Start pouring the milk, because it’s heating up in Japan.

An interesting effect of the pandemic has been an uptick in spicy food consumption in Japan. Some have attributed this to the increase in home dining and isolation in which people don’t have to worry about the sweaty brows and gastrointestinal turbulence that comes along with consuming capsaicin.

To help make sense of all the new spicy foods that came out this past year, our writer Yayoi “Spicy Hunter” Saginomiya has selected the ten leaders of the piquant pack. Bear in mind, however, that this isn’t a ranking of pure intensity, rather overall deliciousness. For those who value burn over taste, we included a spicy-meter with a five-star scale too.

So without further ado, let’s see what instant foods tapped into the powers of peppers the best.

#10 – Mokotanmen Nakamoto Hokkyoku Yakisoba

This tub of instant yakisoba hails from the acclaimed Mokotanmen Nakamoto chain of ramen restaurants, known for its particularly spicy soups. What makes this 7-Eleven exclusive so special is that Mokotanmen Nakamoto doesn’t even have yakisoba on the menu.

The result is a unique take on the classic Mokotanmen Nakamoto seasoning. At first bite, Yayoi was a little let down by the mild taste but it turned out the mayo coating simply kept the intense fire locked in for a delayed but deadly burn.

Spiciness:  ★★★★★

#9 – Cup Noodles Spicy Chinese Pepper Hot Pot Noodle

Although Cup Noodle is capable of some pretty intense heat, this Chinese-cuisine themed offering shows a lot of restraint.

It contains a pack of chili oil and is also seasoned with tingly Chinese peppers, but neither dominate the overall flavor. Yayoi was especially impressed with the authentic taste of this hot-pot-inspired instant ramen.

Spiciness: ★★★☆☆

#8 – Karauma Renkon-ten

For those times when you get tired of potato chips, you might want to branch out into the fried lotus root snack genre. It has a unique crunch all its own and in this case comes with a generous dusting of chili and Chinese peppers for yet another well-balanced burn-and-tingle experience.

Spiciness: ★★★☆☆

#7 – Ippinhinabe’s Hot Pot Meal

Ippinhinabe is a restaurant in Tokyo’s Chinatown district near Ikebukuro Station, which offers a version of the traditional group-meal hot pots in a single serving for 1,000 yen (US$9).

This isn’t only good for safety during the pandemic, but it’s a great way to enjoy some spicy food, because in your own space no one can hear you scream with delight.

Spiciness:  ★★★★★

#6 – 7-Eleven Extra Spicy Chicken Curry

For this instant curry pack, 7-Eleven enlisted the mighty ghost pepper but balances it out in a creamy blend with chunks of chicken.

The result is a hearty curry with a firm but not overbearing kick to it.

Spiciness: ★★★★☆

#5 – Samyang Extremely Spicy Roasted Noodles

This Korean version of instant noodles can really bring the heat, but Yayoi recommends those new to spicy food should start off with the regular “spicy” version before moving into the “extreme” territory. 

Still, even the “extremely spicy” version of these noodles has an underlying sweetness that gives the taste a great deal of depth and keeps you coming back for another bite despite the heat.

Spiciness: ★★★★☆

#4 – Ethiopia Beef Curry

Yayoi has been trying a lot of retort-pouch instant curries, but none could approach this in terms of spiciness. It’s from the Tokyo-based curry restaurants called Ethiopa, and manages to pack all that restaurant-level flavor and texture into a little pouch for home use.

There’s a certain expectation of curry that comes out of a heated vinyl pouch, but Ethiopia surpasses it in terms of quality, quantity, and pure burn.

Spiciness:  ★★★★★

#3 – Bakuretsu Karamen

Where do bad noodles go when they die? They don’t go to heaven where the angels fly. They go to this soup of fire after they fry.

The explosive design of the package isn’t just blowing smoke either, the soup broth of this instant ramen is pretty intense. They didn’t just cram a bunch of chili peppers in there and call it a day either. There is a complex blend of cumin, Japanese pepper, green chili, and a miso base, all for a deep full-bodied broth.

Spiciness:  ★★★★★

#2 – Karakarauo Tsukemen

This interesting ramen is sold at the Kagetsu Arashi chain with the help of Tokyo’s Mandokoro Inosho restaurant, famous for its spicy fish soups. Karakarauo Tsukemen might look daunting at first with what looks like a huge pile of chili pepper in the middle.

Actually, that’s just a blend of spices topping a pile of fishmeal. The fishmeal gradually melts into the soup, adding texture and spice along the way. The result is a very fun dining experience, and even though it’s quite spicy, the way the heat is delivered in this ramen makes it accessible even to novice spicy food eaters.

Spiciness: ★★★★☆

#1 – Konan Saikan‘s Shuizu Fish

This Sichuan dish involves boiling meat in a particular way to create a delectable texture and then smoothers it in oily sauces and spices. With a variety of added vegetables, Shuizu Fish is a delight of flavors and textures with a pleasant underlying spiciness.

Tokyo restaurant Konan Saikan hits those notes just right for a stellar spicy dish that is easy either for newcomers to get into or for those who have forgotten the joy of spicy food to rekindle their love affair with it.

Spiciness: ★★★☆☆

And that concludes Spice Hunter Sagnomiya’s top picks for 2021, but remember that this is a list of the best spicy foods, not the spiciest foods. Yayoi herself had a few spicier meals, but heat alone doesn’t make a great dish.

With interest in spicy food in Japan still on the rise, we can probably expect even more sophisticated items in the year to come as the competition really heats up.

Photos © SoraNews24
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