Take the Spice Challenge: 9 of the World’s Hottest Dishes

Are you the type of individual to eat a sextet of mouth-numbing buffalo wings just to win a T-shirt, or mow down on a fiery morsel of God-knows-what just to prove to your fellow travelers that no street food will faze you? All right big guy (or gal), let’s see how you handle these spicy dishes. We’re not saying you can’t do it — but we’ll need photographic proof.

Worldwide variations of this dry condiment from the Horn of Africa are pretty tame compared to the authentic stuff, which puts a serious dent in the ol’ spice rack: in addition to plenty of black pepper and dried chili pepper, traditional recipes call for allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, and onion powder. Berbere is a key ingredient in doro wat, a chicken stew commonly served throughout Eritrea and Ethiopia.

What the Experts Say:
“There’s some heat to be sure, and some versions are wildly spicy, but it’s easy to find blends that deliver far more on earthy, rich flavors than pure spice” — Max Falkowitz, Serious Eats

Naga Bhut Jolokia Phall
If chowing down on a bowl of the ‘world’s hottest curry’ sounds like your kind of challenge, then all you need is a plane ticket to New York. Manhattan’s Brick Lane Curry House specializes in phall curry, which by definition is already one of the most potent curry styles (even if it actually originated in the United Kingdom, not India). The restaurant’s most infamous offering employs Naga Bhut Jolokia, also known as the ‘ghost pepper’, which holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘world’s spiciest chili’ and is used to make nerve gas. This dish is rated a ‘cool’ million on the Scoville Scale.

What the Experts Say:
“From my first mouthful, I understood why so many fail. It was like chewing on a live grenade, knowing any second it was about to detonate. And when it did, my head felt like it was being blown off, my body went into survival mode and sweat poured down my face. I could eat only four mouthfuls of the chicken curry before gasping for air” — Chris Bucktin, The Daily Mirror

Creole Cau Cau
This Peruvian dish is a twofer as far as bucket lists are concerned; not only is it painfully spicy, but the traditional recipe calls for tripe, or stomach lining (chicken and seafood variations are also available) — you only live once, right? The high hot factor can be attributed to generous amounts of aji amarillo, a yellow chili commonly found in Latin American cuisine (though rarely to this effect).

What the Experts Say:
“When visiting Peru, you can thank the aji amarillo for blowing your socks off. [This] homegrown little devil is at its most potent in the cau cau stew” — Kellie Bright, Geckos Grassroots Adventures Travel Blog

Goan Vindaloo
Did you think there would be just one curry on this list? India’s a big country full of spicy food, but if you really want to punish your taste buds, travel to the Goa region and order a bowl of vindaloo (chicken, lamb, and goat are the most commonly served variations). This stuff isn’t for amateurs, and is far spicier than its American and U.K. curry house counterparts.

What the Experts Say:
“It is almost universally accepted that vindaloo is one of the world’s hottest curries. Add the world’s hottest chili, Naga Bhut Jolokia, and you have on your plate the spiciest dish in the world!” — Jo F., The Flying Fugu

Jerk Chicken
When even Forbes recognizes the spiciness of a dish, it’s safe to say that it ranks among the world’s hottest. This staple of Jamaican cuisine is served throughout the world, and many versions are on the sweet and gentle side. But if you visit the island and order authentic jerk chicken, be sure to have a bottle of water (or six) nearby.

What the Experts Say:
Once the chicken is cooked—it takes about two hours for a butterflied chicken turned once— it’s removed from the grill, stripped from the bone, and chopped up, all the better to expose it to fiery-hot Scotch bonnet sauce traditionally served on the side. Native to the Caribbean, Scotch bonnet peppers are extremely spicy, about 40 times hotter than jalapeños” — Lauren Rothman, Serious Eats

Nuea Phat Phrik
This peppered steak dish can be found throughout Thailand. The simple recipe calls for pan-fried shredded beef to be seasoned with shallots, garlic, basil, and other herbs, and then served with fried vegetables. Oh, and let’s not forget the very liberal sprinkling of birds-eye chili peppers; a single serving of these little buggers ranks between 50,000 and 100,000 on the Scoville Scale (‘very spicy’, in other words).

What the Experts Say:
“The birds-eye chilli is a small red pepper grown throughout Southeast Asia. Its bracing yet refreshing heat makes it a staple ingredient in kitchens around [Thailand]” – Peregrine Adventures

Sichuan Hot Pot
The hot pot has been a staple of Chinese cuisine for more than 1,000 years, and its spice factor is the stuff of legend. Many variants on the dish are available; traditional recipes call for different combinations of chicken, beef, pork, and seafood, but contemporary innovators have used exotic accoutrement such as snake, bullfrog, and geoduck. Regardless of the meat, any hot pot prepared with hua jiao peppercorns (native to the Sichuan province) will put plenty of hair on your chest.

What the Experts Say:
“The searing spices will attach themselves to your lips and burrow deep underneath your tongue. The hua jiao will induce looks of confusion and wonder as your whole mouth begins to buzz and grow curiously numb. You will sweat like never before. Your eyes will shine and your head will begin to grow light as the shouts of your compatriots and neighbors blend into background noise” — Chengdu Living

If you travel to any city in South Korea, be warned that much of that country’s street food can be uncomfortably spicy, and you might not receive any warning before taking your first bite (unless you can read hangul). The dish consists of rice cakes and fish skin marinated in a red chili sauce that delivers what is best described as a ‘slow burn’ that eventually fries every stop along the digestive path. Every. Stop.

What the Experts Say:
“Expect some disruptions a few minutes into the meal. The spice slowly creeps up on you and can quickly debilitate the novice eater” — Jiyeon Lee, CNN Travel

XXX Wings
Now, employing a superlative like ‘hottest wings in the world’ seems pretty audacious, even potentially controversial, so let’s just say a fair number of people will argue that XXX Wings in Chicago serves the spiciest bird anywhere (of course it’s in Chicago). How hot are they? Like the aforementioned phall and vindaloo dishes, these wings are seasoned with ghost peppers, as well as two other types of notoriously potent chili (Red Javinia and jabanero) and a thick coating of spicy marinade. But we’re sure the wings in your hometown joint are much hotter.

What the Experts Say:
“Bring a pen if you want to try these wings. You’ll have to sign a waiver first!” — Lauren Donaldson and Kiri Tannenbaum, Delish

By Brad Nehring