Dear chili fans of Richmond, Greater Vancouver, and The World:
I don’t share your love of sweat-inducing food, so I didn’t always pay enough attention to it (and therefore, you) during 365 Days of Dining. I’m not a thrill-seeker when it comes to spice; I’m a person with a relatively low tolerance who appreciates the flavour added by chilies, but can only handle so many of them. In fact, only this year did I begin placing small (and I mean, small) dots of sriracha on my food, and recently purchased fresh poblanos, thus increasing my fresh pepper-purchase stats by 50%. (Yes, I had only purchased them once before).
I don’t think my spice tolerance is anything to be proud or ashamed of – it just is what it is.
Regardless of my past, what’s happening right here, right now, is a discussion of Richmond’s most fiery foods. Or, at least, the most fiery foods I came across during my year of eating. In my mind, they could only be made hotter if they were garnished with Scotch bonnets, but I’m sure plenty of people would disagree.
When I think back to which of my 365 meals were spiciest, there are a number that stand out starkly. The most prominent of these is the Duojiaozhengyu fish from Bushuair. Remember? The one covered in a glistening, red blanket of chilies?
This is the restaurant that asked me first on the phone, and again in the restaurant, if I was aware their food was spicy, and if I was sure I wanted it. Of course, I was aware it was spicy, but perhaps less certain of whether or not my digestive system actually wanted it. Bushuair serves Hunan cuisine; along with Szechuan, it is one of China’s most chili-heavy culinary traditions. Most Hunan dishes contain the cuisine’s trinity of chilies (usually Tien Tsin peppers), garlic, and shallots, and typically utilize more fresh ingredients, while the Szechuan tradition uses more dried and preserved foods. For those who dismiss the notion that a dish can be “too hot,” Bushuair is your restaurant, and the Duojiaozhengyu fish is your dish.
The majority of the other spicy dishes I ate in Richmond were at Szechuan restaurants, which are plentiful around the city. At New Spicy Chili I ate a memorable one: Dry and Spicy Bitter melon.
They have so aptly named this dish. You’re going to get a whole lot of spice and a whole lot of bitterness, so I wouldn’t recommend ordering it unless you’re ready for both.
Tan tan noodles come in every form in Richmond, as well as every level of heat. The bowl I tried at Szechuan Delicious was actually one of the few very spicy meals I ate in its entirety; it hurt, but it hurt so good. The noodles arrived as a mass of pure white, waiting to be stirred up with the mixture of chili oil and ground pork below. For $4.95, it’s a quick and inexpensive fix of fire.
Golden Szechuan is a good, slightly more upscale place to head to with friends. I brought two pals of mine who enjoy spicy food, and they loved the boiled lamb with cumin, chili peppers, and numbing Szechuan peppercorns.
The spicy free-range chicken was my favourite – tasty, and beautiful in its presentation.
Finally, if you’re looking for a meal that both chili-fiends and chili-phobes can agree on, you should go for hot pot. Many restaurants (such as Claypot Hot Pot and Garden City Hot Pot) will offer the option of separate broths, so you can pick something mild, or something akin to liquid fire, as you see below.
There are also usually condiments galore, including hot sauces, so heat levels can be tailored to any liking.
My final tip: if your tolerance is low like mine, but you end up at a Szechuan or Hunan restaurant in Richmond, then order the deep-fried bread with sweetened and condensed milk. At times, I clung to these buns like they were sweet, pillowy, golden, little life rafts.
That’s not only because they relieved the pain of a chili on my tongue, but because they’re just GOOD – tasty beyond belief – especially when dipped in the sweet and sticky condensed milk. It’s not always easy to justify ordering several donuts to go with your dinner (that’s pretty much what they are), but in this case, you can just call it “necessary for the health of your tongue.”
Happy eating, you heat-seeking missiles!