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Celebrate hot & spicy food day in York County

International Hot & Spicy Foods Day is Jan. 16.

Do you prefer your food with a little kick? Saturday, Jan. 16 is International Hot and Spicy Foods Day, a celebration of fiery flavors from across the globe. Whether you like just a touch of spice or aim to burn off your taste buds, here's some capsaicin-laced cuisine from across York County.

Spicy Thai Basil at Esaan Thai 

Bird's eye chili, a popular pepper throughout Thailand and India, is the main fuel for this dish's flame, said Jai Delp, owner of Esaan Thai in York.

However, Delp said the secret to that trademark Thai basil zing is the alchemy between the chili and other piquant ingredients: garlic, ginger, galanga, lemongrass and other ingredients.

“Those are all spicy, but in a different way," Delp said. “Even lemongrass has a little spice to it. In itself it has that spice to it."

Delp said the chef adjusts the heat-level based on the customer's request on a scale of one to 10. Adventurous eaters can opt for the hottest level: "Thai hot."

Hot wings at West York Inn

There are tens of thousands of hot wing varieties, and recipes are often a closely guarded secret, said Rob Schimmel, assistant manager at West York Inn.

The restaurant and bar has has won county-wide awards for its wings in the past three years, making Schimmel even more paranoid about spice spies from around the county.

"Our dust is top-secret," Schimmel said.

Still, he gave curious heat-seekers a few clues, which probably aren't surprising. Habanero chili peppers are one main ingredient. The pepper, originally from the Amazon region, was crowned "world's hottest chili pepper" in 1999 by the Guinness Book of World Records, though it was soon dethroned by the ghost pepper and various hybrids competing for hottest chili on Earth. (The current record goes to a Sweet Habanero-Naga Viper hybrid called "Carolina Reaper.")

Those habaneros are blended with other peppers such as jalapenos and Chinese chili peppers, as well as other ingredients such as garlic, onion powder and black pepper, resulting in some of his most sought-after flavors.

Fajitas Picantes at Fiesta Mexico

For Maria Ceron, it's less about the heat and more about the way the spices come together.

Ceron, manager of Fiesta Mexico, said the cooking process itself also adds flavor to fajitas picantes, the Mexican steak or chicken stir-fry that includes bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.

Stir-fried jalapeno peppers are a main source of zing, Ceron said. From there, customers can request as much heat as they can stand, courtesy of a powerful little pepper called Chile de arbol. As it happens, that dried Mexican pepper also drives drink sales.

“You'll probably want a beer or margarita to cool down the spices," Ceron said.

Spaghetti Puttanesca at Bel Paese

In the U.S., people don't equate Italian food with hot spices. However, there's a whole region of Italy-- Calabria-- known for its racy flavors, said Salvatore Ferrante, owner of Bel Paese restaurant in Springettsbury Township.

Ferrante recommends a sauce called "puttanesca" for pasta-lovers who want some zing. The sauce goes on spaghetti, penne or rigatoni dishes.

Italian peppers, known as peperoncino, are the heat source, and garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, black olives, capers and parsley add flavor. But there's something else -- something fishy -- going on with Ferrante's sauce.

"Anchovies from a can," Ferrante said. "Anchovy is salty and has a specific taste. For example, if I make a spaghetti with clams, I like to use anchovies instead of salt."

Ferrante said the heat will depend on the batch of peppers, but it's the whole recipe that makes puttanesca a hit.

“The spiced food in Italy is spicy but it is balanced," Ferrante said. "Too spicy destroys the flavor, and I think cooking is all about balancing what you use.”

Hot stuff

  • People who regularly eat spicy food are called "pyro-gourmaniacs."
  • People have put hot spices in their food for more than 6,000 years, according to archaeologists.
  • The chemical in peppers that makes them hot, called capsaicin, isn’t found in any other plant. It's so potent that people can identify it even when the concentration is as little as one part per million.
  • Cold milk or yogurt are the best ways to quench the burn of hot peppers or spicy mustard. Water doesn't mix with the oil and simply moves the heat to other parts of your mouth.