When you get that slow-building advance warning of the spiciness to come, you know things are about to get seriously hot. The Chinese hot pot, or huoguo, a dish that should be enjoyed with absolute calm, is the ideal way to embark on the fiery roller-coaster ride you sense on the horizon. You can choose your heat level, but you’re not here to waste time: order the spicy broth – served so hot it cooks the ingredients you dip into it in seconds – and combine it with duck, chicken, beef, lamb or fish. Dunk sliced vegetables, prawns, lobster claws, baby octopuses – you’ll feel like a miniature demon in charge of your own private inferno.
Spicy food can help you live longer. Capsaicin, the substance that gives chillies and peppers their heat, has antioxidant and analgesic properties. Spicy food has its addicts, though it can scare the rest of us who are not so accustomed.
Pharmacist Wilbur Scoville invented a scale in 1912 to measure spiciness. The units represent the millilitres of water needed to dilute one millilitre of pepper extract. The spiciness scale begins with the common red pepper or the ‘guajillo’ – mild stuff (between 100 – 5,000). Exercise caution with cayenne peppers (250,000), as anyone who’s accidentally overdosed can testify. In the upper range, we can only greet you with a scorching welcome to hell. The Indian ‘bhut jolokia’ pepper is so hot it can only be handled with gloves (50,000 – 1 million). Finally there’s the Trinidad moruga scorpion chilli (2 million) – as you eat it, it causes blisters in the mouth and throat.
But don’t worry; the dishes we’ve chosen for you won’t give you anything more than a fiery sensation in your mouth. One of the finest pleasures of good cuisine.