July 30th, 2010
10:00 AM ET
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CNN staffers took on a double-dog dare to finish a dish made with bhut jolokia - a pepper so hot it's been weaponized. Sara Sidner, a Delhi-based correspondent, share her first-hand account.

I don't do eating stunts; it's just not my thing. I don't like watching people shovel huge amounts of doughnuts or pies or whatever else down their gullets to win a prize. It's part guilt - knowing there are hungry people in the world - and part disgust, because it makes me gag to watch.

Turns out I am a hypocrite. While in New York City, I did as some of the locals do and took a food challenge. It's called the "Phaal Curry Challenge," an idea thought up by Brick Lane Curry House in New York's East Village. Basically, the owners dare patrons to eat an entire bowl of their spiciest curry - Phaal Curry. It has a total of ten different types of chili and peppers in it.

If you finish it you get a free beer and a certificate naming you a "Phaal Curry Monster." To be honest, a large part of the reason I did the stunt is because I was doing a story on the place and their challenge, but that is no excuse for breaking a not-so-strict rule I have made for myself.

With the camera in my face, I watched it being cooked. The Executive Chef Karthik Kumar was wearing a gas mask; the rest of the staff was hidden behind anything they could find when he fired up the pan and threw in the ingredients. I did it bare-nosed. It hurt just standing there watching. Then, I sat down in the small but comfortable dining area and waited a bit for it to arrive.

The moment of truth came halfway through the dish. I am based in Delhi, India, and nearly every day I have some kind of curry dish, so I felt I was well primed for this experience. Bad assumption.

Halfway through, I convulsed: my mouth felt raw, my lips singed, my tongue unable to function properly. I know an old trick to cool the heat, so I shoveled in raita, an Indian condiment made with yogurt. It helped - but not much. Maybe it is because I am a former athlete who still loves to compete, maybe it was because I needed to be able to describe the experience to readers, or maybe a combination of both - whatever it was, I refused to stop until I finished the 16-ounce dish. Normally you'd share a dish of curry with at least one other friend.

In about 25 minutes, I finished the wickedly hot dish made with the so-called "Ghost Chili," believed to be the hottest chili in the world. At first I was proud, I mean I did get a certificate, but later I just felt like an idiot. If you've ever had spicy food you know what happens after you eat a lot of it. I paid for it for two days - never mind breaking my holier-than-thou rule of thumb.

Read more about the cult of chileheads and the hottest dish our writer ever ate.

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Filed under: Bite • Cuisines • Hot • Indian

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soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. they won't work well unless all your guests will be willing

    I enjoyed the series and understood Ms Erdich's reasoning behind declining to have her DNA genome decoded. I was amazed at how the ancestry showed they were not that recently unrelated especially w Colbert and Alexander. I watched the episode and they really did have a connection like they described during the reveal of the common ancestor. they won't work well unless all your guests will be willing http://ipublish.no/forum/topic.php?id=2694006#post-2810040

    May 24, 2013 at 1:09 am |
  2. Mark6120

    "Curry," as our journalist friend stationed in Delhi should know, is a western (English) name for things that go by very different names in India. My wife is from New Delhi and claims not to know what curry is. We eat "Indian food" almost every day...

    August 2, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  3. Josh

    So hot that most people can't eat it? So in other words, bad-tasting food. We should be going out to eat something that we like, not suffer through dinner. You pay to torture and soil yourself??

    August 2, 2010 at 3:02 am |
  4. Herculaneum

    My ex-husband took a "hot chili challenge." years ago. He beat it, but had to go to a doctor within the week for the hemorrhoids that resulted from the experience. So yeah, food shouldn't hurt, thanks but no thanks ;p

    August 1, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
  5. dnsmith

    Mutee didn't use super hot peppers to make our masala, but we added it at the table. Some of the family liked it hot, some didn't. It took the right mixture of garham masala and other spices to make a good aloo gobhi or makani and good basmati rice and good chapatis to go with it.

    July 31, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  6. lance corporal

    love curry, love peppers, love them together but I never see it as a macho challenge and wouldn't hurt myself overdoing it, as the writer said he generally views these competitive eating challenges as dumb, so is this over the top curry, back off the heat some tho and it sounds great, love the hot curry song kudos!

    July 31, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  7. Splinter10

    ***SPOILER ALERT*** The writer is not the only media person who has done the Phall Curry Challenge. Travel Channel's Man v. Food did it in season 1. Adam Richman also successfully completed the challenge and for the free beer after declaring a victory for man. Looks like the writer did not make the same mistake Adam did...wipe his face with a used napkin...Ouch!!!

    July 31, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  8. Turp Griswald

    I work in a lab that studies chile, capsaicin, etcetera. The boss came in yesterday with some Bhut chile powder and asked me to prepare an extract that some students will use to do the old Scoville heat test. That stuff IS hot, but has a very good aroma.

    July 31, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  9. Jack Stockmonkey

    My place of business sells this evil hot pepper in a dried state.......or should I say try to sell it. No one has purchased this little taste of molten lava except one lady that did ask. She asked for some really hot sauce and we carry one that I feel is beyond hot for my taste Blair's. This was not hot enough for her taste so I suggested the bhut jolokia to add to her burn. After reading the label and my explanation of the heat factor and noting that in 2007, Guinness World Records certified the Bhut Jolokia as the world's hottest chili pepper, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce which could have a Scoville rating of 2,500 to 5,000 but a bhut jolokia has a Scoville rating of 1,001,304 SHU. Yea but no thanks ever.

