As the summer temperatures soar above 90 and feel (thanks to our high humidity) 10 to 15 degrees hotter, we all have a tendency to seek foods that are cool. Crisp salads, chilled soups, snowballs, and popsicles are typical summertime fare in the midst of steaming August rains and almost unbearable afternoon sunlight. Folks step outside to grill rather than make the house any warmer, and heartily avoid turning on the oven when they can cook steaks or burgers out back and relax on a shady porch with an ice-cold beverage in hand.
When the thermometer reading is so high that it seems the mercury might erupt from the top like lava from a volcano, super-spicy food is likely the last thing on anyone's mind. But should it be? Believe it or not, tongue-searing peppers are better for your body during the hot summers of Louisiana than a creamy, chilled Vichyssoise. As it turns out, capsaicin (the chemical in peppers that makes them hot) increases blood circulation, which brings hot blood from the core of your body closer to the outside and dilates capillaries in our skin which, in turn, makes us sweat. As unappealing as sweating might be, it is a natural defense to keep us from overheating, and to keep the core temperature of our bodies stable.
Now that we know that spicing it up will help us stay cool, where do we eat to kick up the heat?
Tucked back behind a gas station on South Claiborne Avenue lies Bayou Hot Wings, a tiny spot serving up chicken that's hotter than hot. A few years back, chefs Allen Nguyen and Kyle Makepeace combined their considerable culinary talents to bring a wing shop to New Orleans that would make locals proud, and according to popular opinion, they've succeeded. All of their wings are battered, deep-fried and served smothered in the sauce of your choice, ranging from their sweet Steen's Cane Honey BBQ all the way to the Bayou Beast, made with Thai chilies and habenero peppers. They also offer Louisiana Gator Bites, Gulf Fried Shrimp, Bayou Frog Legs, both chicken and beef burgers, and a mess-o-sides like fried pickles, sweet potato French fries and homemade coleslaw. Even if you play it safe with the Chipotle BBQ sauce-laden wings,
it'll still make your face fl ush and cause you to break a sweat. If you're one of those daring individuals, take the "Bayou Beast" Challenge to get your picture on their Wall of Fame and win a Bayou Hot Wings Original T-Shirt, but be warned! This is not a quest to venture into lightly! The beast has already claimed an alarming number of victims whose palates may never be the same... Speaking of altered taste buds, if you've never touched your tongue to tantalizing Thai food, you might want to remedy that this instant with a trip to SukhoThai. Whether you visit them on Royal Street in the Marigny or their other location on Magazine near Jena, you can enjoy oodles of sultry dishes, and we highly recommend turning up the heat. Almost anything you order can be altered to your personal tolerance level of spiciness, but don't be shy—try it Thai hot! Explore dishes like Beef Sukiyaki with glass noodles, broccoli, cabbage and button mushrooms; the "Eggplant Lover" with wok-fried eggplant, bell peppers, and sweet basil in a Kaffi r lime curry; or Cashew Chicken stir-fried with cashew nuts, carrots and green onions in a roasted chili paste. Easily the best bet for your bottom dollar would have to be their Tuesday through Friday lunch special, when you can indulge in a dish of Green Curry Chicken and a bowl of jasmine rice for only $8.95. Don't forget to order a glass of spiced, creamy Thai iced tea to wash it all down.
Although local Cajun and Creole cuisine is not typically torrid fare, there's a local market on Derbigny Street that might just challenge that notion. Guillory's Deli is an extremely low-key, small brick building hidden away inside a residential neighborhood in Metairie that's been around for over 30 years. Although this community grocery store is probably best known for its fried chicken and hot tamales, there's one item on the menu that is sure to scorch your senses. Dubbed "Hot's Delight," this piping po-boy is made with Patton's Hot Sausage patties, chili, grilled onions, jalapeno peppers and American cheese.
Call it a potent po-boy, scorching sandwich, or how about a hot-boy?
Finally, this article would not be complete without talking about the sizzle of Szechuan. Over on Magazine Street in the Garden District, Jung's Golden Dragon is serving some fi ery Chinese cuisine guaranteed to tepefy your tongue. Stop in for lunch and try their Kon Po Chicken, made with peanuts and Szechuan peppers, spicy Hunan Shrimp, or Szechuan Beef. Although the delicious combinations will make you sweat, your wallet can keep cool at no more than $8.95 per entrée, which includes fried or steamed rice, egg drop or hot & sour soup, and a spring roll or fried won-ton. Go on, New Orleans, bring on the blaze!