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Spicy Condiments: Chili Oil is to Sichuan as...


I ate in a local Chinese restaurant last night. I ordered a Sichuan dish and ask that it be prepared "extremely hot". It came out as medium. Perhaps "extremely" didn't translate well making it my error. That's not my point.

I like spicy food. If a given take out dish isn't hot enough, I'd like to be able to have a few condiments on hand to raise the heat. Adding tabasco to a Thai dish doesn't seem right. What are the other common ingredients in a given cuisine that make dishes hotter?

From my handy Sichuan cookbook, I know that chili oil and Sichuan chili powder are common condiments that bring the heat.

What about other cultures?

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  1. Well all heat comes from capsicum, and the main source of capsicum anywhere is the chile. So any hot condiment should have seen a chile or two once in its life.

    If it's not as hot as you'd like, you could ask for some extra chiles (chopped or whatever) to mix in. I've done this before, and they gave me a little bowl on the side.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Soop

      Years ago, at a little Hunan place I frequented (at least twice a month), I usually ordered bean curd with vegetables, extra spicy. The waiter and I would go back and forth over how spicy I could take it. Various peppers were employed in the dish, according to the chef's whim and availability. Everything that came out of that kitchen was delicious.

      One evening, the waiter came out of the kitchen with a wide grin, bearing a small dish of glistening brown liquid. "This is what we eat," he said. A few slices of what looked like jalapenos floated on the innocuous surface. I dipped a piece of tofu into the dish, placed the morsel in my mouth, and was greeted with a universal burst of flavor. As tears streamed down my face, the most pleased young man said, "Hot enough, lady?".

      20+ years later, I've never quite duplicated that taste, but I think it was heated dark soy, a pinch of sugar, a sliced fresh jalapeno, a bit of vinegar of some sort, and chile oil. It was very complex, and I just loved it.

    2. And for each cuisine, you'd have to have the right chiles. Tabasco in Asian food just doesn't sound right to me. Chile oil might have worked with your Sichuan meal

      1. Tom, I like spicy too, as well as well seasoned food.
        I bring spices with me when ever I travel.

        Garlic & ginger as well as chiles can increase heat, esp in their raw state.
        I use this to my advantage.

        I really love chili oil and find it works well, even in non Asian cuisine.

        Sometimes if I forget my stash, I'll ask for some cayenne.
        It's the most likely thing a kitchen will have & never fails to do the job.

        I am curious as to what other cuisines of which you speak.
        I'll often ask for extra fresh jalepenos for Vietnamese & Mexican, Togarashi for Japanese, and in an Indian restaurant you could ask for it "Crazy Hot".

        BTW, for those of you who like a little kick, I make my own Trail Mix and add Togarashi. Wonderful!

        1. A chili-garlic mix like this(http://www.huyfong.com/no_frames/garl...) works well for all Asian foods.

          Sriracha(the rooster brand), even though it's not actually used much in Asia, works great for all SE Asian cuisines, though sometimes it's a bit odd in certain Chinese dishes.

          And I find the thought of spicy Japanese food hard to grasp. :P

          11 Replies
          1. re: huaqiao

            "And I find the thought of spicy Japanese food hard to grasp. :P"

            C'mon! Are you pulling my leg or what? Hard to tell!
            Surely you've had spicy Japanese food, no?

            I prefer the chile oil to the chili garlic mix you mentioned, not that I didn't try to like it.
            I just find it too vinegary (as I do Tabasco & prefer Crytal or LA Hot Sauce), but I wish I could get chile oil that had a hint of garlic. But then again, maybe I'm just being contrary because I don't care much for Sriracha either!

            Ya know thank goodness we have so many choices!ll

            1. re: Isabella

              To be honest, I find Japanese food to be even less spicy than American food. I've eaten tons of Japanese food over the years(I live in the South Bay in LA, best concentration of Japanese food outside of Japan) and I can probably count on one hand the number of dishes which had noticable heat.

              I'm not sure I would count wasabi or horseradish as spicy, but even there they're pretty moderate. That Asian guy with the neon saucer of soy-sauce-flavored wasabi at your neighborhood sushi joint is probably Chinese!

              1. re: huaqiao

                Modern Japanese food can borrow from spicy cuisines like Korean. Most traditional Japanese food is not spicy. There is at least one exception for the ground red chile pepper that goes on top of udon noodles . . .

                1. re: PAO

                  I have no idea whether this has a bearing on the heat or not - I've not been to Japan & have never eating Japanese food on the West Coast. But I do live in New Orleans & we do like our cayenne as well as other chiles. Maybe they are making the food so it appeals to locals.

