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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Asia’s 5 Spiciest Cuisines

If you have a somewhat normal digestive tract, you may want  to proceed with caution with these spicy cuisines.  At the same time, we all enjoy taste adventures and  John Krich has given us plenty to choose from.  

This article is a comprehensive introduction to Asian food that really makes you perspire.  The cuisine of the Sichuan Province is my favorite and is available in a number of fine restaurants in Vancouver, B.C. where most of my spice-filled adventures have taken place. 

Did you know that the chili had its origins in the Americas?  Always on the hunt for memorable food ideas?  Start here ....

Hot Like Fire: Asia’s 5 Spiciest Cuisines

By John Krich | July 6, 2012 

China Photos / Getty Images
                                                                              China Photos / Getty Images
 Diners help themselves to a hot-pot dish at a restaurant in Chengdu, in China's Sichuan province

Spicy fare abounds all over Asia. No continent seems to have put the precious plant first bred in the Americas to best and most creative use.  

Indeed, even the places that deserve a mere honorable mention — Malaysia, with its subtle use of padi chilies, or the chutneys and kormas of Andhra Pradesh, India’s spiciest state — would hold their own against anywhere else on earth.

Unlike the chili cook-offs and Tabasco tourneys that seem a fixture of the U.S. summertime barbecue scene, there’s no competition that puts the hottest cuisines of Asia head-to-head.  
Here is one man's attempt to put us in the know:

1. Korean 

Korean is a small nation that nonetheless claims to consume 60% of the world’s red chilies? Anyone who cruises the South Korean countryside in summer can see the evidence, with every village laying out thousands of pods to dry before putting up barrels of kimchi (pickled cabbage) for the winter. So important is this burning staple that numerous academics here are constantly researching, as well as championing, its cancer-fighting effects. And that’s just the beginning, as numerous pepper-dotted veggies and roots and dried sardines always feature in every restaurant’s complimentary spread of small dishes. As for the barbecue, it may seem bland to some — but most Koreans wrap in every lettuce roll a whole raw jalapeño or two, and swaths of burning bean paste, to give the real kick to any poor sliver of charred flesh.

2. Sichuanese

How can any region top the place famed for two types of heat, both the red powder shaken liberally over every tofu and street snack, and the local peppercorns that leave lips numb and offer wonderful aftertaste of salt mixed with anise? Chengdu, one of the first cities in the world selected by UNESCO for its new program to preserve culinary heritage, has to be the world’s No. 1 place of pilgrimage for modern-day fire worshippers. The signature ma po tofu and gung bao chicken are just starters, with even fresh tofu custard and innocently bland wontons, not to mention whole-boiled tortoises, dutifully smothered with burning chili oil.

3. Southern Thai

Naturally, Thailand has to figure high on any world ranking, though its hot stuff is often wisely tempered by sweet sauces or cloaked in bland seas of coconut milk. And a quick nibble in Bangkok can never do justice to the Land of Smiles’ pepper addiction. Travel anywhere up-country, and every small-town inn will do its best to knock diners’ socks off with its “jungle curry.” Mosquito repellent won’t protect you from the results. But Thais and tourists alike know that the farther south one goes, the hotter the curries, soups and dipping sauces get, along with the weather. The nam priks (chili dips) prick more, the pleasant stink of the succulent sataw (a sort of Asian lima bean) is always well disguised by thick beds of pepper, and the region’s famed gaeng som, or “sour orange curry,” can become nearly unsippable in the hands of a true southern chef.

4. Assamese

Manish Swarup / AP
                                                                                               Manish Swarup / AP
A farmer stands in his field of "bhut jolokia," or "ghost chili," peppers at Changpool in the Indian state of Assam
Assam, in northeast India produces the treasured seeds, of the bhut jolokia, rated by Scoville units and scorched tongues as by far the world’s hottest form of chili. A lot of Assamese fare is as tame as a bowl of noodles. But any place where people chomp on these burners raw, or drop them in pork curries, deserves a high rank on any list.

5. Hunanese

Bob Sacha / Corbis
                                                                                               Bob Sacha / Corbis
                                  Spices used in the cuisine from China's Hunan province

 The “red-pepper spirit” of China’s inland Hunan province has long been celebrated as giving birth to rebels and revolutionaries like Mao Zedong — and giving a whole new meaning to the term Red Army.

In Beijing now, numerous home-style places cash in on the association and compete with one another to add more and more burned chili pods to their bony chicken dishes. 

Read more:

Asia’s 5 Spiciest Cuisines | NewsFeed |

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