We all know that one spicy food person. You know, he's the one who basically got a Sriracha IV on constant drip. She's the one who eats jalapeños like apples. This may be a spouse, a family member, a friend, or, hell, it may even be you, but in any case, you've undoubtedly got a spicy food fanatic somewhere in your life.
As we mentioned in our article about National Spicy Guacamole Day, there are chemical reasons why people love food that sets their mouths on fire. What you might not know, however, is that today's spice worshippers are actually part of a long line of similar spicy-food-loving proclivities that has actually been a surprisingly defining part of human history. Evidence has indicated spice use as early as 3000 BCE, which is very likely a conservative estimate of how long we've been chasing the spicy burn as a species. In truth, spices have flavored human life since the beginning of civilization. Once we figured out we liked a kick in our food, we realized we really liked that kick: ever since, the quest for spices and their value once aquired inspired and propelled exploration, travel, and trade that both made and broke kingdoms, carving trade routes and generating battlefields throughout the world that shaped the course of the human world.
So, recognizing that you're participating in living history, all you spice-lovers (and friends of spice-lovers) should get ready to celebrate, because tomorrow (Thursday, January 16th) is National Hot & Spicy Food Day. That means you have a great excuse to put your taste buds and your pain tolerance to the test and challenge yourself to go head to head with some truly spicy food.
For many in New York, the phrase “spicy curry” evokes this classic curry house first and foremost. Named for a largely Indian East London neighborhood, Brick Lane Curry House incorporates a full spectrum of Indian flavors into refined dishes that riff off of dishes common in English curry joints. When it comes to spiciness, though, their pièce de résistancep is the Phaal Curry. It’s fired up with an eight-chili combination, one of which is the world’s hottest chili, Bhut Naga Jolokia (which, for reference, is so strong that it’s used in tear gas.) The Phaal Curry is as much a challenge as it is a menu selection: those who can withstand the five-alarm fire and finish their plate receive a free beer, a certificate marking your achievement, your photo on the Phaal of Fame, and major props for being a badass. If you’re looking for something spicy but a little less face-melting, try their spot-on Lamb Vindaloo.
For a family-sized portion of spice, try NYC Italian dining institution Carmine’s. Though they’re not necessarily focused on making their food spicy, a number of Carmine’s dishes pack the punch that any spice-head craves. We suggest the Spicy Scarpariello Wings, a Tabasco-based crowd favorite that mingles heat with the flavorful notes of olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and sage. For the less spice-inclined, the temperature can be turned down with the accompanying fennel-gorgonzola dipping sauce. Other spicy dishes include the Fried Calimari served with Spicy Marinara, and the Shrimp or Lobster Diavolo.
This Bed-Stuy soul food salon offers Nashville-style fried chicken, a preparation rarely seen in Yankee territory that utilizes an extremely crunchy crust to deliver a cayenne-infused spice punch. The chicken (or fish, or shrimp), served on thick slabs of white bread, can officially either be ordered “regular” or “hot”, but insiders know that the secret “extra-hot” option is the way to really get some of that signature inferno of spicy Tennessee taste. Like it’s sister restaurant Peaches, Peaches Hothouse also focuses on using sustainable and local ingredients, so you can get your spice on in good conscience.415 Tompkins Ave., Brooklyn
When Americans talk about Thai food, what they’re generally referring to the cuisine of central Thailand, which tends to be spicy in its own right. The food at Alphabet City’s Somtum Der, however, is from Isan, a northeast region of the country that is separated from the rest of Thailand by mountain ranges. Isan has a predominantly Lao population with a culture that’s distinct in many ways from mainland Thai culture, which is also true of Isan cuisine. For one thing, the Isan palate is much more extreme in terms of heat and sourness, which is immediately evident once you try one of Sotum Der’s spicy-as-all-hell dishes. Everything on the menu is prepared with super-hot chiles, but on a cold day try a signature spicy soup, like the Tom Saab Kradook On (a spicy pork cartilege soup), or the Super Pak Kai, a “super spicy” chicken soup.
85 Avenue A
If you’re looking for some excellent spicy tacos and some saucy bachata music to accompany your meal, we suggest you get yourself down to Jackson Heights, pronto. Serving up piping-hot Southern Mexican food, this taqueria specializes in spicy and unique Moles, Chile Mora Salsas hot enough to knock even a hardened spicy food aficionado off their feet, and Tacos Placeros (“market tacos”), which feature fresh tortillas and cheese-stuffed chile relleno--all kicked up as many notches as you’d like, upon request. The restaurant originally started as a taco cart (which still opens in the East Village), but if you want the spiciest of the dishes (which is arguably the Bistec in Salsa Mora), you'll have to come out to Queens. It's worth it, though: Tacos Morelos was recently given the 2013 Best Spicy Food Award by the Village Voice.
94-13 37th Ave., Queens
Lets say, though, that you're trying to go balls-out spicy at home. Well, not to worry. Here's are three places to get the best hot sauces and chiles that you can use at home at your discresion (or lack thereof):
- David Rosengarten Gastronomic Selections: Check out the retail site of food and wine journalist David Rosegarten for a selection of transcendently spicy chile variatal extract, including that of the Bhut Naga Jolokia (aka the Ghost Chile of India), the same ingredient that makes Brick Lane Curry House's Phaal Curry so spicy.
- Peppers: This online hot sauce superstore has just about everything you'd ever need when it comes to hot sauce. Their inventory includes items that span the entire flavor spectrum, and, pointedly, the entire heat spectrum. The wimpiest hot sauce novice and the most insane hot sauce massochist will both find what they need here.
- New York City Hot Sauce Company: Support local NYC food and order some of this killer hot sauce, made with only fresh, local, and sustainable NY ingredients. Based on the heat from Habanero peppers, the sauce gets nuanced notes of flavor from carrots, onions, celery, garlic, fresh lime juice, and a special blend of creole seasonings.
Happy spicy adventures, hot stuff!