              2. re: Isabella

                huaqiao is right. Japanese food (and as I cook it) emphasizes subtle flavors. My friends can't believe the difference between what I cook for them when I make Japanese and when I make other cuisines or when we go out - when I invariably have with me dired and ground chile flakes that I've prepared from the hottest chiles I can find around the globe.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  How about shichimi togarashi as a hot Japanese condiment?

                  1. re: paulj

                    Condiment yes - but not inherently part of the main flavor of the dish, no?

                    1. re: paulj

                      I don't really think of togarashi as spicy really. To me it has about as much heat as white pepper.

                      1. re: paulj

                        My mother used to make that and nanami togarashi from scratch and she used the hottest red pepper flakes or powder that she could find. Don't forget the sansho which has its own distinct zing and bite. My mom was born and raised in Kobe, Japan. She always loved hot and spicy food. Even her Japanese curry had an extra Wow factor to it. No spice lightweights in mom's household.

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Well there's also Sansho (aka Sichuan pepper)


                        It is crucial for unagi dishes, like unaju or unagi yanagawa, as it enhances the flavor.

                    2. Sambal oelek works well to flavor most foods without imparting a disconcerting flavor. I use it on top of pizza, stews, pastas, pretty much everything.

                      Sriracha has a slightly tangy, garlicky flavor that is quite noticeable. I use on pizza, sausages, Asian and sour foods.

                      Indian chili powder adds plenty of heat in small doses and can be sprinkled on most foods. Cayenne pepper, however, packs less of a punch and has a taste best suited to Western foods.

                      I also keep a bag of bird's eye chilies in the fridge at all times to toss into Asian foods when I need that lift, or to eat as a vegetable with meals that I find bland.

                      1. It really depends on what you're looking for. Chili oil and Sichuan chili powder (I'm assuming you're talking about Sichuan peppercorns) will also add oil and mouth tingling. As long as flavors mesh, I don't have a problem with mixing and matching different hot sauces/oils/peppers with different cuisines. For example, the other day I put Sriracha on my tortilla espanol, and I thought it went beautifully. A tabasco sauce or sambal oelek would be too tart for my taste. A sprinkling of birds eyes chilis would be a bit too overwhelming in this instance. The Sriracha was perfect and exactly what I was looking for. Yesterday I had some chicken broth (flavored with salt) with rice noodles and cilantro. I added some Sichuan peppercorn powder because I wanted a bit of a numbing kick. While it may not be traditional, I thought it went well. When I've eaten that chicken and rice noodle dish before, I've also added sambal oelek, sriracha, habanero hot sauce, dried chili flakes in oil, chopped birds eye chilis, birds eye chilis in vinegar, and gochugaru (Korean chili powder). It just depends on what I'm in the mood for at the time.

                        1. Mustard or horseradish for German / Austrian / Eastern European food.
                          Harissa for Middle Eastern / Turkish food.
                          Crushed red pepper for Italian, Cayenne for Spanish & Portuguese.
                          Sriracha, chili oil, Sichuan chili powder for all things Chinese / Asian.
                          Fresh bird chili peppers & fresh ginger for Thai food.
                          Tabasco for.... pizza? I don't find tabasco particularly hot, so I hardly ever use it.

                          10 Replies
                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                              Well, I was hoping our very own Mexican specialist EN would chime in, as I am only vaguely familiar with even American-Mexican cuisine. My guess would be a variety of chile peppers, such as habanero, jalapeño, etc. etc. ... no? The trusted capsaicum of your choice '-)

                              1. re: linguafood

                                For me it would simply be the New Mexican Chile (Anaheim) in its various Manifestations.
                                Upon further contemplation, the jalapeno and serano for fresh applications. The fresh habanero is for macho dudes, not new age age sensitive guys like moi.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  Aparrantly Ancho chiles are used very often, but they're not very hot.
                                  I wonder where Eat Nopal is?

                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                    There's an end time? Good!

                                    I was thinking that Arbol chiles would be the Mexican hot spice. Am I wrong about this? Also, I think that ground cayenne would be a suitable hot addition to most cuisines.....although I do like Linguafood's descriptive list.

                                    1. re: Gio

                                      Chiles are such an integral part of Mexican cooking that it would hard to single out one as the preferred condiment. In the context of this thread, condiment is something that is added at the table to spice up a dish to one's own taste.

                                      Ancho and other mild to medium hot chiles are widely used, but more as the base to sauces and stews, not as a condiment. However, alot of guajillo is ground and used to make a popular chile-lime-salt flavoring (for candies, nuts, and such).