    July 31, 2010 at 12:45 am |
  10. mmi16


    July 31, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  11. Nathan Johnson

    Did that challenge 2 months ago. Placed ice in bowl and threw it back in 5 minutes. By far the worst night of my life!

    July 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  12. Menic

    Man Vs. Food already did this.

    July 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  13. I_Hustle

    You shove ice up your @$$??!! LOL what a weirdo

    July 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  14. R

    For me spicy things are good today bad tomorrow. Good from up and bad from down. I some times use Ice down. A glass of warm milk always helped me.

    July 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  15. Caffiend

    Food should be enjoyed, not painful.

    July 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  16. JohnnyJett and the Dirty Socks

    I think flames shot out of your A$$ after that meal.

    July 30, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  17. Workaholic

    That was one of the funniest thing I have read ever! Loved it!! Fantastic job!!!!

    July 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  18. I_Hustle

    Tom my good man... you are a buzzkill.

    July 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  19. Tom

    Not sure what the point of this story is. Curries are intended to have complex tastes not just that of a hot chili. This is why so many spices are used in preparing a good curry. Any dish can be made with hot peppers but it really does not taste all that good. Take this from someone who grew up eating Habaneros as fruits!

    July 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  20. I_Hustle

    Gone Global – you should put it on youtube. I can't carry a tune to save my life.

    July 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  21. Gone Global

    That is simply fantastic! This would be a You Tube sensation if someone made a video out of it.

    July 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • Aaron

      Man Vs Food did this. You can find s video of it from there.

      July 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  22. pang

    where is it?manhattan?

    July 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Sarah LeTrent

      Indeed! Directions can be found on their website (Warning: lounge music ahead).

      July 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  23. Nuttshack


    that was great!!! I wish I could have heard the guitar solo's LOL!!!

    July 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  24. Fuyuko

    I used to love spicy food. But now it doesn't love me. I must avoid at all costs.

    July 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  25. Truth

    That may be the funniest thing I have ever seen on this blog!
    Thanks for the chuckle! You have real talent!

    July 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  26. I_Hustle

    Sorry about the jokes. Please don't mind me, curry on as you were.

    July 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • R

      That is funny.

      July 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  27. I_Hustle

    Naan-aa, just killed a man
    Poppadom against his head
    Had lime pickle, now he's dead.
    Naan-aa, dinner just begun
    But now I'm going to crap it all away.
    Naan-aa, ooh-ooh
    Didn't mean to make you cry,
    Seen nothin' yet just see the loo tomorrow,
    Curry on, Curry on, 'cause nothing really madras.

    Too late, my dinner's gone
    Sends shivers up my spine
    Rectum aching all the time.
    Goodbye every bhaji, I've got to go
    Gotta leave you all behind and use the loo.
    Naan-aa, ooh ooh,
    This Dopiaza's mild,
    I Sometimes wish we'd never come here at all...


    (Guitar solo)


    I see a little chicken tikka on the side,
    Rogan Josh, Rogan Josh pass the chutney made of mango.
    Vindaloo does nicely
    Very very spicey ME!
    Biryani (Biryani)
    Biryani (Biryani)
    Biryani and a naan,
    (A vindaloo loo looo...)
    I've eaten balti, somebody help me
    He's eaten balti, get him to a lavatory
    Stand you well back Cause this loo is quarantined.

    Here it comes,
    There it goes,
    technicolor yawn.
    I chunder
    It's coming up again
    (There he goes) I chunder It's coming up again
    (There he goes) It's coming up again, (Up again)
    Coming up again (up again)
    Here it comes again
    (No no no no no non o no no No)
    On my knees, I'm on my knees, I'm on my knees
    Oh there he goes
    This vindaloo
    Is about to wreck my guts
    Poor me... Poor me... Poor me!


    (Guitar solo)


    So you think you can chunder and still it's alright?
    So you want to eat curry and drink beer all night?
    Ohh maybe, now you'll puke like a baby,
    Just had to come out,
    Just had to come right out in here....


    (Guitar solo)


    Korma, saag or bhuna,
    Balti, naan, bhaji.
    Nothing makes a difference
    Nothing makes a difference to me

    (Anyway, my wind blows.)

    July 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Jabberwocky


      July 30, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • parody lover

      whooooooooo whooooooo . best – post – EVER. such a nice relief from all the political sniping. kudos for the great parody writing, my friend.

      July 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
      • parody lover

        oops, messed that up using brackets or whatever they are called that signals html. was supposed to read:

        whooooooooo long whistling... whooooooo holding up lighter... best – post – EVER. such a nice relief from all the political sniping. kudos for the great parody writing, my friend.

        July 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  28. I_Hustle

    Do you know why they call curry curry? Because when you eat it it makes you curry curry to the restroom

    July 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • EL

      That doesn't even make sense. You are trying to force a play on words that just isn't funny.

      July 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
      • nish

        I thought is was kinda funny

        August 1, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
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