Sunday, January 2, 2011

Life [Cafe] Is Good

This is a photo of the Life Cafe Spicy Noodles, prior to mixing (sauce+minced meat at the bottom of the bowl) Once mixed spending time on another photo was the furthest thought in my mind...
Life Cafe is this Taiwanese tea (why not 'Life Tea House' then?) and noodle house in Kuching. Life Cafe's Spicy Noodles are well known around town, with this modified version of Sichuan Mala, a mixture of spicy chilis and Sichuan peppercorns, which numb your lips ( numbing component= hydroxy-alpha-sanshool) to diminish the pain of eating the hot chillis. While I was walking around in Kuching, I decided I wanted my 5th helping in these months I've living in Kuching. Suffice to say, I'm addicted to these noodles and spicy food in general. The excitement I had waiting for these noodles to come was very physiological, not just mental. I was not so different from a heroin addict about to get his/her fix. Actually I think from now on I will begin to justify eating spicy food for the capsaicin fix. I mean capsaicin is thought to activate pain pathways that lead to release of endorphins, our brain-made opiates. Interesting to think about that: getting addicted to chemicals/physical activities that indirectly cause your brain to pump out its own opiates. Maybe the answer is to carry around a dropper bottle containing spicy chillis dissolved in oil. I won't leave home without it.

But there's more to it (Yes, this is where I go into how spicy food makes me more lucid in day-to-day life). Eating spicy food makes me super aware of my body, my neuropharmacoloy, and of the interaction between plant-derived chemicals and my taste receptors/nervous system. It is that very awareness that makes me feel more lucid (as in lucid living) and alive. As my mouth sizzles and pops, I become especially appreciative of the body I've been given, the ability to enjoy tastes and smells in general, and then also find it awe-inspiring that plants have adapted their secretory pathways to our sensory and reward systems (or maybe the other way around, not sure if anyone even knows)in such cool ways. Here's something to think about: capsaicin, the main spicy component of chillis, binds the same receptors (of the Trp family of receptors) that sense heat and can transmit that same sensation to the brain. Why is it that the spiciest (containing the most Capsaicin) peppers (i.e. Habaneros, Thai Scotch Bonnet, Jalapenos)tend to grow in the hottest climates, while the sweetest (lacking capsaicin) are in more temperate climates (Sweet Italian, Bell peppers from Holland, the Mediterranean basin and California)? Menthol is of course the other side of the equation. It comes from mint (Mentha spp.) and binds to human receptors (in taste buds and skin) typically used for detecting cold temperature. And guess what? It grows all over the temperate parts of the world, with most species growing quite well in cool climates.  Moreover, capsaicin is known to cause inflammation in your digestive tract (hence the bad case of the "runs" the next day), while menthol has been shown to protect against inflammation (this is why pretty much every cigarette out there has at least trace amounts of menthol, despite not being advertised on the pack).  Is there anything to this trend? Maybe the compounds are more stable at the temperatures they typically mimic when interacting with our bodies. Wouldn't that be something?

No comments:

Post a Comment