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The Spicy Ramen Challenge

April 29, 2019

What’s the hottest thing you’ve ever eaten?

For me, the answer to this question doesn’t come in the form of Scoville units. Surely, there are some pepper heads out there who know precisely how high they’ve gone on the heat scale. But that’s not me. I’ve never been a fiery food thrill seeker, chasing down some kind of sweat induced euphoria rush. Or maybe those endorphins are released to block the pain? I have no idea. Pain isn’t my idea of pleasure.

Instead, my answer is based entirely on how the food made me feel. Because I’ve had 10/10 Thai-spicy dishes at TapAsia, I’ve eaten the hottest lamb phall at Karavalli, and I’ve been exploring some truly fiery dishes at our local Sichuan places. While these were all intensely spicy experiences, I’ve enjoyed them all.

But when I was a kid in Miami, my family went out for Thai food with some friends. It was there that I ate one shrimp that literally floored me. The burning. The pain. It was a searing pain that rose up behind my eyeballs, and there was nothing I could do to make it go away. Tears welled up in my eyes. And out of pain, fear, and frustration, I found myself curled up on the floor underneath the table.

One of the things I’ve learned over time, is that like drinking whiskey, eating spicy food is a learned skill. You must have an appropriate respect for what it is you’re about to consume, and it’s best done with care. Sometimes you have to learn this lesson the hard way.

While I have no interest in testing my limits, or seeing how much heat I can handle, this past weekend I was invited to participate in a Troy filming of The Spicy Ramen Challenge. After watching some videos of people doing this on the interwebs, curiosity got the better of me, and I agreed to give it a go.

Why would I do something so stupid?

Well, for starters, it’s been a long time since I’ve done something stupid. But more than anything else, it seemed like the people in the videos were being overly dramatic. That said, the level of heat in processed foods can be quite intense thanks to modern food science. I recall the packet of Taco Bell hot sauce that left me sweating for a half hour after the fact. Some of those extra-hot hot sauces are truly unpleasant. So I really wanted to experience these super hot noodles for myself.

My hunch was that they would indeed be too hot for me to finish. Yes, I went into this challenge planning to fail. However, I knew Steve N would be at the challenge as well, and he always complains that spicy foods are never spicy enough. Part of me just wanted to have a front row seat to watch him work through a bowl of this ramen.

I also took some precautions.

Before the challenge, I went out to lunch at Karam in Schenectady, where I split two different stuffed breads with Little Miss Fussy. We got the cheese stuffed naan and the spiced chicken stuffed naan. Both were comforting and fantastic, especially after a week without bread. But I felt like these would provide a good cushion in my stomach for the impending onslaught of chilis.

Then on the way to Quang’s in Troy, I popped into Fairy Sichuan for some cans of Wanglaoji (王老吉). It’s a sweetened canned herbal tea that is supposed to help ameliorate the effects of fiery foods.

When the noodles were served, I went with the strategy of “slow and steady wins the race.” My goal was not to be the first one done. I would be happy if I could simply finish my bowl.

Were the noodles spicy? Yes, without a doubt. But they were not unpleasantly spicy, and they were certainly not inedible. I actually enjoyed the smoldering burn. As the challenge went on, I picked up my pace, and came in second. Steve not only finished first, but added some sriracha sauce to his bowl along the way. Damn.

The canned tea was waiting for me at the finish line. And I mostly sucked the whole thing down based on the sodium within the bowl and not the need to quench the fire.

If you’re curious, there is video of this eating escapade here. I haven’t watched it, mostly because I already lived it. But my prize for finishing The Spicy Ramen Challenge was another pouch of spicy ramen! One of these days, when I’m feeling the need to sweat, I’ll make it for lunch. Maybe I’ll throw a little kimchi in there too.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to hearing about some of your most incendiary encounters with spicy food.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2019 11:51 am

    Thanks, Daniel, for mentioning my name to Joyce, and suggesting she invite me, I enjoyed the experience.

  2. Benjamin M. permalink
    April 29, 2019 1:12 pm

    I have never even heard of this challenge before (but I live without social media). It sure looks like fun! Were the peppers spicier than ghost peppers? Those are the hottest I have tried.

    • April 29, 2019 3:38 pm

      Benjamin, how hot you think the ramen is will depend on your tolerance level for spiciness. I would describe the ramen as very spicy, but not painful, though some might consider it spicy enough to be unpleasant.

  3. April 30, 2019 11:36 pm

    Back in college, there was a restaurant in Manchester, CT. They had 4 levels of heat for the Buffalo wings. Mild, Medium, Oy, and Oy Vey. A friend and I decided to give the Oy Vey a try. The waitress warned us that they were really hot, we said bring it on. The hostess came over and said they were really hot and that if couldn’t eat them, we couldn’t send them back. We said bring it on. The chef’s wife came over and said I just want you know these wings are really hot. After this 3rd waning, our confidence was fading but wings were pretty cheap back then. Bring it on.

    Once the sauce started hurting my tongue, I realized my lips were kind of burning too and I could feel the sauce on my fingers. I think between us, we got through 3 wings each. It was rough and lasted a while. If I ate those wings today, I think they would ruin a week.

  4. Charlie permalink
    May 6, 2019 3:45 am

    If anyone’s interested in a serious locally made hot sauce,I’d suggest horseshoe brand xxxtra hot…I’ve seen it in honest weight,and shop rite…they make a good hot bbq sauce also

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