Some Like It Hot
It makes us sweat and leaves us feeling like a fire-breathing dragon. Worst of all, it literally pains us to eat it. Yet for some reason, we just keep going back to spicy food.
Those who avoid the heat think that us heat-seekers of the world are certifiably insane for tolerating the physical effects, and at times suffering, of eating spicy food, but we are by no means self-destructive. As the ones who can’t live without our dousing of Sriracha or chili pepper water — over anything and everything — we know the extreme thrill of an electrifying spice that revs up our metabolism, stimulates our circulation and becomes all-consuming in its fiery persuasion.
Even if you just like a hint of heat in your food, you’re going to want to spice up your life with these red-hot dishes.
SWEET HOME CAFE
Sweet Home Cafe is known as a haven of Taiwanese-style hot pot, but the more you explore the eatery’s diverse menu of flavorful broths, the more you’ll see that it’s actually home to a whole world of flavors.
In the Spicy broth ($8.95), for example — a best seller since day one — head chef Takuto Yasuda unites a housemade chili sauce with an array of spices, garlic, chili powder and Thai curry oil to give the soup base its richness. And perfectly fitting for our spicy theme this week, those seasonings also allow guests to feel the burn.
Now, just how spicy is it? According to front-of-the-house manager Jeff Pack, “It’s hard to say because everyone’s different. I usually tell people it’s like kimchee spicy; everyone has an idea of what that’s like. We can also adjust that to make it less spicy if customers are really sensitive.”
Pack adds that the special house-made spice mixture brings a lot of flavor to the broth beyond the heat. “It makes a really good broth, even for people who are sensitive to spice.”
You also can make the broth spicier if you’d like, and once you have it just right, choose from more than 100 items from the refrigerator and a la carte menu to substantiate your hot-pot meal. Prices range from $3 to $5 for addons such as vegetables, starches, meat, seafood and more.
Best of all, the flavor — and spice — doesn’t stop there. Sweet Home Cafe is perhaps best known for its sauces, which can be added to your broth or used for dipping on the side. “We don’t charge for them, and the majority we hand-make ourselves. A lot of time and care goes into that and it really shows,” explains Pack.
Turn up the delicious factor with sauces like Chef Special Chili, Garlic Butter and Sweet Home Ginger Onion, just to name a few.
Pack reminds readers that the restaurant is extending its popular all-you-can-eat special, offering soup, rice and any items from the refrigerator (some exclusions apply) for $15 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Meats also are offered with the deal for $3 per plate (as opposed to $5).
As an added perk for all Sweet Home Cafe diners, free shave ice is a scrumptious finishing touch.
Sweet Home Cafe
2334 S. King St., Honolulu
Chinese cuisine is among the spiciest in the world, but you wouldn’t know it if you’ve only dined at the majority of Chinese restaurants in the Islands. But that’s changing thanks to Spicy Pavilion at Chinatown Cultural Plaza, where island diners are exposed to the spicier side of Chinese fare stemming from the Sichuan region.
“In Hawaii, most of the Chinese restaurants serve Cantonese food, but this one offers a special cuisine that Hawaii doesn’t have a lot of,” explains Spicy Pavilion manager Qi Tu.
Tu’s parents, Gary Tu and Wendy Cheng, run the eatery, and together the family serves up freshly made, MSG-free spicy cuisine. To really get into the sizzling flavors of Sichuan cuisine, ordering Diced Chicken with Chili Peppers ($12.99) is the best place to start. The dish causes fireworks with its bite-sized pieces of chicken thighs glazed in shoyu and sugar and fried with bell peppers, onions and dried red chili peppers.
The spice here is not limited to the chili peppers alone. The entree also features a unique kind of heat from Sichuan peppercorn, an ingredient that “makes Sichuan cuisine different from other types of spicy foods,” according to Tu. Not to be mistaken with regular black peppercorns, the Sichuan variety has a numbing effect on the mouth when eaten, adding an entirely new sensation to your dining experience. In China, they use a lot of the peppercorns in their cuisine, but most of us in Hawaii are not used to that level of intensity. That’s why Spicy Pavilion uses a touch of the dried version, so as not to overwhelm first-timers.
The restaurant also allows guests to choose their spice level from one to five. Tu says regulars enjoy her family’s spicy food because it is not only tasty, but also has a range of health benefits, including opening up pores and improving skin.
Spicy Pavilion Chinatown Cultural Plaza
100 N Beretania St., Ste. 113,Chinatown