Pepper and hot sauce can bring painful pleasure to almost any dish, but some cultures go the extra mile with their fiery flavors. If you’re looking for a truly tongue-numbing thrill, you’ll have to go beyond your favorite wing joint. Take a spicy spin around the globe with these classic, caliente meals.
Pair it with: Rice, naan, and lassi yogurt drink
Indian food is known for its spiciness and Vindaloo is the country’s spiciest dish. Think curry but much hotter. It’s traditionally made with kahmiri chili, but more masochistic cooks use bhut jolokia. Better known by its American name, the ghost pepper, this India native is among the – if not the – hottest pepper in the world.
2. Papa a la huancaína
Pair it with: White wine or a pisco cocktail
This Peruvian appetizer may look innocent, but that yellow sauce covering the potatoes and hard-boiled eggs is made with a searing combination of ají amarillo and habanero peppers. It’s served cold, but packs some serious heat.
3. Jerk Chicken
Pair it with: Fried plantains and rice and peas (beans)
Sweet and tangy, this iconic Jamaican meal is full of the best Caribbean spices: allspice, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, garlic, and nutmeg. Scotch bonnet and habañero peppers are to thank for the burn.
4. Sichuan Hot Pot
Pair it with: Scallion pancakes and baijiu liquor
Sichuan, China is home to some of the spiciest food in the world. Their version of the popular Chinese and Mongolian hot pot combines garlic, meat, veggies, and Sichuan pepper in a blend of broth and chili oil. Thanks to its body-warming flavor, it’s most popular in the wintertime.
5. Sik Sik Wat
Pair it with: Injera bread and garlic-roasted vegetables
Wat is an Ethiopian stew served over a spongy, crepe-thin flatbread. The spicy red sauce of Sik Sik Wat is made with scorching-hot berbere, a blend of chili pepper, paprika, fenugreek, and other dried spices. Wat is typically eaten with your hands so be careful not to touch your eyes or face after eating!
6. Kimchi Jjigae
Pair it with: Rice, pickled carrots, bean sprouts, and daikon
Adventurous spice enthusiasts have likely tried kimchi, the spicy, fermented cabbage commonly served with Korean BBQ. But this jjigae stew is much hotter than kimchi fried rice or kimchi pancakes. Green onions, garlic, tofu, mushrooms, and red chilies are simmered slowly to ensure an explosive fusion of flavors. It’s traditionally served at just below boiling temperature to add even more steam to an already blazing dish.
7. Neua Pad Prik
Pair it with: Egg rolls, rice, and Thai iced tea
If you find yourself dousing stir fry with hot sauce, this dish is for you. Translated to ‘Thai Pepper Steak,’ Neua Pad Prik adds bird’s eye chilies (which rank just below habaneros on the Scoville heat scale) to the mix. It may not melt your face, but it will induce some heavy breathing.
Pair it with: Rice and beans, pikliz slaw, and tostones
This Haitian dish (pronounced gree-OH) calls for a heavy soak of a pork shoulder. Minced chilies, pickled peppers, and apple cider vinegar fuse with the meat before it’s fried, giving this spicy standout a strong kick.
Pair it with: Sweet and sour or peanut sauce
Meaning ‘brain’ in Indonesian and Malay, otak-otak only looks like the inside of a skull. It’s actually a grilled seafood cake, wrapped inside grilled or steamed banana leaves. It may sound harmless, but belacan and galangal roots (which look like ginger, but taste like pepper) are mixed with dried chilies to give your whole body a seriously tasty sting. Malaysian and Singapore chefs really spice things up by adding chili, turmeric, and curry powders.