The first bite of Japanese golden curry feels weak. It’s a wicked deception. With a few more bites, the sides of your tongue tingle. Then, your body heats up and you’re peeling off clothes. Your chest grows warm and your sinuses react to the intense spice. More heat sweats continue, as you push through to finish (but why did you order a large portion?), because a firestorm has erupted in your mouth. Taking deep breaths between bites helps, but it’s like an athletic test of endurance.
This is a level-three dish at Stock Pot in Riga, Latvia. Imagine what a 10-plus would do to you.
The Baltics aren’t known for spicy food. You’d almost be called a fool for searching. But you’ll find some at this quick-serve restaurant, tucked inside St. Gertrude’s Church. Others have found it — perhaps from the intoxicating, aromatic spices wafting out the door, or perhaps by asking someone in the steady stream of people headed inside.
The menu — with dishes like fish laksa, Indian lentil soup, hummus, Thai red chicken curry and Cambodian Khmer mussel soup — changes daily. As do the spice levels: Every dish is rated from one to 10-plus based on the heat it brings. With a couple of communal tables inside and a weather-permitting outdoor area, the space is compact. All the better to watch the pleasure and pain of those who dare to eat there.
For the uninitiated, a warning is issued when a high-heat-level option is ordered.
Stockpot’s “chili heads” love the burn of the largely Asian-influenced menu, says owner and chef Richard Johnson. For the uninitiated, a warning is issued when a high-heat-level option is ordered. To accommodate everyone, Johnson tries to keep a balance on spice and heat while using cumin and fresh chilies — bird’s eye, scorpion, Naga ghost and, hottest of them all, the Carolina Reaper — in the home-style dishes. Except, of course, during the annual Stock Pot heroes challenge, wherein fearless souls try to eat an off-the-scale, extreme dish in 20 minutes.
When a customer concedes that help is needed to cool the flames, Johnson recommends full-fat yogurt or the famous Latvian devil’s drink, kefir; carbonated water with lime juice is also very effective. But if “the whole body is in shock due to a huge endorphin high, then just a calm talking-to, letting them know what their body is going through to bring them down,” works, he adds.
Johnson and his wife, Linda, opened Stock Pot in 2012 because they like spice and have a passion for good food “without the bells and lights.” Also, some of the world’s spiciest chilies are available in Latvia at affordable prices, so it’s possible for them to add lots of “fresh heat” to dishes that are friendly to most diners — carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, the gluten-free and allergy sufferers — and their wallets (dishes start around $2.30). Stock Pot is open only on weekdays, though, so plan accordingly.
And after you’ve endured the heat, take a look in the bathroom mirror. You’ll likely find, as I did, that your face is so red you look like a Brit on an island holiday. It’s not a sunburn, but a deep flush worthy of a selfie to commemorate your unforgettable, fiery meal.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.