Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot...NOT!
February 12, 2015 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Do you love spicy food? This question is not for you! I want to compile a list of the safest/mildest dishes to order when you eat out. If you don't like heat, what are your go-to dishes?

For my food blog I want to make a list, by cuisine, of the safest choices for people who do not like spicy food. Choices that are actually vouched for by real people, not the boring same old, same old lists. I'm sure people are sick of only ordering butter chicken!

Please tell me which things you order, which cuisine type (and less importantly the restaurant if it's a chain and the country).

Thank you!
posted by Youremyworld to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have very sensitive taste buds. Pad See Ew is my go-to dish whenever I'm at a Thai restaurant. It's a stir-fried noodle dish made with sweet soy sauce, and zero spiciness.
posted by invisible ink at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

I really hate spicy food but having trouble making a list like this. It's more like what I know not to order. Most Indian and Ethiopian food is ruled out for me based on experience. In Thai places I don't order curry. In Mexican places I don't get mole sauce. If a sauce is red and it's not marinara proceed with caution. Nothing with jalapeños. In my experience there are more things I can try than things I have to stick to.
posted by bleep at 5:18 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

For Thai, the safe bet is pad see ew.

For Korean, most of the time hot stone bi bim bap is served without sauce applied and you get to mix it up yourself to add however much chili sauce you want. It's okay to do no chili sauce and often doenjang (a soy sauce with no spice) is also provided. Bulgogi is a pretty good bet, too, although that has so many variations that it's important to ask. Kimchi comes in a non-spicy version: Baek kimchi, sometimes "white kimchi". It's basically the same as regular cabbage kimchi but without the chili powder that gives it its red color and kick. That, too, will often have lots of variations but it's usually something you can tell by looking at it.

Chili: The type of chili least likely to be surprise-mouth-burning is called Cincinnati chili. It's actually a little sweet sometimes and a good one will have the flavor complexity of a great mole without the spice.

With Americanized Indian food apart from butter chicken there's also korma, which comes in so many varieties that it's important to ask for specifics. In my experience it's rare for pakoras to be spicy, either, and dipped in raita instead of chutneys can dull any kick there might be.
posted by Mizu at 5:33 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I hate spicy food! For Indian, I go with either lamb korma or chicken makhani (butter chicken). If I'm not familiar with the restaurant, I'll ask them to make the food as mild as possible, since I'm a spice-wimp.

Thai food -- pad see ew is excellent, as are most of the fried rice dishes (unless they specifically say they're spicy.)
posted by sarcasticah at 5:42 PM on February 12, 2015

I like bun ga (chicken) or bun tofu at noodle/Vietnamese places (our local place is sort of Lao-Thai-Vietnamese all together). It's a little vinegary but mostly just veggies and garnishy cilantro and stuff, and they typically offer the sauce on the side.
posted by St. Hubbins at 5:49 PM on February 12, 2015

Chipotle's Carnitas are probably the unspiciest thing in the place. Skip the salsa and guacamole and you're all set.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:49 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pad Woon Sen is always safe for me at Thai places -- but also, the thing about most Thai places is that they're really, really used to talking about heat levels. This is usually thought of in terms of the folks who like it spicy, but it also can benefit you. Talk to your server and tell them you want zero spice.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:56 PM on February 12, 2015

seconding @BlahLaLa, if its made to order, its worth talking to the server about recommendations or customizing the spicy (or lack thereof) levels for most any dish with the server so it can be made as you like.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:58 PM on February 12, 2015

Response by poster: Thinking this list could also be useful where language barriers are an issue, so very helpful to have the official names for things in the corresponding countries. Thanks for the responses so far.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:05 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

For Italian, spaghetti carbonara is really pretty mild - it doesn't even contain much garlic, and the egg yolk/cream make it very mellow.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've actually increased my heat tolerance over time, but I'm still pretty much a wimp. I also am one of those who can't stand coriander - the combination of these factors makes Thai, Indian and Mexican complicated, but still doable (since they are so yummy!)

