“Lowcountry food isn’t really spicy,” says Josh Walker, owner and chef of Xiao Bao Biscuit. Although peppers thrive in lowcountry soil, and hot sauce has long been a standard condiment in local kitchens, area residents have traditionally preferred to wring flavor from salt, onions, butter and cream.
Walker and his crew didn’t set out to spice up the Charleston diet. But an unintended consequence of the young restaurant’s extraordinary popularity may be an increased collective tolerance for heat.
“When we say spicy, we mean spicy,” Walker says of dishes accentuated with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Walker rues the promiscuous use of the word “spicy,” which is now blithely affixed to fast food tacos and mass-produced potato chips. As he points out, a dusting of industrial red powder can’t prepare the palate for the level of heat which is integral to certain Asian cuisines.
But the palate can be trained: Walker’s witnessed the phenomenon behind-the-scenes at Xiao Bao.