Hot and piquant dishes that are sure to add a zing to your meals.
Don’t want anything less than extra sambal on your nasi lemak? Can’t imagine a life without a bit of chilli and pepper on everything? Well, here’s where we round up some of the spiciest foods around the world for spice-loving enthusiasts to consider trying, from the least spicy at number 10 to off-the- charts burn at number 1.
Here, “jerk” refers to the method the meat (in this case, chicken) is prepared: holes are poked repeatedly (or “jerking”) into the meat for the spice marinade to permeate throughout. Jamaican jerk spices traditionally incorporate two components: allspice (also known as pimento), and Scotch bonnet peppers – which rank between 80,000 to 400,000 on the spiciness- measuring Scoville scale. In its home country of Jamaica, some of the best spots on the island to enjoy jerk chicken include Scotchies at Montego Bay,, 3 Dives Jerk Centre on the West End cliffs of Negril and Boston Jerk Centre. Due to how widespread the African-Carribean diaspora is in the UK and North America, some of the best jerk chicken spots elsewhere can be found in cities such as London - it’s even one of the most loved Caribbean dishes in the UK.
Multiple versions of the hot pot exist throughout Asia and even within China itself, but what makes this one stands out is its reliance on Sichuan peppercorns. Their powerful numbing sensation is definitely their claim to fame. Some of the best Sichuan hotpot places (look for Chengdu Huangcheng Laoma and Lao Ma Tou) are located in Chengdu, China – but there’s bound to be at least one Sichuan hot pot place near you if you live in a major city: Sichuan food is one of the most popular Chinese cuisines worldwide.
Nakji Bokkeum, or Korean stir-fried octopus is a more modern dish compared to other Korean favourites. The original version harks back to the 19th century, while the current version is supposedly popularised in 1965 by a grandmother named Park Mu-Sun. Seasoned rather prominently with chilli, garlic and pepper, it’s usually eaten with shellfish soup to reduce heat. If you were to visit Seoul in South Korea, the recommended go-to spot would be Halmae Nakji Restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants serving the dish (almost 70 years, and counting) in the city’s bustling Myeong-dong shopping area.
While this Peruvian dish is essentially a cold potato salad, the yellow and creamy huancaína sauce is made with Ají Amarillo chilli – which is sometimes combined with habanero peppers for that extra heat. It’s also pretty flexible: you can serve it either at room temperature or chilled, and either as a side dish or an appetizer. The Huancahuasi restaurant in the capital city of Lima comes pretty highly recommended for its papa a la huancaína.
This dish is specific to the Abang Adek food stall in Jakarta, but it’s popularity on YouTube makes it worth a mention. The Pedas Mampus noodle is a rather out-of-this-world take on the Indonesia’s favourite brand of instant noodles, Indomie, where the dish is doused in a sambal - or chilli paste, made from about 150 bird’s eye chillies, or cabe rawit - one of the spiciest chillies in the world. They weren’t kidding when the name was given to the dish - “pedas”means spicy in the Indonesian language, while “mampus” means die or dead, so proceed with caution if you’re ordering this dish.
A staple Thai comfort food, Gaeng Som Pla (alternately spelled as Kaeng Som, and known as Gaeng Leung in Bangkok and central regions of the country) is a yellow-coloured sour fish curry or soup. While the sour taste comes from tamarind paste, the soup or curry base is made with Nam Phrik Kaeng Som paste – which includes a blend of shrimp paste, shallots, a mixture of both dry and red chillies, as well as bird eye’s chilli. Due to its staple status, it’s pretty easy to find at any decent joint serving Southern Thai cuisine. In fact, a Malaysian version of the dish exists in Kelantan, Malaysia - the kaeng som nom mai dong, which actually utilises pickled bamboo.
A Mexican ceviche of sorts, the dish is essentially shrimp, lime juice, chilli, cucumbers and onions served raw. The name aguachile (or ‘chilli water’) refers to the pulverised jalapeños or serrano peppers that makes up the ‘sauce’ these other ingredients are served atop. A few choice spots for aguachile in Mexico are the restaurants of Contramar, Romulo's Que Mariscos! and Pujol as well as the Don Vergas stall at Mercado de San Juan in Mexico City, Los Aguachiles at Playa del Carmen and Merkadito del Mar at Puerto Morelos.
Mostly eaten as an accompaniment to rice, string hoppers and rotti, this Sri Lankan specialty is made from scrapped coconut. It is then mixed with well ground dried chillies, red onion, cured tuna, lime juice and salt. But those dried chillies aren’t just your usual red chillies, they’re nai miris – a local variation of the really hot ghost peppers, similar to bhut jolokia of Northern India. While it’s always best to ask the locals where their favourite spots for a pol sambol are (it’s probably some modest little roadside stall, and such places are aplenty in the country), a place worth checking out is the Culture Colombo restaurant in the Sri Lankan capital.
While this dish was thought to have originated from Portugal, it is now a staple dish of southwestern Indian-style restaurants. The dish incorporates meat into a mixture of vinegar, potatoes, and red chillies, as well as what was previously the hottest pepper in the world – bhut jolokia, or ghost pepper. While its spot as the hottest pepper in the world has been overtaken by both the infinity chilli and Carolina Reaper in 2011 and 2013 respectively, the bhut jolokia is still considered as exceptionally hot with a Scoville rating of 1,041,427 SHU. Some of the best places to have this particular variety of vindaloo in Goa include the Horse Shoe Bar and Restaurant at Panaji, Mum’s Kitchen (also located at Panaji)and Martin’s Corner at Betalbatim.
Surprisingly, one of the hottest curries in the world actually traces its origins to the British- Bangladeshi curry-houses of Birmingham, UK. The British Asian phall (alternatively spelled as fall, faal, fahl, phaal, phal or paal) should not be confused for its Bangalore counterpart, which is char-grilled without sauce and eaten as a finger food. The British phall is a thick tomato-based curry made with lamb or chicken meat, with the addition of ginger and a combination of numerous fresh and dried hot peppers: it generally uses ten different varieties, from the mild habanero and scotch bonnet to the aforementioned bhut jolokia. Surprisingly, one of the hottest phaal curries served in the UK (so hot it’s officially named Hellfire Phaal) can be found at the Glaswegian branch of Tuk Tuk Indian Street Food - in Scotland, and not in Birmingham.
That concludes our roundup of 10 of the spiciest food in the world to try. If you’re travelling to any of these places in the future, keep this list handy as a reference of a dish’s spiciness and where to find them.