                                      Jalapeño is widely used fresh and pickled as a hot garnish to tacos and such. Some prefer the smaller (and slightly hotter) serrano. I've seen serranos eaten like we might eat carrot sticks and radishes, dipped in salt. Arbol is widely used to add the hot component to sauces (salsas), whether home made, or commercially bottled. Habanero is an integral part of cooking in the south of Mexico, pequine might be more common in the north.

                                      In the Andes, aji is the common name for both chiles, and a table sauce made with them. The sauce may be a simple as minced chiles, onion, garlic and lime juice. Local fruits might also be included (such as the tree tomato in Ecuador). There have been a number of threads about aji sauces served at Peruvian restaurants.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Thanks Paul... I use Ancho and Guajillo as well as Arbol in the Mexican food I make...mainly EN's recipes and Bayless. Currently in my larder I have Jalapeños, Serranos, Poblanos and Thai chiles as well as those I listed above.

                                  2. re: linguafood

                                    A little late here... as many might now... Mexico is ground zero for Chile / Capsicum... with 100+ varietals of chiles... consumed in several modalities:

                                    > Harvested Raw, Eaten Raw
                                    > Harvested Raw, Eaten Roasted or Cooked
                                    > Sun Dried or Smoked, Added to Dishes Without Much Processing
                                    > Sun Dried or Smoked, Roasted & Reconstituted to Stuff or for Sauces

                                    Of course there are about 20 common types of chiles that represent "80% of Mexican Cuisine"... these range from grassy green chiles like Jalapenos, Pasilla Verde, Poblanos etc., to berry like Chiltepins & Piquins, Raisy dried Anchos, Tobacco like Dried Pasillas, Guajillos etc., there is a big range in flavors contributed by chiles... there are literally 1,000s & 1,000s of types of Salsas, Sauces, Moles, Adobos & Pipianes made a various blends of Chiles, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Nuts, Herbs, Spices, Garlic, Chives, Onions etc.,

                                    No other cuisine uses chiles to their fullest potential as Mexican.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Well, it's about time you filled that gap '-D.

                                2. re: linguafood

                                  Excellent work. Thank you. Just what I was hoping for.

                                3. We went out for lunch today and Big Guy did what he frequently does. He ignored the two bottles of hot sauce on the table and unscrewed the cap from the pepper shaker and dumped pepper all over his omelette. I'm beyond being embarrassed by this anymore..

                                  1. I love some sort of spicy condiment with all my food...Here's what I expect/hope to see at the restaurants I go to:

                                    Japanese: Togarashi

                                    Vietnamese: Sambal Oeleck, Sriracha and jalapenos in vinegar

                                    Thai: Ground Hot Chili, Hot chilies in soy sauce, and Chili Oil

                                    Mexican: Tapatio, Cholula, Fresh Salsa

                                    American: Frank's Red Hot

                                    Chinese: Chili OIl (chunky), Szechuan Hot Bean Sauce (preferably homemade)

                                    1. Chillies have their own flavour, but sometimes I just want the heat - not the distinctive flavour associated with, say, a Scotch Bonnet.

                                      So I keep a small bottle of 'Pure Cap' - bought at 'Taste the 4th Sense' on the Danforth in Toronto. A phew drops of that spices things up. It come with an eye-dropper so you can add it one drop at a time. You really do have to be that careful with it.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Paulustrious

                                        Since this thread has resurrected...here is the stuff I was recommending. Seems other like it as well...


                                      2. I'll chime in to add that you have to remember that capsicums are native to the New World, and are therefore a fairly recent addition to every other world cuisine. Indian food has had many and varied spices for ever, but not a chile pepper until the Sixteenth Century.

                                        As Eat Nepal noted above, Mexican cuisine, as well as Central American, Caribbean, etc. is rife with chiles of all sizes, types and heat levels because that's what the native peoples have been eating since they arrived to the land, some 20,000 years ago.

                                        I'm in Texas, by the way, and I have five different kinds of chile peppers growing on the deck right now. My people have only been in Texas for four generations or so, but I couldn't live without them. (Well, at least I wouldn't WANT to.)

                                        It's no wonder that cuisines worldwide have adopted and adapted the chile pepper as their own.

                                        [i]Vive la différence![/i] , and all that, but you have to awed by our commonality.

                                        1. Chili oil is to Sichuan...

                                          ...as salsa di peperoncini is to Italian. And I'm not talking about olio piccante, or anything involving red pepper flakes.

                                          Nothing like a bowl of orecchiette al pesto, Molise style, with a heaping spoonful of this amazing chile condiment. Not that easy to find- best made at home. But you gotta have those semi-dry chiles with a good kick, excellent oil, and not too much garlic: