How did the star-rating system for spiciness get started?
May 30, 2014 6:57 PM Subscribe
At almost any Thai restaurant in the U.S., many dishes can be ordered with a specification of how spicy the dish should be. Usually, this is on a scale of four or five stars (with possibly an extra "Thai hot") at the top. I'm curious as to how this tradition got started and why it's primarily associated with Thai food. (And I guess as a side question, whether this phenomenon extends to Thai restaurants outside of the U.S.)
I've tried to do some searching myself, but either the info is hard to find, or I haven't found the right search query to separate the wheat from the chaff.
posted by ErWenn to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
To be slightly more specific, I guess there are two aspects of this that I think are unusual.
One is the notion that you can order pretty much any dish on the menu with varying levels of spiciness. That's not something you'll see in many other styles of restaurant in the U.S. You might have a few dishes that come in several varieties of varying spiciness (a la Buffalo wings), but not usually every dish on the menu. Even with other cuisines noted for spicy dishes. For example, they won't ask you how spicy you want your taco at a Mexican restaurant or your étoufée at a Cajun restaurant, although they might bring you some hot sauce on the side.
The other unusual thing is that they've pretty strongly standardized to using "stars" to rate the spiciness of food at Thai restaurants. Even though there's absolutely no standardization for exactly what three stars specifically means, everybody seems to use stars. Elsewhere you'll typically get some variant on "mild, medium, or hot", but at Thai restaurants, it's almost always always stars.
I'm not so much looking for wild speculation as to how it might've come to pass. I can do that plenty on my own. I'm more looking for historical information about when the practice started, or who started, or when it became hugely popular. That info may or may not be out there, but I figured that if it was, somebody on MetaFilter would know.