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Chilly Encounters

The addition of chillies to spice up a cuisine often brings on more than fond culinary memories—tears, sweat and scalded tongues are delicious spin-offs.

People either love chillies or hate them. I have had a love–hate relationship with these little bits of fiery pungency. Despite some fond memories of great food cooked with chillies, the general emotion was one of revulsion. Until lately.

Growing up in a middle-class Bihari home, I accorded chillies a gender dimension—men hated them, while the household women cooked up all kinds of excuses to add them liberally in every which dish. The battle lines were always clearly drawn—my father and I on one side, forever complaining about the overabundance of chillies, with my mother and sisters dismissively defending the accidental straying of “a few micro pieces” into our dishes.

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