Eat if You Dare: The World’s Spiciest Dishes
Published 19 September 2016
One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to taste the local food. I’ll try anything once – crocodile steaks, kangaroo burgers, deep-fried crickets and even camel sausages. All pretty tasty, but I have to draw the line at super spicy food. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a little bit of a kick, as long as you can still taste the flavours, but when the heat is so overpowering my eyes start to stream and I can’t feel my own face, it’s just not my thing. So I’m not even going to pretend I’ve tried all of these dishes, some of the spiciest in the world – would you?
When I was travelling in China, my trusty guidebook warned me about the tongue-on-fire spiciness of the Sichuan hotpot. Essentially a huge bowl of boiling broth into which you dip various meats until they’re cooked through, the hotpot is generously flavoured with Sichuan pepper, an ingredient whose Chinese name translates as ‘numb and spicy,’ perhaps giving you an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for. Within seconds of my first bite of broth-boiled beef, my mouth went numb. Tears flowed from my eyes, and I was soon gulping down the Tsingtao beer to get rid of the burn, leaving me not only with the chilli sweats, but also slightly inebriated as well. Be warned.
Chinese chilli beef
Another fiery incident on my travels in Sichuan province occurred in a restaurant on Emeishan, a misty, temple-covered mountain that we hiked for a few days. On the menu, which was loosely translated into English, was a dish called chilli beef. Based on our knowledge of the chilli beef in our local Chinese takeaway, my boyfriend and I concluded that this would probably be beef in a black bean-style sauce with green peppers and chilli. How wrong we were. A huge mound of sizzling fried green chillies sitting atop a thin strip of beef arrived. I won’t repeat what my boyfriend said when he took a mouthful, but let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
These are the spiciest things I’ve ever eaten. But what else is there? I’ve scoured the globe, watched plenty of Man v Food (all in the name of research you understand) and come up with a few more dishes with a high enough rating on the Scoville scale to wreck your taste buds for life. “People of the world, spice up your life” sang the Spice Girls way back in 1997. Perhaps these are what they had in mind?
No, not the British curry house style (although that has its place of course) but the genuine article, all the way from Goa, piled high with red chillies. Not a lot of people know that this marinated meat dish actually originated in Portugal, where they called it carne de vinha d’alhos, which translates as ‘meat in garlic wine’. When sailors brought it to Goa, the wine was replaced with palm vinegar, dried red chillies were added and the name changed slightly to what we know today. In the UK, vindaloo is widely regarded as the hottest dish available, but that title actually belongs to phall, which originated in Birmingham and uses the scorching-hot scotch bonnet chilli pepper.
Suicide chicken wings
Featured in an episode of Man v Food, where host Adam Richman ate an impressive six of them in six minutes, suicide chicken wings are found all over the USA. As the name suggests, this sweat-inducing snack is not for the faint-hearted. The wings are marinated in one of the hottest sauces on the planet, made with paprika, tomato, honey and vinegar as well as a generous handful of ghost chilli peppers. Also known as bhut jolokia, the ghost chilli has a Scoville heat unit (SHU) rating of over a million, and was certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the hottest chilli in the world in 2007 (although it has since been usurped by the 1.5 million SHU Carolina Reaper chilli, which causes throat blistering to those who swallow it). To put this in perspective, Tabasco has an SHU rating of 5,000, while the humble jalapeño sits at about 2,500.
Papa a la Huancaína
A Peruvian favourite, Papa a la Huancaína consists of boiled potatoes in Huancaína sauce. Fairly innocuous I hear you cry, until you learn that Huancaína sauce is made with white cheese, milk and aji amarillo, a spicy yellow pepper that also gives the sauce its distinctive colour. I have actually tried this one, and it wasn’t spicy in the slightest. I must have had the cop-out tourist version though, because the aji amarillo ranks at 50,000 SHU, making the creamy-looking sauce deceptively hot.
Made with the eye-wateringly spicy scotch bonnet chilli (100,000-350,000 SHU), jerk chicken is essentially chicken leg rubbed with a dry mixture of herbs and spices including cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic. This is then barbecued, grilled or smoked until crispy and eaten with rice and peas. You might have tasted this in one of the UK’s many Caribbean restaurants and thought it’s quite mild, but try it in Jamaica and you’ll need more than just the local rum to cool back down again.
Tom yum soup
This Thai speciality, often called hot and sour soup, is a shrimp-filled broth made with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chillies, creating a vibrant, fresh yet spicy soup that will definitely warm your cockles and a lot more besides. The spiciness level does vary, with the more touristy restaurants toning it down a little, but when I learned to cook it on a cookery course in Chiang Mai, we put no less than 27 dried chillies in per portion.
The national dish of Ethiopia, doro wat (sometimes spelled ‘wot’) is a stew made with succulent chicken, spices and clarified butter, plus a sack load of chilli. Ethiopians, and indeed Africans from all nations, eat this all the time, and so their taste buds are used to the heat. But for a doro wat virgin like me, it’s blow-your-head-off spicy. The flatbread it’s served with, known as injera, helps to soften the blow a little, but you’re definitely going to need a beer or a glass of milk afterwards.
To taste these slizzlingly spicy dishes, take a look at Round the World Experts' range of holidays to China, India, USA and Peru and chat to our Experts for further advice as to where to eat and drink on your holidays.