While family and friends across the capital were celebrating outstanding shows of physical endurance, willpower and focus with those who had completed the London marathon, I was seated in a restaurant in Hoxton feeling like I’d just completed a marathon of my own.
The setting for this scene was the Red Dog Saloon. For those of you that watch the excellent Man v. Food, this is the first restaurant I’ve come across in London that offers one of the famed challenges from that show – the super spicy chicken wings challenge.
The night before, I’d been out for a friend’s birthday and it was there that the challenge was presented. ”I only managed 2″ said one. ”I had a taste of the sauce and decided better of it” said another. But the key reason was the performance of one of their friends. He’d completed the challenge, but not without a great deal of pain and grief. Apparently, he’d been pacing the restaurant, retching and involuntarily discharging saliva (sorry for any TMI). So myself and another friend (Jaz K…total star!) agreed to take the challenge on the very next day.
We arrived at the restaurant, both excited and apprehensive. Jaz perhaps more so as she had brought her beautiful daughter along and, given that there was a real possibility of fainting, she understandably was not so keen on her daughter seeing her like that!
We settled down, the menu was presented to us and on it, in clear flame writing:
“Hot Wings Challenge – made with fresh Naga Viper chillies”
Now, to give you a sense of just how hot these chillies are, a brief chilli education. The spicy heat of chillies are measured in Scoville units. 0 would be the standard bell pepper (capsicum). A jalapeno pepper or tabasco sauce comes in at between 3,500 and 8,000 units. A habanero chilli is between 100,000 and 350,000 units. The Naga Viper chilli comes in at just over 1.3 MILLION Scoville Units. 1. Point 3. Million. In fact, it was officially the World’s Hottest Chilli until February 2011 (it is now the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper, as at March 2011).
Being part-Bangladeshi, Naga Morich (Morich is Bangla for chilli) is relatively standard fare – I’ve had pickles made out of it but even then, it’s the tip of a teaspoon with plenty of yoghurt to hand. But this seemed like a completely different kettle of fish. In fact, one of the spectators (there were about 18 people watching) had just completed the London marathon. He was still in his running gear and said that he’d rather run the marathon again immediately than trying this challenge again (he had completed it last year but not without tremendous pain for the next few days!).
Jaz and I ordered our Hot Wings Challenge and they promptly brought over a waiver form for us to sign, which read like this:
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE OUR WALL OF FLAME?
Ghost Wings Challenge rules
- Eat 6 ghost wings in 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes burn time
- No other food or beverage may be consumed in that time. No bathroom breaks allowed.
- Wings must be completely eaten
- Successful challengers will be pictured on our “Wall of Flame”
WAIVER: I understand that Ghost Wings are extremely spicy hot. Good hot wings always burn twice. Red Dog Saloon is not responsible for next day discomfort. Red Dog Saloon is not responsible for all other wings tasting bland or lifeless after consuming our Ghost Wings.I am a damned fool.
I signed the waiver and, 5 minutes later, 2 portions of the Ghost Wings (one for me and one for Jaz) and pairs of plastic gloves arrived on our table.
In a basket were 6 chicken wings, each sized like half a chicken leg, lathered in a thick, orange, gooey paste. It wasn’t runny like a sauce…it was thick gloop. I don’t normally sniff food before eating it but had to, just to see what I was letting myself in for. There was a slight tickle on my nose but nothing that was alarming me.
I pulled on my plastic gloves, listened as the waitress re-read the rules and waited for the “Go!”.
As soon as I touched the wings (remember, I’m wearing gloves), the spice ran up my fingers, warming my hands as though I’d put placed my fingers on a radiator. I dug into the first wing and didn’t feel much. Same again with the second. I was midway through my third when the back of my throat felt like it had exploded. I didn’t really know what hit me and had to take a break to look up to the sky as means of spreading the pain inside my throat. It didn’t work.
I used that opportunity to start shredding the chicken off the bones from the remaining wings and caught a glimpse of Jaz who, 3 wings in, had tears streaming down her face and hair sticking to her cheeks – but she was fighting through. My heart rate had clearly gone through the roof and my mouth was numbed as though I’d had dental anaesthetic applied to my mouth. I couldn’t tell if I was chewing.
I started putting in mouthfuls of the shredded chicken but by now had involuntary pins and needles in my hands and arms. Every time I touched the chicken, it was as if I was putting my hands into a live electric socket. Any sense of feeling in my hands and mouth (both hands…I was eating with my right!) had pretty much disappeared. But the heat in the back of my throat was the only thing that let me know I was alive.
I’d finished the chicken wings within 6 minutes (a remarkable performance I’m told) and began my 5 minute burn time.
I somehow rested my forehead on my wrists and was promptly told to take off my gloves, as the heat could’ve gone to my eyes. I took off my gloves, closed my eyes and waited to see if my throat would still be there after. My ear canals were bursting at the seams so I had to take off my hearing aid and place my index fingers in to try and keep them in place. Those 5 minutes seemed to last an age. I kept turning round to ask the manager how long was left. ”2 minutes 34″….”2 minutes 19″ were the responses.
By this point, the heat had travelled down my shoulders and arms and, coupled with the pins and needles, I could easily have fainted but clenched my fists and my teeth together to try and overcome the pain. At no point did the thought of giving up cross my mind. My throat, hands, arms, shoulders, fingers and ears were considerably hot and incredibly painful but there was no sweating and, outwardly at least, I looked pretty normal.
As my 5-minute burn time came to an end, the cold glass of milk that had been staring at me throughout that time was the most beautiful thing I’d ever tasted (I couldn’t even tell it was full fat :s). I devoured it and asked for another, but other than the psychological peace of mind, the milk made no difference to the immense heat.
As my burn-time finished, Jaz was halfway through hers and had her hands clamped firmly on the table, clearly wary that she might go through the roof because of the heat. Her face looked as though she’d been through tremendous physical and emotional turmoil. But, when her 5-minutes were up and she was presented with her glass of cold milk, she uttered the immortal words, “Pass me the vodka!!!”. Genius.
We promptly had our photos taken – me with my banana and peanut butter milkshake, Jaz with some tissues to wipe her tears – had them placed on the Wall of Flame and sat down to an awestruck table. And rightly so. Jaz and I put in a truly Herculean effort to overcome this particular challenge.
That said, it’s not something I’ll be doing again any time soon. This will most likely be my first and last Super Hot Chilli Chicken Wings challenge in this or any other country.
I knew I could take quite a bit of spice but I never realised I’d survive this kind of onslaught. I did and the dreaded “after-effects” have been reasonably ok – nothing too dissimilar from what some of you might experience after eating a particularly angry vindaloo. But the pain and heat I suffered is something far beyond a vindaloo would manage.
If you do fancy yourself as a bit of a chilli-head, then by all means try this challenge. But believe me – be prepared to give up after at least the second chicken wing. This is most definitely not a challenge for the faint-hearted and if not anything else, I learnt that my tolerance for pain (and spice!) is far beyond anything I’d ever imagined it could be.
I did it. And so did Jaz. And now the video is available!