Turn Up The Heat: 15 Must-Try Spicy Asian Foods
Buckle those seatbelts, get your fork in your dominant hand, and amp up those taste buds. We are taking you on a food journey today, and it’s getting hot. Today, it’s all about the heat, and we are serving up the flavors.
There are so many dishes in Asian cuisine that are too good not to share, so we are bringing 16 of the most popular and spiciest mains that you need to get your hands on. Enough with the anticipation, let’s get started!
What Are Some of the Spiciest Asian Foods?
If you’re someone that likes to set off the fire alarms in your mouth, you’ve come to the right place. Many Asian dishes call for heat, and we rounded up some of the best from every country and region. We don’t play favorites, so this list is long. The good news? We’ve basically created a two-week-long menu of dinners for you.
1. Beef Rendang -- Indonesia
Beef rendang has roots in Indonesia but is considered a Malaysian curry. It is what is known as a dry curry – meaning that there isn’t really a sauce present but rather a warming spice. These flavors bring spice but not intense heat. You’ll achieve that effect from spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and galangal, similar to ginger.
2. Devil’s Curry -- Malaysia
This is a very spicy Malaysian curry that is red hot in flavor and color. It started as a dish made a few days after special occasions like Christmas and consisted of leftovers. Now, the Devil’s Curry is a popular everyday dish that earned a spot on the menu. It is spiced with galangal, hot mustard seed, and a special vinegar that amps up the natural heat.
3. Gaeng Tai Pla – Southern Thailand
This is a curry from Southern Thailand. The name comes from the base ingredient – tai pla, which is a paste made from fish stock and trimmings. It is a salty, strong flavor that is soaked up nicely by the added potatoes and other vegetables.
Galangal, lemongrass, and dried chilies complement these intense salty flavors by adding an intense spiciness. Be warned, this is an intensely spicy curry dish with a delicious spicy umami flavor. It will knock you off your feet if you aren’t prepared.
4. Mala Sauce -- Sichuan, China
Mala is a Chinese sauce made from Sichuan peppercorn and chilis. Garlic, ginger, and star anise make up the backbone of this sauce. It is spicy, sweet, and has warming spices that bring the full experience. But what’s so special about the sauce? The Sichuan peppercorns. They cause a tingling or numbing sensation in your mouth!
5. Mapo Tofu -- Sichuan, China
Mapo tofu is a deliciously savory and over-the-top spicy dish. The tofu provides a creamy texture and a bit of relief from the chili bean paste and Sichuan peppercorn sauce.The flavors are so bright and deep, you’ll be crying for more.
6. Hot and Sour Glass Noodles – Sichuan, China
This is Chinese street food at its finest. These glass noodles, also known as Chinese vermicelli noodles, made of starch and water, are laid to rest in a spicy broth packed with flavor and texture.
A quick tip: these noodles are stiff, so you’ll need to soak them in water to soften them before cooking.
The hot and sour notes come from the combination of Chinese chili oils, Sichuan peppercorn, and black vinegar. The texture takes this dish to the next level when it is topped with fried soybeans, peanuts, and freshly cut chives.
7. Gan Guo – Hunan, China
This dish can also be referred to as mala gan guo, or Chinese dry pot. It differs from a traditional hot pot in that this style does not utilize a bubbling broth. However, the idea remains similar: you simply choose the ingredients you want to cook.
Traditional ingredients vary but don’t forget the rules of Chinese cooking: flavor, aroma, and aesthetic.
8. Tom Yum – Bangkok, Thailand
This is a type of hot and sour Thai soup, and it gets its flavor base from a paste made of chili, garlic, and shallots. Expect spicy and savory flavors from the base of the soup as lemongrass, kaffir leaves, and galangal are added. You’re getting those subtle tangy flavors and amping up the heat from here. The most traditional proteins are shrimp or pork, and they are perfect conduits for soaking up the heat.
9. Sichuan Hotpot – Luzhou, China
Sichuan hot pot is a spicy broth with many options. It’s a soup filled with spices and umami flavors, and the world is your oyster as to what you put into it. It’s customary to come up with your own personal mixture of vegetables and meats to add to the broth.
