There are spicy foods that have you quickly reaching for a glass of water after a couple mouthfuls, and then there is a whole other level of fiery foods whose ingredients are about a hundred times hotter than the Jalapeño pepper, leaving your mouth scorching for hours after just a bite or two. But eating extremely hot foods is more than just a dare—the spiciest dishes in the world often play a big role in a particular culture's culinary tradition.
“Nothing speaks as loud in a dish as the spices used in them,” says Chef Francisco Collazo, a professional chef from Cuba who has also cooked up a storm in several celebrity kitchens. “The spices tell you where the particular dish is from. Spices are the ambassadors of people and culture. They have been around as long as we have.”
From zesty chicken wings so scorching you have to sign a disclaimer before eating them to a sizzling Chinese "hot pot" guaranteed to numb your tongue, we’ve gone in search of the 10 spiciest foods on the planet.
Some of the hottest cuisines come from Central and Southeast Asia, whose curries contain large amounts of spicy chili peppers, and it’s here we find the two of the top dishes.
Originating from Southern India, phaal—the hottest curry in the world—combines at least 10 different peppers into a single, thick curry with its distinct spicy kick comes from a core ingredient, the Bhut jolokia chili pepper, confirmed by the Guinness World Records as the most potent pepper on earth.
A widely popular Indian restaurant in New York, Brick Lane Curry House, has been running a "p'hall of fame" challenge for the last eight years that dares its customers to dig into their phaal.
“It’s amusing how seriously customers take this challenge,” says Sati Sharma, owner of Brick Lane Curry House. “Those who have been able to finish a plate of phaal bring in friends and dare them to finish it as well, making the entire challenge a personal competition.”
Other sizzling foods from Asia include the Malaysian devil’s pork curry, and neua pad prik from Thailand, a potent stir-fry of sliced beef, shallots, garlic, basil, and red chili peppers. Both dishes share a common ingredient—birds-eye (or Thai) chili, a small red pepper grown throughout Southeast Asia.
From the Sichuan province of China hails the infamous Sichuan hot pot, the consumption of which chef and Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain described as watching a sadomasochistic ritual. He went on to talk about witnessing the people in China sweating and clutching their stomachs in agony as they ate this dish.
Heading further south to the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and a few others, the spicy-red Scotch bonnet is a key ingredient in various Caribbean jerk dishes (chicken, goat, pork), and does not disappoint when it comes to mouth-searing heat.
A leading authority on traditional Jamaican cooking, Norma Shirley, was quoted as saying “Jamaican food without some semblance of Scotch bonnet pepper is no food at all.” Her restaurant, On the Terrace in Kingston, Jamaica, cooks up some of the fieriest dishes on the island.
However, spicy foods aren’t limited to faraway, exotic lands.
If you’re heading to Chicago, be sure to stop by Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap to try their Seriously. Ridiculously. Over-the-Top. Hot Wings lathered in a blazing red sauce made from the one-of-a-kind Red Savina. “We use Red Savina peppers which are among the very hottest in the world,” says the original creator of the wings’ potent sauce, Chef Robin Rosenberg. “We get the extract of the pepper from India. Then, we kick it up another notch with different chilies to layer the flavor!”
Its recipe was under development for a couple months because he wanted to achieve the perfect balance of hotness while retaining ample flavor. To finish off the sauce’s recipe, Bhut Jolokia, the most potent pepper in the world is added to the simmering mix.