Gang Massaman
Pad Preow Wan (sweet and sour but not at all like the nasty red syrupy thing; uses lots of fresh veg and shouldn't have anything deep fried at all)
Pad See Ew and also Pad Thai (as long as they leave off the chilli, some places will add it as a matter of course but it is not integral to the dish).
Green curry can work but it really depends who makes it. I've had amazingly mild and flavourful ones, and I've had ones that set my mouth on fire. I guess this is where you specify.

Saag Paneer
Malai Kofta
Chicken/Lamb/whatever Korma
Chicken/Lamb/whatever Makhani (butter chicken)
But again, need to stress that these should be mild. I've had Chicken Makhani that was too spicy for me, even though it tends to be a milder dish in general.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:57 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm ok with medium spicy.

Alitcha (spelling varies) is the mildest Ethiopian dish.
posted by brujita at 9:06 PM on February 12, 2015

I agree with what has been posted and will add more:

summer rolls, spring rolls

Tom Kha soup (coconut milk based soup) vegetable soup or tofu soup
As noted, pad thai, but also crispy pad thai
Kra Tiem (really garlicky! but not spicy)
Sometimes Thai places will have a menu where you can choose the meat or tofu and then the dish will have a name like "Basil" or "Garlic" or "Eggplant" - these can be made without chili.

Indian (most entrees can be made spicy by request)
Utthapams (with non-chilli toppings)
Biriyani (generally)
Channa masala
Baigan bhartha
Dal makhani
Aloo palak or Aloo mattar
Mattar paneer
A similar dish to saag, also palak (paneer, aloo or etc)
In addition to the meat korma, also Navratan Korma (9 vegetable korma)

Tortas (generally, if no jalapeño)
Quesadillas (again, if no jalapeño)
Huaraches (with mild salsa)
Enchiladas can be quite mild too, especially verdes (green), inquire to spice level

Most Italian is safe except fra diavolo, arrabiatta
Most Japanese is safe if you don't use wasabi

note: this guide only works if you can tolerate "spices" that are tart or flavorful but are not actually hot. I add this disclaimer because some folks I have met who grew up on particularly bland diets consider ketchup "spicy".
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tom kha is sometimes spicy. You have to check the ingredients of any dish.
posted by bleep at 9:20 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's always at least a little and often a lot of spice in tom kha gai. There is a lot of mild Thai though... pad thai; pad see yew; pineapple rice...

The other night I had a burningly hot version of butter chicken at a south Indian restaurant. Everything there was super spicy actually, even the corn soup which they told us had no spice. I'd say avoid south Indian restaurants in general!

Vietnamese is easy - I've never encountered anything spicy there except a couple fusion-y things where japalenos were listed as an ingredient. Pho, lemongrass chicken, shaking beef, beef onion rolls, fresh spring rolls, all spice-free.

As T+B noted above, for Italian, if it's not fra diavolo or arrabiata, it won't be spicy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:46 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can also include in your blog that it could be helpful to order a lassi at an Indian restaurant or a Thai tea at a Thai restaurant if something comes spicier than you think, as each restaurant has their own spice levels. Even when I ask for something to be mild, it can be quite spicy. Once I ordered a papaya salad that was so spicy it was inedible for me (when I had asked for mild), and they were nice enough to take it back. But my iced water was doing nothin' for it.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 11:13 PM on February 12, 2015

I am someone who LOVES spicy food. Hot as it can get. As such, I can tell you with definitive certainty a country that has non-spicy, rich cuisine filled with savors that are not hot:


Traditional French food has no chili to speak of, and no spices that add heat. Go bonkers with it! If you ever visit France, you will safely be able to eat anywhere except North African, Turkish, Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Paris. Yes, even Thai restaurants in Paris are tame. Outside of Paris, everyone tames down their spice levels. Really, you would be safe: you would have to ask for chili, and even then, really REALLY insist, occasionally to the point where you say "hand me a bird's eye chili, please" and eat it whole in front of them for them to believe you.
posted by fraula at 1:54 AM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

There is an almost zero percent chance that any German food you order will be spicy. The only thing I can think of that might have even a hint of hot is currywurst, and even that is mild.
posted by ladybird at 2:53 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Traditional Dutch dishes, like German dishes, aren't spicy at all. Hutspot, stamppot, and hachée are all pretty much variations on mixed potatoes, vegetables, and meat. Erwtensoep (also called snert) is just a thick pea soup that usually includes pieces of smoked sausage (rookworst). Fried snacks like kroketten and bitterballen aren't spicy unless you get the type that explicitly include peanut sauce (satékroket) or curry powder. Frikandellen (skinless sausages) aren't spicy.