If you’re looking for inspiration, spinach, mushrooms, and bean sprouts are more popular veggie options, with thinly sliced beef as one of the most traditional proteins.
10. Vindaloo – Goa, India
Vindaloo is a traditional Indian curry dish. The sauce consists of coconut milk, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and gets its spice from jalapenos, cayenne and chilis.
Vinegar will be added to the base to amplify the flavors of the heat. In India, it is very common to have vegetarian options for most dishes, so tofu in place of protein would be ubiquitous here.
11. Spicy Ramen – China
Japan usually gets the credit for ramen, but China brings the heat with spicy ramen. This dish requires a pork-based sauce and traditional buckwheat noodles. Where does the spice come from? Well, it can come from a variety of spicy options.
Gochujang, sambal, and Chinese-style chili garlic sauce are the three most common options for spicy ramen.
12. Kaeng som Sour Fish Curry – Central Thailand, Thailand
This Indonesian-style curry gets its tang from tamarind and fenugreek that are added to the chili pastes while simmering in broth. The flavors are prominent and spicy with a tangy backbone, perfect for adding a lasting delicious bite.
It’s best to use firm white fish for this dish. The firmness will keep it from falling apart, and whitefish tend to be more mild-flavored, so they’ll soak up all the spicy goodness around.
13. Maeun-tang Spicy Fish Soup – Korea
A combination of Korean hot chili flakes and gochujang make up the spicy base for this tasty fish soup. The broth is red and vibrant, much like the flavors combined. The combination of the chilis, garlic, and saltiness from the anchovies creates an ultimate spicy umami experience.
14. Curry Laksa – Chinese/Malay Influence
Chef Anthony Bourdain hailed this as one of the best dishes he’s ever tasted, and we totally agree. The deep flavors and textures create a unique curry experience.
Laksa is a paste made from shrimp, lemongrass, chili, and turmeric and makes up the base. Add the textures of creamy coconut milk, tofu, and bursts of brightness from mint.
15. Five Spice Beef Soup – China
The warming qualities of the five spices (star anise, fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, whole cloves, cinnamon) mixed with the savory flavors of the beef takes this dish to the top. Mix this with the kick of spice from the chili paste and crunchy texture from fresh green onions and chopped peanuts.
Which Herbs and Spices Are the Spiciest in Asian Cuisine?
This is a list of the top and most frequently used spices in Asian cuisine. They also add to spicy flavors, in different ways.
Chilies are dried and usually ground up into powder or paste. These will be the most intense spicy notes in most of the dishes you see here. Bird’s eye chili is one example that requires a bit of finesse.
Ginger does a wonderful job of adding warmth and amplifying spice but is relatively mild in heat. You’ll get a kick of flavor from the ginger, but that is more bright and fresh than overtly spicy.
Cumin provides a savory spice to anything it’s added to. However, this spice has less heat and more of a strong flavor. Use it to amp up the flavor behind your chilis, or if you want to dull the heat and not the flavor, use it in place of some chili paste.
Chives are perfect as a finishing element to any dish. They’ll provide a bright herbaceousness that can have peppery qualities. The herb will also have a nice textural difference for meats, soft noodles, and rice. However, the peppery qualities of chives do not give off blatant heat, just subtle flavor.
Turmeric kicks flavor to a whole new depth, but it’s not enough to be hot on its own. Used in combination with a few other spices and you’re on the right track. However, turmeric isn’t meant to be a tangy spice, just packed with flavor.
Coriander provides warming qualities when used with other spices like cinnamon and cloves. It will amplify heat when used as a base for chili sauces, but eating it alone won’t make your mouth burn.
The Bottom Line
We are confident you’re about to find your new favorite spicy go-to on this list today. A lot of these are perfect for your night out, but a lot of these dishes are straightforward and can be made at home.
The best part? Umamicart has all the right ingredients to get all these recipes from screen to table in no time. Bon appetit!