Hot and Spicy by Oliver Phommavanh
In Hot and Spicy by Oliver Phommavanh we have the theme of curiosity, connection, cunning, embarrassment, tradition, culture, identity and failure. Narrated in the first person by a young Year 6 boy called Albert Yip. The reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Phommavanh may be exploring the theme of curiosity. Albert’s parents are interested in adding new food to their restaurant menu and in many ways Albert is used as the chief tester or guinea pig when it comes to discovering new items for the menu. Something he does not like when the reader discovers that Albert prefers the food in the school canteen (western food). This may be significant as it suggests that rather than making a connection with his parent’s traditions he prefers to consider himself an Australian. In fact it is possible that Albert was born in Australia and has embraced Australian culture. He is after all excited when he is offered BBQ Australian food.
There is also no doubt that Albert is cunning when it comes to adding the chilli paste to the food his mother and father have prepared. What is really interesting about this event is the fact that Albert is prepared to not only sabotage the testing of the food but he is prepared to embarrass his parents. What is really interesting about the event in the school is that Albert’s father knows what Albert’s plans are. Though it is never said as to why Albert does not wish to continue his life living as his parent’s do it may be a case that Albert simply cannot make any connection with being Thai. It is as though by tampering with the food in school he is rebelling against his parents and their culture and traditions.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Curry obviously refers to Thailand and the Kangaroo meat that Albert eats is symbolism for Australia. Albert only seems to be happy when he surrounded by Australian culture. He identifies as being Australian. Though only mentioned briefly Kitchai plays an important part in the story because he is the opposite of Albert, He is younger and seems to respect Thai culture and tradition. There is also a sense that Kitchai will not go against his parents as Albert does. This may be because he is too young to have formulated an opinion on his parents or he simply likes them for who they are. If anything some critics might suggest that Kitchai acts as a foil to Albert’s character.
The end of the story is interesting as Albert’s plan fails. He has not been successful in his actions. Which leaves the reader to feels as though Albert may be a flat character. He is to live his life paralysed or trapped. In fact the only round characters in the story are Albert’s parents. By opening the restaurant they have changed and the fact that the school teachers want more food from Albert’s parents. Suggests a degree of moving forward and prosperity. Which may be the point that Phommavanh is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that heritage and tradition, practically for those who parents might have immigrated to Australia, is important. Albert wants to forget any past he might be associated with. Thailand and its traditions and culture. It is as though Albert does not know that a person’s present and future is shaped by their past.