No one wants food so hot that you can’t taste the rest of the meal, but some of us really love the flavor of chile peppers–fruity, vegetal, sweet, toasty, soapy, and/or hot–and the little endorphin high you get after a particularly incendiary dish.
So I’m often asked where to go to get the spiciest food in the city that’s also delicious. (Which eliminates the phaal at Brick Lane.) And I have some ideas….
Perhaps the ultimate dish for heat-seekers is Chong Qing chicken, a dish named for its birthplace, a municipality that used to be part of Sichuan province. Chong Qing chicken is made up of fried nubs of chicken and an equal amount of dried red chiles, which have been browned in the same oil used to fry the chicken, the whole thing scattered with tingly Sichuan peppercorns. Often there are big slices of garlic and ginger in the mix, too. The chicken picks up the heat of the peppers, but you can also eat the chiles–you’re not actually meant to, but they taste great, toasty and deep, sure to give you a rush. You can find excellent versions of Chong Qing chicken at Grand Sichuan House, Little Pepper, and Grand Sichuan, among other good Sichuan restaurants.
If you prefer spicy Thai, jungle curry is usually a good choice. It’s a northern-style curry that lacks the coconut milk that moderates the heat of many other Thai curries. Originally, it was a country dish probably made with wild game and any vegetables that could be found, but you get it at New York restaurants replete with produce and your choice of protein. Good renditions can be found at Chao Thai, Sripraphai, and Thailands Center Point.
Then again, Xi’an Famous Foods will add a serious kick to any of their dishes if you request it “extra spicy.”
And for a snack, look out for Indian fried chiles, called mirchi pakoras or mirchi bhaji, large hot green chiles usually battered with chickpea flour before being fried to a puffy crisp. I like them at Sukhadia’s and Mumbai Xpress.
Also on the South Asian beat, ask in any well-stocked Indian shop for menasinakai balaka, which are sun-dried chiles stuffed with salt and other spices. Fry them in a little oil at home until they’re slightly browned, and then keep them on hand for crumbling over rice or any other dish that needs a pungent lift. They’re incredibly delicious, and very, very hot.
Any other spicy and tasty favorites? Tell everyone about them in the comments.