Capsaicin is a compound found in chili peppers that produce the heat associated with spicy food. While it’s meant to ward off animals from eating the peppers, it seems like some of us have a taste for danger. Many speculate that the stimulation of your receptors (particularly on your tongue) is what causes the enjoyment and addictive nature of spicy food. While no one is born naturally with spicy loving tastebuds (or a steel stomach for that matter), as you begin to explore the depths of spicy food and the chilies associated with them, the more you will become attuned and enjoy their spicy flavour.
When it comes to Asian food culture, you’ll find a broad spectrum of spicy dishes – depending on region and climate. Some spicy dishes are consumed in warmer climates to cool down (through perspiration), and some use chilis to prevent food spoilage. The intensity and different type of spice also varies – you’ll find a different type of heat from a dish from India than a dish from Thailand or Korea. Some cultures are steeped in the heat, for example Szechuan cuisine.
This is where dumplings, namely wontons come in. In their plain form, they are a staple in many Asian restaurants, though found predominantly in Chinese cuisine. Many believe that serving wontons in chili sauce originated from Szechuan cuisine, but like many food origin stories, it’s hard to pin just one location where it may have come from.
On Richmond’s Dumpling Trail, there are many opportunities to try out chili wontons. Some are more spicier than others, so we’ve developed a quick guide to help you enjoy and explore the reaches of your fiery preferences. This not-so-scientific scale of spicy ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 being very mild, and 5 being melt-your-face-off spicy. While for the most part, chili wontons tend to be more enjoyable than burning hot, there are some that are served with an interesting twist to cut the heat.
Su Hang Restaurant – Wontons in Chili and Peanut Sauce
Heat Scale: 2
Wontons in Chili and Peanut Sauce. | Photo: Dee de los Santos
Su Hang is a Shanghainese restaurant that offers dim sum items that you wont find in most other typical dim sum places. One of these dishes is the Wontons in Chili and Peanut Sauce. This interesting mix of chili and peanut sauces help balance the heat out. While you get a bit of heat from the chili sauce, it gets cut with the heavy, creamier taste of the peanut sauce. The chili in this dish is more of a sweet chili that is very enjoyable.
Tsim Chai – Chili Wontons
Heat Scale: 3
This is probably as ‘authentic’ as you’ll get with the Chinese version of chili wontons. Tsim Chai also have monstrous sized wontons. The chili used in this dish is similar to the tempeh chili oil you’ll find on your table at many Chinese restaurants as condiments to add to your dish, and the ones you’ll find in your local grocery market. The chili oil has added spicy Chinese soybean to give it more density and flavour.
Xi’An – Chili Wontons
Heat Scale: (Varying, but if you get it at it’s most spiciest) 3
Served with Szechuan peppers, soy sauce and chili oil, this Richmond favourite at the Richmond Market Food Court is a notable one for it’s heat and it’s price point.
Szechuan House – Chili Wontons
Heat Scale (You can choose how spicy, but at it’s most spiciest): 4
Szechuan House Chili Wontons. | Photo: Dee de los Santos
These Szechuan-style Chili Wontons pack a nice punch of heat. While Szechuan heat is mostly ‘numbing’ and less painful than other types of chilies (hello Carolina Reapers), it’s still very enjoyable and downright addictive after your first one or two wontons.
These places are just a starter guide to enjoying spicy wontons and in turn, spicy Asian food. We’d love to know where you’ve had the most spiciest dishes in Richmond and if you’ve tried any of these places out as well – let us know in the comments below!