Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Eat Chinese and get high as a kite. . . only in America

There were signs selling drugs. Great. Welcome to California. Welcome to Nevada. The land of the free. And the land of the bifter, the blunt, the bogie, and the bun.

The chilli was sending signals to my brain

We were travelling across the state line and found ourselves in a place where it’s legal to buy a doobie, or, as I prefer to call it, a Scooby Doobie Doo. Small amounts of recreational drugs were legalised in parts of America some years ago and the road signs tell you not to get high.

I looked at She Who Must Be Obeyed. We giggled. The way people do when they’re high.

Except we weren’t, nor were we planning to be. I haven’t had a drink for more than 25 years, so the prospects of dabbling in recreationals is somewhere lower than zero. If there was once a juvenile desire to see life in all its hippy, trippy, psychedelic glory, it’s long since left me.

And so onwards we drove, past the shops selling bongs, until we found a place to stay.

The land of Jack Kerouac and free love might once have been the place to tune in, turn on, and drop out – but we were more interested in finding a great view to marvel at as we made a happy, carefree sojourn through America’s South West.

When we arrived in San Francisco, a few days later, it was the breakfast bars – rather than the smoking shops – that enjoyed our custom.

San Francisco is an absurdly beautiful place, full of steep hills and steeper buildings. It’s a place that hasn’t quite shaken off its hippy routes and people are still warm and engaging.

As lunchtime approached, it was time to hit Chinatown, the oldest in North America and one of the largest in the world. We did the usual – asked our friend, Google, for the best place to eat. And we found a Michelin-rated restaurant that had welcomed a host of those passing-through, from Barack Obama to us. Fun.

She Who Must Be Obeyed ordered a bowl of frogs legs’ so large that I thought they’d simply delivered the pond. Halved frogs were motionless in a pool of chilli-infused liquor that made her lips tingle as though they’d been kissed by a million tiny pins. I swayed between two dishes – orange chicken or a spicy chicken dish with chilli.

No contest – the orange chicken won hands down. And then the waitress came over, a would-not-be-quietened part of my brain said ‘chilli’. Great. Challenge. Game on.

I’d visited Chinatown once before, about 30 years ago, when I’d walked confidently into a local restaurant, bottled it when the food arrived, paid the bill and then left. This time, I was determined. So though my brain had said one dish and my mouth had said another, I was down with our authentic Chinese experience. The food arrived. It was gargantuan. I think it would have fed six, rather than two – and, over the coming days, we made our way through it courtesy of the takeaway boxes provided.

But in the restaurant, we gorged ourselves on plates full of Chinese deliciousness, unlike any we’d eaten in sleepy old UK. As I made my way through the chilli chicken dish, manfully eating the hundreds of shards of air-dried chillies and laughing away the droplets of sweat that fringed my brow, something really weird happened. I started to get high. A strange state of euphoria swept over me and as I continued to eat, I started, kinda trippin’.

Becoming increasingly animated, I went at the chilli like a dog at a rabbit, little realising the chilli was giving me the sort of temporary high that the Nevada doobie would have provided. The chilli was sending signals to my brain, saying ‘pain, pain, pain’. My brain was responding, by releasing loads of endorphins and dopamine – or, if you want to be scientific, endorphins were blocking the heat of the chilli and the neurotransmitter, dopamine, was being released – giving me a ‘runner’s high’.

So there we have it. America, the land of the free. Eat Chinese and get high as a kite without resorting to drugs.

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