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Feb 25, 2009 08:07 AM

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( 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.