Also, some Indonesian foods that you can get in the Netherlands are normally not spicy, like loempias and nasi goreng. However, if you're at an Indonesian restaurant, it can be difficult to find very mild dishes.
posted by neushoorn at 3:13 AM on February 13, 2015

Chipotle's Carnitas are probably the unspiciest thing in the place. Skip the salsa and guacamole and you're all set.

Spice Alert! I'm spicy-avoidant but not nearly as much as other people, yet at ShopHouse (Chipotle's SE Asian "concept") even the 1-flame dishes seem extremely spicy to me. I've never been to Chipotle so I can't compare, but I was surprised. For some stupid reason they never have no-star veggies; the corn is the only one I can eat but I can't even vouch for it here.

Jewish food isn't spicy but it can be peppery. For deli food, an egg salad sandwich is a safe bet. At Chinese-American places, chop suey and egg drop soup.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:36 AM on February 13, 2015

posted by cog_nate at 6:21 AM on February 13, 2015

I'm glad you're addressing this, but as a non-spice person, I would never rely on it. I always ask about the spice levels, and if given a choice of 1-5 I always request zero.

There are some TexMex restaurants in my area that put hot spices in everything: the rice and the beans, they stew their shredded chicken and beef in a pepper sauce. I always ask about those things, and sometimes I end up with plain boiled chicken (without even salt or pepper) and cheddar cheese on a tortilla, because that is the only thing in the restaurant that has no spice built in. Chipotle recently changed their chicken recipe to add peppery spices - it didn't used to have it - and now I don't eat there anymore. My husband goes there when I go out of town. At Fuzzy's tacos I order off the breakfast menu all day because they don't put spices in the eggs or cheese, but they do put it in all the chicken and beef dishes.

Whenever I order a baked potato and the waiter asks if I want it "loaded", I always ask if that includes jalapenos, because where I live, it often does. I went to a brew pub in Fort Worth where every single thing on the menu was spicy. I explained my problem as a health issue and asked if they could do the baked potato without their signature topping and just do butter, cheese and sour cream. Sure, he said, but he brought it out with Pepper Jack cheese on it. I just drank beer and ate the saltines on the table.

If I'm going to a place where they don't speak English, I learn the words for peppers and spicy.
posted by CathyG at 7:14 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

A someone who dislikes and can not tolerate spicy food, I stay the hell away from Indian restaurants.

Pad see ew as mentioned above is a good choice at Thai restaurants, as is pad thai.
posted by radioamy at 7:38 AM on February 13, 2015

I've never had a spicy tom kha, but I also have a suspicion that I get mild food as a default because I'm white. Even if I say "make it spicy", I often get only medium hot spice unless I say " make it Indian spicy!"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:17 AM on February 13, 2015

At Thai restaurants, I get pad thai, which is almost always a safe bet for me. If the menu has star ratings for spice, I specify "one star" or "no stars" or whatever I think will me get the least spicy option. I have also had pretty good success with yellow curry, though it's about the upper end of my spiciness tolerance and I often have my husband order it first so I can try it and see if I can handle it. If you can, I'd try some and see if it will work - it's one more "standby" and it's nice to have another option!
posted by meggan at 1:22 PM on February 13, 2015

Southern cooking/soul food generally isn't spicy (depends on the restaurant tho.)
Basic American cuisine should work too.
Diners. Club sandwiches, mashed potatoes, meatloaf.
Rosemary chicken.
Don't get a steak sandwich at a Mexican place o ra pizza shop; the steak often comes to the store pre-peppered. Uncle Sam's and Subway are fine tho.
Pizza carbonera is delicious.
Anything Chinese-American that doesn't indicate that it's spicy with that picture of the hot pepper.
posted by serena15221 at 1:35 PM on February 13, 2015

I blame this thread for the large bowl of lamb korma I'm currently stuffing into my face.
posted by sarcasticah at 6:09 PM on February 13, 2015

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