I ordered Thai delivery last night.
As I was on the phone placing my order, I was asked the question "how hot?" and I replied "medium."
Now in Minnesota, where I lived until a few months ago, that would have gotten me a dish that had a little bit of kick. For my native MN friends, however, "medium" would have required a trip to the emergency room for a tastebud transplant and emergency hose-down.
Ah, but I live in SEATTLE now. There are actually tons of real live Thai people here, and so the audience is quite different.
"Medium" involved a capsaicin nasal lavage.
"Medium" meant melted ear wax.
"Medium" caused weeping and sweating and steam rising off my head in clouds.
"Medium" meant I actually drank a glass of milk. Eeeew.
I should have remembered the knowing question asked of me in my favorite Thai restaurant in St. Paul years ago.
My reply: "Pretty hot."
"Hot hot or Minnesota Hot?"
Just so we're clear, Minnesota hot is about equal to a year-old diner shaker of black pepper, sparingly applied.
Anyway, I survived the larb gai last night, and made it through, ahem, this morning unscathed.
What I want to know, though, is what on earth "extra spicy" means to a Thai person.