Most people love spicy food – whether it’s a mildly spicy zing on your buffalo wings or the full-on blistering burn that makes you sweat and cry in equal measures. Across the world different cultures have found ways to combine incredibly hot spices with intensely flavorful dishes that make them worth the burn.
Lonely Planet’s “The World’s Best Spicy Food: Where to Find It & How to Make It” says that chili is about more than just the heat it infuses into a dish, it’s also about the myriad of flavors and textures, and warm feeling it leaves behind afterwards. So The Daily Meal looked at several of the world’s spiciest offerings to see which ones came up to scratch and were worth a try… even if they singed your digestive tract a little on the way down.
Some of the dishes on our list will literally make you sweat, but they are also so jam-packed with flavor that it’s completely worth it. All these dishes are infused with the flavors of the culture that created them. Jamaican curried goat, for example, embodies the taste of the Caribbean – it’s a tender, slow-cooked goat stew made with curry powder and other spices, a reminder of the large Indian population that used to live on the island and influenced its national dishes. What makes this dish extra hot are the fiery Scotch bonnet peppers, a favorite among the Caribbean cultures that has a range of 150,000 to 325,000 Scoville heat units… that’s more than 10 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper! Locals ease the burn by adding coconut milk, but keep coming back for more no matter how much it makes their eyes water.
And even closer to home, nothing says backyard barbeque like a plate of good, old-fashioned hot-wings. The heat often depends on the type of hot sauce it’s marinated in ranging from just a mild tingle to a full-on roast for those with more adventurous taste pallets. Competition is actually so stiff to sample these painfully-fiery treats that there’re dozens of competitions here in the US to find the spiciest plate in the country… many require you to sign a waiver before your compete.
So, even though most of these dishes will move you to tears, heartburn, and considerable eye-watering challenge yourself to give them all a try anyway. You’ll be glad you did – even if just for the bragging rights.
1. Sichuan Hot-Pot
A bowl of this spicy dish is equal parts delicious and blisteringly spic. In fact, it’s so spicy you’ll actually be sweating before you’re a few spoonfuls in. There are both Chinese and Mongolian varieties, the Chinese being more common, but the Sichuan version is by far the hottest. It’s made by brewing garlic, onion, and Sichuan peppers in boiling broth for a few hours. Sichuan peppers are known for their numbing spiciness and brewing them just makes the concoction all the more potent. Just before serving, some raw meat and vegetables are added. It’s a must-try mix that’s juicy, meaty, full of flavor and absurdly spicy.
2. Otak Otak, Southeast Asia
This is a traditional spiced fish-meat cake served with a coconut milk, a chili paste, and wrapped in a banana leaf is a popular snack food in Southeast Asia, Singapore and China. The word “Otak” actually means “brain” because the cake itself has an almost custard-like consistency. The fish is grilled over a charcoal fire and is then mushed-up for the cake. The spice comes from the chili paste, which is a ground combination of the spiciest chilies the cooks can get their hand on.
3. Hot Wings, USA
There’s nothing better than some deliciously juicy buffalo wings lathered in a spicy sauce… in most cases the spicier the better. There’s incredibly stiff competition here in the US to produce the kind of hot wings that are spicy enough to make you cry. Some of the best include the “Ghost Wings” from Girvan Grille in Brooklyn, New York, made with crushed ghost peppers, and “Homicide Wings” from Wings To Go, made with a secret combination of 47 spices.
4. Criollo (Creole) Cau Cau – Peru
Influenced by its Spanish and Chinese ancestry, this dish is a delicious tripe and potato stew that's spiced-up with hot Aji Amarillo, an incredibly spicy yellow chili pepper. The rich flavors come from the tripe (usually beef) and the additional combination of garlic cloves, cumin, onion, and turmeric.
5. Steamed Fish Heads in Chili Sauce, China
This is a favorite of the Hunan Province in China and is comprised of steamed fish heads in a blistering sauce made from two handfuls of atomic Hunan chilies, one green and one red. Aside from the rich fishy flavor, this spice also packs an extra zing (sometimes a lot extra) that’s worth a try if you can take the heat.
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