope.