It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here: Try These Spicy Thai Dishes At Your Own Risk
Let me tell you a story, my children. Once upon a time when yours truly was still rocking the bar at Slumber Party in Ao Nang, I had the honor of working with the awesome Bang. Many of you may know him already. Now, about an hour before all the party shenanigans, Bang would order his dinner from a nearby local Thai restaurant. As soon as it was delivered, he would excuse himself for the next twenty minutes to gain the necessary strength for another wild night.
Then one day, I became curious: I wanted to try some of his dinner that already made me sweat just by looking at it. I took a slice of cucumber, dipped it into the curry, ate it and… regretted my decision immediately. It was so spicy that – I kid you not – I saw Jesus. And Jesus said to me: “What the fuck were you thinking?! This is Thai spicy, you idiot! I didn’t sacrifice myself for your stupidity!”
And with that out of the way, let’s dive into the spiciest dishes in Thailand. So, that you, too, can see Jesus.
Before We Feast…
Truth is, it is difficult to precisely determine what THE spiciest dish in Thailand is. A lot has to do with the preparation and how much chili they use during the cooking process. Some of the dishes we will mention in this post can be either mild or spicy AF, depending on how you order it. For the brave among you, order your food by saying: “pet mak” (very spicy). For the suicidal among you, order by saying: “ped bab cone Thai ka” (Thai spicy or authentically spicy).
Let the burning sensations begin! (We are not talking about chlamydia.)
? Kaeng Pa (Jungle Curry) ?
Most of the curries in Thailand are piquant, but (usually) manageable for us foreigners. This is due to the addition of coconut milk, which subdues the effect of the chilis. In the case of the jungle curry, there is no such milk and, thus, we get the full flavor and spice. The reason for this is that coconuts don’t exist in the jungles of northern Thailand, where the curry originated from.
Besides the obvious chili, kaeng pa contains lemongrass, green pepper, garlic, pea eggplant, galangal and kaffir limes. Add a few slices of chicken or pork to it and you have a curry that will make you ask for another stack of tissue paper. It is surely not the spiciest dish on this list but we are only warming up, literally and figuratively speaking.
? Neua Pad Prik (Thai Pepper Steak) ?
Don’t get too hung up on the word “steak” as it isn’t exactly that. Instead, cuts of marinated beef (alternatively with pork or chicken) are added to a stir fry of peppers, herbs, garlic, and shallots. The real fiery kicker here is the bird’s eye chili, or as I like to call them – the Margot Robbie of chilis. This bad boy (or girl) ranks pretty high on the Scoville scale with heat units between 100,000 and 225,000. In comparison, a Jalapeño only has around 5,000 units.
Hot Scoop: Keep the rice separate and don’t mix it with the dish. Otherwise, it’s akin to a drop of water on a hot stone. Starchy foods like rice can cool down your internal volcano a little.
? Khao Pad Nam Prik Narok (Fried Rice with Chili Paste From Hell) ?
The Thais weren’t messing around when they gave this dish such a menacing name. Despite the addition of bird’s eye chilis and chili paste, it is a straightforward rice meal. You have your garlic, spring onions, boiled eggs, fish sauce, and rice, all stir-fried in a wok. Traditionally it is served with shrimps or fish, but, again, depending on your preferences, you can opt for meats as well.
If you are able to stomach the ‘hell’ part, khao pad nam prik narok is quite delicious and a good alternative to the classic rice dishes.
? Tom Yum Soup (Hot and Sour Soup)?
I know, what you are thinking. You already tried the beloved Thai soup and it was, perhaps, spicy, but not as spicy as to make this list. Believe us, a traditionally made tom yum soup has earned a spot in the pantheon of the spiciest food in Thailand. Often times the cooks hold back on the use of chili paste and dried chilis when tourists order it. However, we are not “tourists”, are we? We can take it “pet mak”, can’t we?
Considering that we get a myriad of health benefits with it, thanks to herbs and spices like lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and Margo-… I mean, bird’s eye chilis. Throw in some prawns and you’ve got yourself a classic bowl of tom yum goong. A flu has yet to be invented to withstand this powerhouse of deliciousness.
? Kaeng Som (Sour Curry) ?
In central Thailand, kaeng som has a sweeter taste and a reddish color. In the southern part, however, it is a lot spicier and also yellow or orange due to the use of turmeric.
The heart of the spiciness lies in the curry paste, which, in this case, relies heavily on chilis and turmeric. You know it’s a proper paste if the smell knocks you into a coma. Once the curry is boiling with the addition of lime juice, shrimp paste, and vegetables (for example, green papaya, coconut shoots, and taro stems), it is time for the main ingredient: fish. It is typical for a southern Thai dish to incorporate some form of fish or seafood. In the case of kaeng som, it includes an entire fish (plus head) cut into big pieces.
A fish curry is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially if it’s as spicy as kaeng som. However, we like to encourage our guests to try out as many new things as possible. Even when they curse us while frantically asking for another bowl of steamed rice.
? Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad) ?
Strictly speaking, som tam originated in Laos. However, the version from the Isan region, which borders on Laos, is distinct (and spicy) enough to earn a place in our Hall of Flame. The green papaya salad is also available as a non-spicy variation for the faint of heart. For everyone else, get ready for a peak Mike Tyson knockout punch to your tonsils.
The word “tam” in som tam tells you how this traditional salad is made. It means “to pound”. All the ingredients such as shredded papaya, garlic, chili, shrimp paste, palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and peanuts are subjected to mortar and pestle. What we get, when everything is properly ground and finished with halved cherry tomatoes, is a dish that incorporates all five flavors of the Thai cuisine. It is spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. But most importantly, it is delicious and not to be missed on everyone’s to-eat list.
Just be careful when you venture towards the north-east into Isan and order it there. You are in a for a burning surprise.
? Kaeng Tai Pla (You Will Die) ?
That’s not the official translation of kaeng tai pla, but it might as well be. It is yet another fish curry invented in the south and it takes the crown for the spiciest dish in Thailand. What makes it so different from the other sweat-inducing meals?
It doesn’t give a fuck, that’s what. Where all the others incorporate sour or sweet components to counter the effect of the spiciness, kaeng tai pla has none of that. It is salty and spicy, and it focuses on these attributes like a fucking heat ray. The eponymous tai pla refers to the process of marinating a fish with the fermented stomach of another fish as well as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and black pepper.
Combine this with a no-holds-barred chili paste, and you have a savory curry that should come with a warning label. Not even the vegetables like bamboo shoots, eggplant, or beans can give you any respite. Order it at your own peril with a pot of rice.
❆ The Cool Down ❄
To conclude our baptism by fire, we will reward you with a few tips on how to beat the heat. First off, we briefly mentioned that starchy foods like rice help a lot. This also includes bread and potatoes. Dairy products such as milk, butter, ice cream, and cheese work as well. Our favorite ‘fire extinguishers’ are either peanut butter or honey with which you coat your tongue. A good excuse to eat peanut butter straight out of the jar.
But let us know which are your favorite spicy dishes in Thailand! Do you actually like spicy food? If not, then this post might not have helped… Anyway, let us know in the comments below!