Lots of sweat, howls of spicy pleasure and tasty treats are some of the things you’ll experience when you dine on China’s spicy foods.
China has numerous regional cuisines but the spiciest dishes are from Sichuan, Hunan, Chongqing, Guizhou and Yunnan.
To see each of the dishes mentioned below in all of their spicy glory, click on the gallery above.
WARNING: These dishes are definitely not for the faint of heart, tongue or throat …
1. Ma po tofu, Sichuan
The dish is made with a spicy bean chili sauce, tofu and ground pork and a liberal sprinkling of the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn that is a mainstay in Sichuan and Chongqnig cooking.
The best ma po tofu comes from the restaurant that bears her name, Chen Mapo Doufu in downtown Chengdu. Website: www.chenmapo.com/ee
2. Dan dan noodles, Sichuan
Unlike the overseas Chinatown version, there is no peanut and/or sesame seed paste and sugar added to authentic dan dan noodles served in Chengdu.
The true dan dan noodle dish is made with a blistering chili black bean paste, ground pork, a dollop of raw minced garlic and crunchy ground peanuts topped off with scallions and cilantro. The sauce is placed at the bottom of an empty bowl, unseasoned al dente noodles are put over the sauce and the diner is charged with the task of mixing it all up.
All Sichuan restaurants throughout China serve this dish but to get it at source, in Chengdu, the best dan dan noodle joint is called Chengdu Dan Dan Mian restaurant across the street from Wuhouci Temple.
The noodles are sold by weight in liang – one liang is 50 grams, a filling meal would be about three liang. Dan dan noodles are like Lays potato chips: you can’t eat just one (liang).
3. Saliva chicken, Sichuan
Literally translated as “saliva chicken,” because you’ll salivate when you even think about this dish.
Sometimes Chinese dishes have weird names that don’t describe what the dish is made of and may actually turn off some unfamiliar diners – this is one of those dishes.
Boiled chicken is marinated in a chili and sesame oil sauce that features 10 spices and sauces making it a fiery yet mouth-watering dish.
This appetizer dish is served at all fine Sichuan restaurants.
4. Hot and sour glass noodles, Chongqing
Rarely costing more than RMB 6 a bowl, this inexpensive spicy snack is beloved all over China and is made of sweet potato flour glass noodles stewed in a soup made of soybeans, chili paste, copious amounts of vinegar, and chili oil. These noodles can be found on any self-respecting Chinese food street.
5. Gan guo, Hunan
Choose from a variety of meats, vegetables and tofu to be flash stir-fried and sent sizzling to your table in a mini wok.
Hunan food is less oily than Sichuan food and the abundance of fresh red and green chili peppers, scallions, ginger and garlic make Hunan food arguably the spiciest cuisine in China.
6. Hot and sour fish soup, Guizhou
Guizhou cuisine is not one of the best-known cuisines in China, but this province has its fair share of spicy dishes that will tantalize the diner’s tastebuds.
A Guizhou favorite is hot and sour fish soup, which is made with your choice of freshwater fish and a fish broth of tomatoes, local Guizhou red chili peppers, chili oil and garlic and scallions.
The sour flavor does not come from vinegar like most assume; it comes from fermented vegetables that are eaten all over Guizhou.
Larger cities in China will have Guizhou restaurants so look out for them.
7. Hunan spicy beef, Hunan
Hunan province knows a thing or two about cooking up beef since it is the second-largest supplier of beef in China. The choice beef dish is Hunan spicy beef, which is beef stir fried in a mixture of fresh and deep fried chilli peppers.
8. Er kuai spicy chicken, Yunnan
This dish is little known outside of Yunnan province but Chinese foodies rave about er kuai, a savory rice cake made of glutinous rice paste that is steamed and then cut into small cubes and stir fried with fresh chili peppers and tender morsels of deep fried chicken.
The restaurants in Kunming around Yunnan University serve up a delicious variety of er kuai dishes.
9. Hotpot, Chongqing
Although various hotpot styles are enjoyed throughout China, the spiciest and tastiest hotpot comes from Chongqing.
It’s tasty because there’s a layer of rendered beef fat in the kitchen-sink sized hotpot at the center of the table. Dried and fresh red chili peppers and 20 other herbs and spices go into the hotpot soup ensuring that whatever meat, vegetable, noodle or tofu you dip into the hotpot you will be rewarded with a spicy euphoria that will linger long after the meal is over.
Chongqing hotpot restaurants are found all over China, but they are spiciest and tastiest in Chongqing.
10. Yu xiang tofu, Sichuan
Continuing on the theme of Chinese dishes whose names have nothing to do with their ingredients, yu xiang tofu literally translates into “fish fragrant tofu.”
Never mind the fact that there is no fish used in the preparation of this dish, the fish reference is due to the centuries-old method of Sichuan chefs cooking fish using a similar cooking method. Today, the yu xiang tofu dish is more famous than the fish dish it was named after.
Red chili bean paste, sugar, garlic, ginger, onions and soy sauce is stewed with deep fried tofu and fresh capsicum. This dish can be made substituting tofu for eggplant or shredded pork.
Every Sichuan restaurant has their own take on this traditional Sichuan dish.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2010. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.