a lot of people like to generalize about japanese cuisine when it comes to heat. most people assert that “japanese people can’t handle spicy foods,” and for the most part, i would agree with them. but i am also of the firm opinion that we (those of us who hail from countries like the usa and canada) have a completely different concept of what “spicy” means.
we are friendly neighbors with central and south america, which means that for a lot of americans, our first introduction to spiciness is through foods like pickled jalapenos and hot sauce. because both contain spicy chili oils, they leave a lasting capsaisin-based burning sensation in your mouth. japan, on the other hand, regularly consumes foods like wasabi and ginger, which have a very fresh, short-lived, and intense heat akin to horseradish that builds up in the sinuses. both chilis and wasabi are spicy, just in different ways. sure, most japanese people would cry if they ate a raw jalapeno, but i think most americans would cry if they took a bite out a wasabi radish, too. if you ask me, it depends on what you are used to.
still, capsaisin-based spicy foods can be a little hard to find in japan. most options for true raging heat come from korea, japan’s neighbor across the sea. gochujang and doubanjiang are great options to kick up the heat a little bit when cooking, and i regularly implement them when making salad dressings. but because they are imported foods, they can tend to drive up the price of your dish a little more than you want sometimes.
my staple when i comes to spice is good old fashioned piri piri (a.k.a. capsicum frutescens, african bird’s eye peppers). during the summer months, these little guys can occasionally be found fresh in huge plastic wrapped bouquets for a pittance in most japanese grocery stores. in the non-summer months, they can also be purchased in small packages pre-dried and just as potent.
and it is these piri piris to which today’s lamb curry owes its rage. if you have a pace-maker or chronic acid-reflux disease, you may want to navigate away from this page right now. just reading the recipe could be dangerous to your health. Continue reading