10 dishes that bite back

What makes spicy food so addictive?

Maybe it’s the feeling of numbness that travels from the tongue to the toes, or the slow creep of flaming euphoria that, in the moment, makes you forget about the anxieties of life. For every bit of discomfort, there is satisfaction. For all the pain, there is pleasure.

But like the rush of being tattooed, or the momentary thrill of a new piercing, extreme heat is not for everyone. For some, the line is drawn at a few drops of Sriracha sauce, while others will forever push the boundaries of what the human body can endure before spontaneously combusting.

It’s no secret that Canadian cuisine (aka poutine) is not renowned for its spiciness, but thanks to the beauty of multiculturalism, you don’t have to venture far to explore the culinary gems of the world in Greater Vancouver. Here’s a list of 10 sweat-inducing dishes from around the globe, and where you can find them in the city. Keep in mind that food is often prepared to accommodate a western palette. For those who crave only the most authentically spicy international fare, it can never hurt to ask the chef for a little extra heat.

The Bobby Wing

Wings – 1162 Granville Street, Vancouver

Okay, so, this one isn’t an international food, but the Bobby Wing at Wings Restaurant might be the most painfully spicy menu item available in the Lower Mainland. They are so spicy, in fact, that the chain has even gone so far as to require diners to sign a waiver before biting into the mother of all hot wings. Whether it was Bobby, or some other twisted S.O.B. at Wings that came up with this deadly snack, the intent was clearly to make you suffer.

Doro Wat

Photo by Andrew Huff

Doro Wat – Ethiopia

Gojo Cafe – 2838 Commercial Drive, Vancouver

Considered the national dish of Ethiopia, doro wat is a chicken (doro) stew containing heaps of onion, garlic and other vegetables, slow cooked in a spiced Ethiopian butter and a uniquely Ethiopian combination of red chili and spices called berbere, and topped with boiled eggs. Doro wat has earned a reputation not only in Ethiopia, but throughout Africa and around the world for being one of the most delightfully spicy dishes to originate on the continent.

The Sichuan Hot Hot Pot!

Photo by Daniel Harbord

Sichuan Hot Pot – China

Spice Girl Sichuan Hot Pot – 8580 Alexandra Road, Suite 1185, Richmond

What do hot pot and giant pandas have in common? They’re both abundant in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, and they can both do serious damage if you’re not careful. Famous, or rather, infamous throughout China and around the world for its excruciating deliciousness, Sichuan (also known as Szechwan) hot pot is the dish that, despite the agony, you just want to keep eating again and again. Garlic, red chili and Sichuan peppercorn are the three key ingredients of Sichuanese cuisine. Combined, they form a bubbling, blood-red broth in which you can cook whatever meats or vegetables your heart desires. 24 hours recovery time recommended.

Smoked Jerk Chicken & Pineapple Salsa

Photo by Freecandy13

Jerk Chicken – Jamaica

Jamaican Pizza Jerk – 2707 Commercial Drive, Vancouver

When you think about Jamaica, certain things will likely come to mind: beautiful beaches, reggae music, track and field champions and spiced rum perhaps. But even spicier than Jamaican rum, and as ubiquitous with Jamaican identity as reggae music, is a culinary style known as jerk cooking. “Jerk” refers to both the marinade or rub of spices, and a specific style of cooking, but the term jerk is believed to have come from “charqui,” a Spanish word for dried meat. In 1655, the British invaded Jamaica, forcing the Spaniards to flee, and leaving former African slaves to escape into the island’s mountainous regions. While hiding from the British, they adapted a cooking style native of West Africa to preserve hunted meat, making use of the abundant local flora such as scotch bonnet peppers, which are responsible for the spicy kick in jerk cooking.

