Sunday, 22 February 2015

Chillis that can capsaize you!

It really looks like a dull chilli, with an uneven axis and the most modest appearance for being the hottest chilli in the world! But one bite changes it all...

Mithun marcha or Bhooth jolokia or Capsicum chinense,
(image sourced from wikipedia)
In north-east India, I encountered the hottest chilli I've ever eaten. I took a single bite and felt like my tongue caught fire and here I will quote from a quote from an article which is about this hottest chilli (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/the-gut-wrenching-science-behind-the-worlds-hottest-peppers-73108111/). '“In the Chang village of Hakchang (in Nagaland),” the anthropologist J. H. Hutton is quoted as saying in 1922, “...women whose blood relations on the male side have taken a head may cook the head, with chilies, to get the flesh off.” Hutton’s use of “cook” would seem to be a reference to Chang culinary practice. Only on rereading did I realize the Chang weren’t eating the chilies—or the flesh, for that matter—but using them to clean the skull'. You need to know here that the Nagas were headhunters several decades back. This chilli is so hot that the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation wanted to use them in hand-grenades to control terrorists and rioters! By the way, Capsaicin is the primary chemical ingredient in the hot chillies that makes one feel like their the tongue is on fire!


Back to the aftermath of the bite...water and sugar made no difference to the chilli heat. I had to sit and wait for the heat to pass, and then enjoy, remember and respect the flavour forever! In Bomdo village, they grow this chilli and is called 'mithun marcha' in Hindi or 'sidik' in Adi. In Assam, its called 'bhooth jholokia' or 'ghost chilli'. Once you are used to eating food with 'mithun marcha', all other chillies are just carrots and beets. In Bomdo, they also smoke the chillies, dry them and then powder them. This powder is even more vicious and just a pinch is enough for a meal of two. A small box with this powder can last months. The flavour is so good that we often eat this powder with salt with a meal. I like the 'sidik' so much, every year I carry back some home and this year I even planted them and they've grown into small seedlings, hope they flower and get pollinated and fruit soon. I hope the right bee is around!


There are other types of chillies grown in Bomdo too; silong, sibet, seka, sitin, banko marcha, siri, sike and petang, one of these even had the distinct smell of 'ghee' or clarified butter! Ghee was rare in this remote village, so initially when I cooked food with this chilli, I was wondering when I'd put it in the food! The kids from Bomdo start eating the 'sidik' chilly at a very young age. There are kids who are just about three to four years old who stop eating as soon as the 'sidik' powder in their plate is over and look for a refill. They sit in a corner, sweating and swallowing their saliva often because of the chilli heat but they will not stop eating the chilly!

Now I am here in the United States for a few months and initially found the food very bland. Till I accidentally met the habeñaro from South America. One day I casually bought a yellowish chilli, pepper, as its called here, thinking its a type of bell capsicum we use in India.




I should've recognised it, it looked a bit like the 'mithun marcha'. I cut a whole chilli into one sandwich and took a bite when I realised my mouth was on fire, but I was happy, because I finally met a chilli at least as hot as the 'mithun marcha'! Recently the habeñaro beat the bhooth jolokia for being the hottest variety in the world, and what I had in my mouth was the habeñaro! The competition is a bit unfair though, all the chillies are grown in the same kind of soil to control for other variations and then compared. The 'mithun marcha' probably is hottest when grown locally and does not retain its hotness when grown elsewhere. By the way bhooth jolokia is available here to buy, but its expensive, costs a dollar for one; we could buy at least 15 in Bomdo for that price. I am sure your mouth is watering by now, I hope you get to taste the 'mithun marcha' and get capsaized! Me, I'm going to have a meal cooked with the habeñaro right now!