From “pass the pepper please” to mouth burning, sweat inducing experiences – spicy food is a world of experiences of its own. With various types of spicy food and levels of heat, the options may overwhelm you. Providing insight into the mysterious and exhilarating experiences spicy food has to offer, the following can save the day. Many regions of the world offer finger food to fine dining experiences to satiate your every spicy food need. Whether you are seeking street food around the world that leaves you drenched in sweat or a more refined fine dining affair, this guide will help you navigate the various cuisines to best match your preferences.
Spicy Food from Around the World
Indian cuisine and Chinese food have a notorious reputation for the high levels of spice, but the rest of the world does not lack spiciness. Indian food uses various spices to increase flavours and blend them together to create an enjoyable and flavourful heat. Both of these cuisines use pepper that contains capsaicin, the chemical that brains read as pain and burning. Indian food uses many types of chillies and peppers, but the hottest is the British Indian dish called Phaal Curry. The spiciness of the Indian Food is an adventure for itself. Chef Devagi Sanmugam’s North Indian Casual Dining is an easy and wonderful trip on the road to spiciness.
Bhut Jolokia is a main ingredient in this curry and also known as the ghost pepper – one of the hottest peppers in the world and rated highest on the Scoville scale. Hence, Phaal Curry is a contender for the spiciest food out there. The Scoville scale measures the heat of chilli peppers on the concentration of capsaicin. With blazing hot dishes from the Hunan and Sichuan provinces, Chinese food is not timid. Do not underestimate the infamous Szechuan pepper due to its slight lemon flavour. Mixed with chilli peppers in Chinese cuisine, this pepper attacks with a double punch both tingling and numbing your entire tongue.
Not all is Burning
The combination of herbs and spices can heighten or lessen the pain of a chilli or pepper. Foods that are highly acidic add sharpness that stands up well to the heat of a chilli. For example the Thai and Lao soup, called Tom Yam, uses lime and chillies to create a bright broth flavour, rather than to burn your tongue with those tiny yet powerful Thai chilli peppers.
Jetting across the world to other places that pair hot and sour flavours, we arrive at the lesser-known Trinidad and the Caribbean. Here Scotch Bonnet is used to turn up the heat. It has a rather citrusy and bright flavour, receiving yet another high ranking on the Scoville scale – so be aware. While this area of the world may be small in landmass, it is the home of the hottest peppers in the world. The ubiquitous pepper sauce that most Trinidadians use on every dish is quite spicy. Northern Africa has their own version of pepper sauce called Harissa, consisting of other hot peppers, garlic, salt, and lots of oil.
While European cuisines are not known for being spicy, Spanish food commonly uses paprika and red chillies for both colour and taste. The most famous Spanish food is the chorizo, a spicy pork sausage. Mexican chorizo has a slightly different flavour due to the use of local peppers rather than those from Spain. Latin American food, Peruvian in particular, is a contestant for the spiciest food in the world. The Amarillo pepper has a fruity taste like that of the Scotch Bonnet.
More than Chillies
As if you only had to watch out for chillies. There are other types of spices that can create pleasurable pain without being a chilli pepper. Japanese wasabi comes from the same family as mustard and horseradish, providing a nose clearing experience. The Tasmanian pepper or mountain pepper offers a sweet taste at first, followed by short-lasting intense heat. Tasmanian peppers are commonly used in bush food known as Australian Aboriginal cuisine. You can now see bush food popping up in Australian fine dining restaurants. The Tasmanian pepper is also used in Japan to flavour wasabi. The Catalans are also in love with another kind of spicy dip called aioli. Depending on its concentration, this garlic fuelled spread can have lasting effects.
Hot Weather and Spicy Food – a Perfect Match?
What do all these spicy cuisines have in common? The answer is that they come from a place with warm weather, sometimes matching the heat of their cuisine. The first reason is that spicy food stimulates appetite counterbalancing the effect of hot weather, an appetite suppressant. Spicy food raises the body’s temperature causing people to sweat, whether they want to or not, allowing the body to cool off. Lastly, spices have antimicrobial properties that help protect people from spoiled protein. Those occur at a quicker rate in hot weather as well as masking the flavour of meat that is not so fresh.
Spicy Food is Healthy Food
Rewards for enduring the pain, may pay off. When you are on the road and your body gets worn down from traveling or catching a cold, spicy food can help with the congestion. Spicy food can also lead to slight weight loss, as people are satisfied with smaller portions. Studies have shown that spicy food temporarily boosts your metabolism resulting in extra calories being burned off. Spicy herbs and spices can be used to flavour bland, yet healthy food, to promote a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, the heat of chilli peppers also encourages blood vessels to relax, which can lower blood pressure. With these health benefits, now is the time to indulge in spicy street food from around the world.
A Spicy Food Experience Involving the Senses
All senses react to extremely spicy food, because your brain reads the pain as an attack on your body. The capsaicin irritates any soft tissues that it comes in contact with, causing pleasurable pain associated with spicy food. This is the same reason, your lips burn and your eyes water. Hence, you must be careful with touching your eyes after eating spicy finger food or chopping peppers.
Ever put too much wasabi on your sushi by accident? Then you know the joys or pains of the burning sensation shooting up your nasal passage. First, your membranes go into defence mode producing a runny nose, which is especially embarrassing when it happens to only one person at the table. Secondly, the same irritation can temporarily cause the dilator naris muscle to increase the intake of air.
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Are all Tongues Created Equal?
Spicy food affects each of us differently. The first hypothesis is that continued exposure builds up tolerance to the painful sensation. Another hypothesis is based on genes. Some of us have a denser distribution of taste buds than others, leading to a more sensitive palate. Sensitive tongues should keep milk and fat close by, as they prevent capsaicin from binding to your tongue’s pain receptors. Stay clear of water, as it will only spread the pain. No matter whether Tom Yam or other spicy street food around the world – next time your mouth is on fire, grab a glass of milk or lassi to ease the pain.