Spice and heat are two glorious facts of South Indian cooking. It is a good time for those us who like our food hot, hotter, and just right. And I don’t mean temperature. The habanero is readily available in Los Angeles and delivers the goods – an honest, intense burn with little subtlety. Thai chilies aren’t quite as potent but make up for it with more complex flavors. The new crop of jolokias from northeastern India pack a mightier punch than the habanero yet bring much more to the table. Subtlety and peppers aren’t usually uttered together yet it is possible to tell that there is something draping the experience just before the fire hits. I managed to grow a few one lucky summer in 2011 and have been unable to do it since. I never had to mix a lot into a dish to make it memorable.
Lauren Collins’s delightful article in the New Yorker profiles growers whose quest for the hottest chile has become a contact sport. Mary Roach reports on a jolokia eating competition in Assam for Smithsonian Magazine.
Here’s to hoping that bhuts and nagas are soon readily available in supermarkets.