Burning spices have only recently filtered into Western cuisine. For over a millennia, chilies have been the staple ingredient in many exotic countries.
So forget about glazed “spicy” chicken wings, or chili sauces that use pictures of thermometers to tempt you into purchasing. If you can buy it at a Western supermarket it ain’t hot. In some of the places on this list, they feed chili soup to three year old children. Now that’s commitment.
Random Vacay takes you through 12 of the hottest chilies and meanest meals you can find anywhere in the world. It’s more than enough to make you shit yourself. In a good way of course, after your insides have been blended by a burning sensation that’s soooooo uncomfortable yet so addictive.
1. Sichuan Hot-Pot, China
Visit a Chinese restaurant outside China and you’ll notice that the hottest meals are usually those with Sichuan in the name. This Southwestern state is obsessed with heat and you’ll find many roadsides covered in drying chilies. There’s nothing complicated about the formula for a Sichuan hot-pot. A cauldron of chili oil is plonked on your table, then you order a range of raw foods and boil them in the deep red madness. Problems invariably arise. Of course it burns the tongue. But the oil slops on your fingers and visits to the toilet become fraught with difficulty.
2. Akabanga, Rwanda
You can often gauge the potency of chilli sauce by the size of the bottle. If it’s more than 6oz then you know it’s going to be some insipid tomato based nonsense. So step forward Akabanga, a Rwandan chili sauce that served in a bottle usually reserved for eye drops. It’s like administering medication as you use the pipette to apply the sauce, drop by drop, an indication that this yellow pepper sauce is not to be messed with. If you like Tabasco then this is the next level…
3. Griot, Hiati
Never mess with a Haitian in a chili eating competition. Take their staple meat dish Griot. Rather than glaze the meat with sauce (like a spicy chicken wing), they simmer their pork in a pan of sauce dominated by Scotch bonnet chiles and pickles. Gradually the sauce reduces, soaked up by the meat until each mouthful brings water to the eyes. There’s also a tempting fish option, with chili running through the gills.
4. International Chili Society World Championship Chili Cook-off
The Americans aren’t content with the top 12 hottest meals. They want a clear number one and an ostentatious trophy to present. Every year, the International Chili Society hosts its world championship cook-off, pitting regional winners against each other and allowing the world to try their chilies (for a $50 entry fee). Last years was in Vegas and 2013 visited Palm Springs. Visit for the day and you get to try concoctions that are almost invariably created by big hairy units of testosterone. For the really hardcore, head straight to the Firefest sub-competition.
5. Sik Sik Wat, Ethiopia
Names can be powerful indicators of how a meal is going to taste. In English, this Ethiopian street food classic translates as beef stewed in red pepper paste. But let’s stick with sik – sik – wat? Strong pepper is a feature of most African cuisines, usually because the meat is almost unbearably tough and the carbs come from ground maize. Order a sik sik wat and dozens of faces will crowd around the table, awaiting your reaction. Then the experience is all about holding facial expressions as your insides tie in knots.
6. The Curry Hell Challenge, Rupali Restaurant in Newcastle, UK
Holding the Guinness World Record for the world’s hottest curry, Newcastle’s Rupali restaurant specializes in receiving groups of drunk males with massive egos. Using eight different chilies, their £10 ($16) curry hell is a thick and shiveringly intense meal to ignite all spice lovers. One pepper immediately attacks the lips and tongues, another two come after a few seconds, and then the rest start to burn after ten to fifteen seconds. And you’re know it’s not going to stop burning until it rips your asshole to shreds. Newcastle is in northern England: it also featured on Random Vacay’s feature on places for a bachelor party.
Watch these clowns giving it a try. They can’t go a mouthful without reaching for the milk the softies…
7. Papa A La Huancaina, Peru
There’s nothing like a picnic featuring a cold potato stew that blows your head off. Forget gourmet cheese platters and boxes of brown bread sandwiches. Peruvians head to the park and munch away on this mix of yellow potatoes with a spicy milk sauce. Note that there are two variations of this meal in Peru. The original spicy recipe comes from the Northern highlands. It looks nice and creamy but is seriously spicy. In the south of Peru, the hauncaina sauce is based on peanuts rather than yellow pepper, which looks mean but is a tame imitation for lightweights.
8. Somebody’s Bedroom in a Hipster Neighborhood
First came the tattoos, then the beards, and now hipsters have started turning their bedrooms into grow labs for chilies. Of course they can’t handle the spice, they just want to add another notch of coolness to their bedpost. The potency of chili is measured on the Scoville Heat Unit scale (SHU). Hipsters around the world have been gunning for stardom by creating the world’s hottest and giving it a funky name. There’s the Bedfordshire Super Maga, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Butch T pepper, Naga Viper pepper, and current record holder, the Carolina Reaper. You can buy these chilies online.
9. Taking on the Locals in India
India is the chili capital of the world. Sure, boutique growers may produce chilies with higher SHU’s, but nowhere else can offer such uninterrupted immersion in mean meals. Tourist restaurants usually have three levels of spice. The dumbed down tourist level. The half dumbed down level for tourists who specifically ask for it “Indian style.” And the local standard of spice level. To get the latter you must charge into the kitchen and shout at the chef: “IF THIS MEAL DOESN’T MAKE ME SHIT MYSELF I’LL SHOVE YOUR HEAD IN THE NAAN BREAD OVEN.” Alternatively, take your meals at local restaurants and gasp when the you realize that local eats don’t serve soothing yoghurt.
10. Ghost Pepper Kimchi, South Korea
While it might look like a side salad, kimchi isn’t something to start shoveling into your mouth. This pickled cabbage is the staple accompaniment to many Korean meals, its heat level ranging from the tolerable to the unbearable. Essentially the cabbage has been stewed for weeks in its chili vinegar. So imagine how mean it’s going to taste when the kimchi has been slewed in ghost peppers, one of those that has a SHU level of over 1million.
11. Otak Otak, Indonesia and Singapore
Otak Otak looks so cute and harmless. It comes in a banana leaf and resembles a kind of over-sized chicken nugget. Or a massive turd if you look at it in a certain light. So don’t go feeding it to your kids. This spicy fish cake is a staple snack for fishermen all over Southeast Asia, with the hottest version usually found in Indonesia. Essentially, the fish is mushed with chili paste and then grilled over charcoal, before being wrapped in a banana leaf and served to fishermen who chew on raw chilies as if its gum.
12. Goan Fish Vindaloo
Completing our list is the spiciest meal from the country with the biggest chili obsession. The small beachside state of Goa is where you’ll find India’s hottest meals, the standard dish being the fish or pork vindaloo. Arrive direct in Goa and it’s going to hurt. But work your way through India and the vindaloo is just the next step in the curry challenge.