Even without diving into the smoldering world that is Nashville’s hot chicken scene, this city can bring the heat. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite spicy international bites from around town that will please any tastes, from timid palates looking to heat things up to those looking to satisfy the most intense spice cravings. We are digging in, knife over fork, to the ever-growing supply of globally diverse, well-spiced offerings here in Nashville, and you should too!
A Little Heat
Pozole Verde at Mas Tacos
Heartache, hangover, hunger — the pozole verde at Mas Tacos can cure pretty much anything. A rich and flavorful broth colored with green chilies and tomatillos and garnished with the classic toppings of radish slices, shredded cabbage and avocado, this soup is a standout. The spice comes across as more flavor than heat, but a drizzle or two of the homemade salsa verde keeps with the green theme and takes things up a level.
Kimchi Chigae at Korea House
There’s just something so inherently comfortable about a being greeted by a giant vat of steaming, fragrant soup. Korea House offers a lengthy menu with countless classics from the canon of Korean cuisine, but the Kimchi Chigae is a standout. The tangy red broth is filled to the brim with soft slices of tofu and simmered cabbage and flavored with kimchi and ground pork — it’s almost too perfect. Those weary of the fermented goodness of kimchi, give this stew a chance. A good simmer lessens the bite of the kimchi while still lending just the right amount of acid to the dish. With every meal being accompanied by a traditional sampling of banchan, or small dishes (think marinated cucumber, fermented white radish, sweetened white potatoes with soy, various types of kimchi and more), it is easy to mix and match different flavors with your stew and side of pillowy white rice.
Tarhana at Istanbul Restaurant
Don’t let the simply decorated space be deceiving. People drive from far and wide to savor the Turkish favorites served at Istanbul Restaurant. One of our favorites is Tarhana, a unique yogurt-based soup spiced with paprika, parsley, mint and garlic. Served with warm pita and hot sauce made in house, this dish is the perfect precursor to a sampling of hummus, falafel and tabouli, or a hearty plate of lamb and beef cooked over a spit and shaved atop a heap of saffron yellow rice.
Pork Dumplings in Red Hot Oil at Lucky Bamboo
Start your Saturday off the best possible way, which is with dim sum. Lucky Bamboo reigns in this category, serving up dim sum delights just around the brunching hour. As the carts laden with steamed buns, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, pork siu mai and wontons galore roll by, be sure to ask for an order of dumplings with red hot oil. Though by name these little dough bundles seem fierce, they don’t scorch. The oil married with Sichuan peppers carries the bright red color and toasted chili flavor with the tender dumpling right into your mouth, where they should be.
Original Bahn Mi at InterAsian Market & Deli
We have it on good authority that the jalapeños on InterAsian Market & Deli’s bahn mi come seeds and all, which is exactly how we like it. The bahn mi is executed perfectly at InterAsian, with house-made pate and roasted pork high-fiving the bevy of crisp vegetable accoutrements that make this sandwich one of the most well-loved Vietnamese culinary exports. Bright cilantro, fiery jalapeño, papaya and carrots keep the rich and fatty pork, mayonnaise and French bread feeling light as a feather. We really couldn’t ask for more.
Crying, But Not Dying
Chicken Curry at Swagruha Indian Restaurant
The Nashville Farmer’s Market is one of the best places to get fresh and affordable fare from all over the world, and Swagruha Indian Restaurant’s chicken curry is a fiery rendition of one of our favorite dishes. Aromatic chicken curry served with a heap of rice and some fresh naan is the perfect meal to stick to your ribs and warm you through and through. They also serve a hot goat curry that we’ve heard is equally delicious and just as rich. If the three red hot chilis on the menu denoting spice level aren’t enough of a warning, let us prepare you: bring a tissue! High likelihood that your nose will run.
Rare Beef Pho at Love, Peace & Pho
Being a truly customizable dish, this soul-completing, broth-based wonder could have been placed on either end of our heat spectrum, but we tend to be heavy-handed with the garnishes as well as with the chili oil. Love, Peace & Pho is top of the list for both soup and spice lovers in town, and we honestly can’t stop slurping this dish down. The light bone broth, with hints of star anise and sweetness, is the perfect base to pile on toppings galore. Each bowl is accompanied by a plate brimming with basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, raw jalapeño and a wedge of lime. After ripping apart your herbs and adding what feels like an entire salad to your soup (hiding the tender rare beef slices and tangle of rice noodles swimming below), it’s almost time to dive in. Ladle in a few spoonfuls of chili oil, and go.
Larb at Thai Esane
It’s pretty well-known that for die-hard heat enthusiasts, Thai Esane is there when you need it. Almost anything on the menu can be tailored to satisfy the spiciest of cravings, even to the extreme level that is “Thai Esane Hot.” The larb is our favorite. Minced pork (or beef, chicken, even tofu) is mixed with diced red onion, cilantro and chilies, and served alongside the perfect lettuce leaves for assembling your wraps. Nothing complements and tempers the fiery heat of Thai chilies like crisp, cool lettuce wraps, fresh green herbs, well-made sticky rice and a heavy squeeze of lime. The tantalizing mix of flavors and textures is addictive, and even more so when paired with one of the two green papaya salads made in house. The thinly sliced papaya salad is a tart and memorably hot dish that’s hard to stop eating when paired with the larb. Disclaimer: We like to order medium, but we’ll go hot on a day when we really want to sweat. Who is ordering Thai Esane Hot? Are you okay??
Looking for more of Nashville’s most delicious international dishes? Look at this list of ethnic eats that identifies some of the best in town! Till then, eat the heat and stay cool!
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