Not everyone in the world likes spicy food, but it seems that just about every corner of the globe offers some kind of dish that appeases mouth-burning masochists or at least acts as a challenge for the more adventurous gastronomes. Wherever peppers grow, creative chefs can whip up something powerful – and the world’s hottest pepper grows in Asia.
From South Korea to India, here are some of Asia’s spiciest dishes.
Kimchi – South Korea: Kimchi (and its pungent aroma) is ubiquitous in Korea. It is so popular that napa cabbage shortages – the dish’s main ingredient – create a national crisis. Back in 2010, former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was forced to intervene when a poor harvest caused prices to skyrocket.
South Koreans consume more than two million tons of kimchee a year. Summertime is spent drying red chilies (some sources claim that South Korea alone consumes 60 percent of the world’s supply) that are later mixed with fermented cabbage, garlic and other spices and stored for the winter.
Because many Koreans make their own kimchi, the spice level varies from mild to tear-inducing.
Geki Kara Miso Ramen – Japan: Japan is not well known for spicy food – in fact, expats in the Land of the Rising Sun often complain that even dishes labeled as spicy end up incredibly mild. The slightest level of heat at an ethnic restaurant quickly produce exclamations of “Karai!” (Hot!).
Hokkaido, Japan’s frigid northern island, is an exception. Perhaps the long winters and deep snow have toughened up local taste buds, as the spice-lover’s version of the regional favorite miso ramen has quite a kick. Geki kara miso ramen (super spicy miso ramen), mixed with chili oil, can provide a deep burn for anyone left unimpressed with Japanese-level spiciness. Some shops will even add a whole habanero pepper on request if you want to kick things up a notch.
Sichuan Hot Pot – China: “Before you try your first spoon of Sichuan Hot-Pot, make sure you have a towel nearby,” warns Hotel Club. “You’ll be soaked in a matter of minutes.”
This dish, often served in a large metal bowl, adds literal heat to the fiery burn of the spices it contains. Boiling broth – filled with garlic, onion and enough Sichuan peppers that you sometimes can’t see the bottom of the bowl – is used to cook raw meat and veggies that diners dip inside. Like the often spicy ma po tofu, another world-famous Sichuan offering, special peppercorns mixed into the broth have a numbing effect.
Gan Guo – China: This Hunan-style stir fry mixes meat, vegetables, and tofu with a generous amount of hot peppers. “Hunan food is less oily than Sichuan food and the abundance of fresh red and green chili peppers, scallions, ginger and garlic make Hunan food arguably the spiciest cuisine in China,” wrote CNN.
Tom Yum – Thailand: Tom yum is a popular Thai dish that combines sour and spicy notes with either chicken or seafood. Lime juice and citrus leaves are combined with Thai Bird’s Eye Chilis – which rank between 50,000 and 100,000 on the Scoville scale (a scientific ranking of spiciness). A jalapeno, by comparison, ranks between 2,500 and 8,000 on the Scoville scale.
Vindaloo – India: Vindaloo, an Indian curry that is thought to have originated in Portugal, is notorious in its native Goa and around the world where it is served in Southwest Indian-style restaurants. It incorporates meat, typically pork or lamb, with vinegar, potatoes, red chilies – and Bhut jolokia.
Bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chili, is (according to Guinness World Records) the hottest pepper in the world. Remember the Thai Bird’s Eye Chili and its maximum Scoville rating of 100,000? Bhut jolokia tips the scales at between 855,000 and 1,500,000 Scoville units.
Phall – India: The bhut jolokia pepper is native to India, so it should come as no surprise that Indian curries earned the top two spots on our list. Just to emphasize how hot the ghost chili can be, the Indian military has turned it into a “biological weapon.” Chili grenades are actually part of the Indian military’s counter-terrorism arsenal.
Phall is considered the hottest curry in the world, and indeed it may be the spiciest food overall. It generally uses ten different peppers – ranging from the comparatively mild habanero and scotch bonnet (both 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units) to the weaponized bhut jolokia.
An Indian chef who prepares an eight-pepper Phall curry at his New York-based restaurant wears a gas mask when cooking it. “The dish has left diners vomiting, crying and sweating profusely,” said The Mirror. “Some have hallucinated and two were rushed to the hospital.” Those bold enough to finish the bowl get a free beer, an honorary certificate and their photo added to the restaurant’s “Phall of Fame.”