Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE LOVE LOVE spicy food. The obsession started at the tender age of 7 or 8, when cousin SX introduced the idea of dipping hot fries into garlic chili paste, and I haven’t looked back yet. In fact, I rarely (and actually never) eat a meal without some added spice – red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, chili sauce, chili oil, etc.
A few years ago, Sis and I started a new vacation tradition (in addition to buying magnets and Starbucks coffee mugs)…we started buying HOT SAUCE (and aren’t we so glad that we did)! Some of my favorites have become mainstream and others are not as they were discovered by some stroke of luck during travels, but most are available in the US at specialty grocers or online.
Here’s a list of MY Top 8 Hot Sauces That Will Change Your Life (in increasing scoville order – 1 = moderately spicy, 2 = spicy, 3 = very spicy, 4 = painfully spicy, 5 = deadly*):
1. SAMBAL OELEK: A fresh ground chili paste with strong hints of garlic, this is a favorite for bland dishes that need some punch (and salt).
Where you’ll find it: Most supermarkets now carry the sauce, but for surety, go to an Asian market – Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai or Korean.
2. SRIRACHA: I remember the days when we could only find it at the local Chinese supermarket and now Doritos, Subway and Taco Bell have developed specific products using the sauce. And, remember the panic (albeit short lived) of 2013 when the Huy Fong factory closed as a public nuisance? Although a number of companies make the sauce (it is a type of sauce and not a brand), Huy Fong is by far my favorite (and who doesn’t want to support a US company and manufacturer?).
Where you’ll find it: Any supermarket, corner deli, Wal-Mart, etc.
Heat Level: 2
3. LAO GAN MAI SPICY CHILI CRISP SAUCE: Likely the tastiest hot sauce on the list, this delicious wonder not only adds incredible flavor, but texture to your dishes. But, be careful, the flavor can be overpowering and the sauce is oil-based so it will increase the caloric content and general greasiness of your dish.
Where you”ll find it: Chinese supermarkets.
Heat Level: 2
4. MR. RODIZIO HOT SAUCE: A slow burning oil made from piri piri peppers (African bird’s eye chilis) this sauce will add heat without altering the flavor of your dish. I first discovered this type of sauce while traveling in Rio (all of which were house-made sauces and not available at the market – tragic!). So, when I came home, I was on a mission to find something similar and miraculously, Bugsy found it at a local Portuguese restaurant (a house-made proprietary recipe, of course).
Where you’ll find it: If you’re dining at Churrasqueira Bairrada in Mineola, New York, you can ask your server for a bottle to go, or you can order it online at http://churrasqueira.com/product/mr-rodizio-hot-sauce-5oz/
Heat level: 3
5. EL YUCATECO GREEN HOT SAUCE: I was surprised to find El Yucateco at restaurants in Mexico, but it appears just as popular there as it is here in the US. A Mexican meal staple with heat generated from the holy habanero, this sauce is definitely spicy. If you’re looking for a Tabasco-like flavor with a lot more heat, this is it.
Where you’ll find it: Any supermarket.
Heat level: 4
6. MATOUK’S CALYPSO SAUCE: While in St. Maarten for JY’s Bachelorette Party last year, our resort had a small grocery that sold Matouk’s. Given the sauce’s super cheap price ($2.00/bottle) and highly desirable main ingredient, scotch bonnet, we knew we could not pass it up. Almost nightly, after a long day of drinking, we would douse our Cup Noodles with this thick magical sauce and slurp it down painfully. Before leaving, I bought 5 bottles – thankfully, I still have one left.
Where you”ll find it: In the Caribbean, Caribbean grocers or online.
Heat Level: 4+
7. MONG LEE SHANG PICKLED CHILI SAUCE: This sauce is SUPER spicy and full of fresh flavor. The chilies are sliced thin and cooked in oil with a variety of other spices, ingredients, like dried shrimp, soy bean, etc. My favorite is the plain chili sauce. If you’re looking for five-alarm that works on a variety of flavors, this is it!
Where you’ll find it: Chinese supermarkets (not widely available).
Heat level: 4++
8. MR NAGA: Last, but certainly not least, dear Mr. Naga. Mr. Naga was a recent find (actually I stumbled upon this gold mine last night at dinner with SDP). While dining at Pippala, a delicious Indian restaurant in NYC, a gentleman at the neighboring table heard me ask for sliced green chilies. He graciously offered his sauce – Mr. Naga – that he purchased only moments before at a local Indian grocer around the corner and brought into the restaurant. After impatiently listening to his story about his first experience with Mr. Naga sauce while dining in India, I quickly accepted his offer and my MEAL WAS MADE. By far the SPICIEST hot sauce I have ever tried, this ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) potion is spicy to the MAX, but still full of delicious flavor with obvious hints of garlic, other spices. After dinner, I went on a mission to get a bottle of my own and scored one after traversing FOUR different stores.
Where you’ll find it: At Indian specialty grocers (it’s rare and expensive – a bottle costs $8.00-$15.00) and online.
Heat level: 5+++
LOVE – MY
WARNING:*Heat levels are relative to MY taste buds.
Searching for spice in St. Maarten.
Searching for spice in Rio, Brazil.
Searching for spice in Athens, Greece.
Searching for spice in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.