My introduction to the world of Asia’s edible heat came as a backpacker on a first trip to Bangkok. Hosted by a local journalist at a gargantuan outdoor eatery, I was soon treated to my first sampling of the Thai penchant for practical jokes — in the form of a tom yam goong soup purposely floated with tiny red bird’s-eye chilies to give me a greeting I would never forget.
From then on, my craving for spicy fare seemed to grow right along with my passion for 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. So here’s one pepper-loving fiend’s take on the region’s hottest culinary traditions.
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