Spicy Green Papaya Salad

Photo by Maggie Hoffman

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) – Thailand

Thai Basil – 1215 Thurlow Street, Vancouver

Thai cuisine is famous throughout the world for its delicate balance of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy flavours. Green papaya salad embodies all five, with a number of variations that generally consist of shredded unripe papaya, chili pepper, tomatoes, green beans, fish sauce, garlic, lime and palm sugar. Bangkok is home to the hottest versions of the salad, but its origins are thought to be in central Thailand where it was introduced by ethnic Laotian settlers. Don’t be fooled by the name, it is not some wimpy fruit salad. This dish can pack serious heat.


Photo by Stu Spivack

Vindaloo – India

Spicy 6 Fine Indian Cuisine – 1116 Robson Street, Vancouver

Originating in Goa, a former Portuguese colony on India’s western coast, vindaloo earned its name from “vinho e alhos,” the Portuguese term for a garlic-and-wine marinade. Like many dishes that have sprung from the region, it is the product of age-old Hindu cooking traditions combined with ingredients and a cooking style introduced by the Portugese during their colonial rule of more than 400 years. The main ingredients are vinegar, ginger, sugar, spices and a generous portion of chili peppers, and it is traditionally prepared with pork.

Cheese Tteokbokki

Photo by wEnDy

Tteokbokki – South Korea

Ma Dang Goul – 847 Denman Street, Vancouver

There’s more to Korean cooking than kimchi and BBQ. Introducing tteokbokki: a saucy rice cake dish often containing scallions, fish cakes and boiled eggs. The spicy version originated in the 1950s and became mainstream in the ’70s when it was first sold in Seoul’s Sindang neighborhood. Today, it remains a popular snack food among Koreans, and can be found in Korean restaurants around the world. As an added bonus, you’re guaranteed to get a complementary side of kimchi with every meal at a Korean restaurant. Not sure how to say tteokbokki? Just ask for the rice cakes. It’s worth mentioning that one of Korea’s spiciest dishes is without a doubt chicken feet. Unfortunately the west has not yet warmed to the idea of nibbling on claws and cartilage.

Photo by Ji Elle

Brinjal Moju – Sri Lanka

Canra Sri Lankan Plus – International Village Mall, 88 W Pender Street #2025, Vancouver

This curry-like side dish isn’t necessarily spicier than other Sri Lankan foods, but Sri Lankan cuisine is generally regarded as melt-your-face-off spicy no matter what’s on the plate, and brinjal moju (eggplant pickle) is simply a tasty dish. The main component is, of course, eggplant, with flavour drawn from ingredients like chili, onion, garlic, ginger, brown sugar and vinegar. It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s spicy and it’s damn delicious. It’s a dish that is surely in the cooking arsenal of countless Sri Lankan families, and a must-try for anyone exploring the wonders of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Gastronomía del Perú - Perú Food

Photo by Alobos Life

Papa a la Huancaína – Peru

Silvestre Deli & Bistro – 317 Water Street, Vancouver

Papa a la Huancaína is a dish of boiled potatoes lathered in spicy yellow cheese sauce, garnished with boiled eggs and black olives, and served cold on a bed of greens. It earned its name from Huancayo, a city in Peru’s central highlands, but its origins are in the capital, Lima. Like many Peruvian meals, the heat in the Huancaína sauce comes from aji amarillo, a yellow Peruvian pepper. The simplicity and tastiness of this starch-heavy snack have made it popular among Peruvians as both an appetizer and an on-the-go meal for picnics.

Mmm... Chicken tacos

Photo by JeffreyW

Tacos – Mexico

Gringo – 27 Blood Alley Square, Vancouver

How do you pick just one spicy dish from Mexico, a country where virtually every meal can be complemented by a splash of hot sauce? While there are a few worth mentioning – chilante de pollo is one – they’re not as readily available in Vancouver establishments as the classic, always delicious, taco. Grab a bite at any self-respecting taqueria in the city and there’s sure to be at least one pepper-laced condiment waiting tableside. For the most daring of patrons, hot sauces on the “Wall of Heat” at Gringo taco bar in Gastown are sure to bring even the most spice-experienced Mexican bad boy to tears.

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