Assam, Cooking, dinner, food, Guiness World Records, guinness book of world, guinness book of world records, hottest chili pepper, Kashmir, manipur, Nagaland, raja mircha, Rajyasree Sen, red savina habanero, restaurants, spice
- A vendor displayed “raja mircha,” in Guwahati
If you love spicy food, then you just have to introduce your taste buds – at the fear of incineration – to the “raja mircha”.
It is a fiery little red chili which can be found in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur in the northeast of India. The name literally translates into the king of chilis. It’s also called “naga jalokiya” or “naga chilli,” “bih jalakia” or “poisonous chili” in Assamese, and “bhoot jalokia,” or “ghost chili”.
I’m a great fan of extremely spicy food and was introduced to this chili by friends who made a pork curry with it. The taste was simply amazing, not just because it was extremely hot, but also because the chili seemed to impart a certain flavor all its own, which enhanced the taste of the curry. Another friend who ate the same curry, without knowing that it had raja mircha in it, was reduced to a snivelling, blubbering mess.
The raja mircha has been revered for decades. But it achieved an international stamp of approval in 2007. Since its level of heat is almost double that of a “red savina habanero”, in 2007 it was named the “Hottest Chili Pepper” on the planet by The Guinness Book of World Records. Sadly, it was ousted by the “Australian Trinidad Scorpion Butch T,” which was then ousted by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chili.
Just so you know that my claims of the raja mircha’s prowess are not exaggerated, the chili was once considered as a weapon by the Defense Ministry in India. It was reported in The Guardian that the ministry had asked Anuj Baruah, who grows the chili in Khetri, Assam, if he could extract the chili’s capsaicin (chemical pigment) and send the Defence Research Laboratory in Tezpur around 8 kilograms for “research.”
I’ve also seen reports that the Central Reserve Police Force had begun using chili grenades to chuck at stone-throwers in Kashmir. And in Assam, where there are repeated cases of elephants wandering into villages and cultivated fields, conservationists have applied oil made from the raja mircha to fences because the chili used to repel elephants.
While you could smear the oil from the raja mircha on your walls to keep out horrible neighbors, I’d recommend that you cook and eat the chili in small quantities instead. And you will bless me when you do.
The chili can be bought in either its fresh version or sun-dried. But it is very difficult to come across outside Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram and the other northeast states. Even in these states, it’s difficult to come by. When I was in Shillong and wanted to buy some fresh chilis, a local asked me to wake up at 7 a.m. and come to the local weekend market to pick them up. I trudged through one of the filthiest markets I have ever ventured into (and I have been to a few), side-stepped open drains and found one lone, wizened woman – who looked quite like a dried chili herself – sitting with a pile of the fresh, red, tiny, slightly-bruised chilis. The fragrance from them was potent to say the least, and she sold them to me for 20 rupees a piece. The wizened old thug. I came back to Delhi and sunned them on the roof for around a week, till they began to resemble their seller. And then I bottled them up for later use.
If you aren’t visiting any of the states I’ve mentioned, and are in Delhi, you can ask the vegetable sellers at the magic kingdom we know as INA Market to get you a batch. They can get you the dried version and it’s not too costly.
So once you lay your hands on it, what can you do with it?
The main word of caution while using raja mircha is that it is mind-blowingly spicy, so you do not want to use more than one chili for a kilogram of meat. Since it has a divine taste and fragrance all its own, you don’t need to add too many spices. But, if you have a low tolerance for spice, this is not the ingredient for you.
Raja Mircha Oil
- Half a litre of mustard oil
- 15 to 20 raja mirchas
- Place the oil in a glass bottle.
- Soak the dried chilis in the oil in the bottle.
- Place the jar in the sun for at least 7 days.
You can use the oil as a flavouring on curries or even in bolognaise. It really gives it a kick.
Pork Raja Mircha
This is my favourite recipe using raja mircha because it doesn’t use a spot of oil and has no spices to interfere with the chili’s flavor.
- 1 kg of pork with meat and fat, cut into small chunks
- Garlic crushed: 1.5 tablespoons
- Ginger: 1.5 tablespoons
- Salt to taste
- One raja mircha fresh or dried
- 400 grams pureed tomatoes
- Two to three potatoes
Wash the pork and soak it in 2 tablespoons of white vinegar for 30 minutes. Puree the tomatoes and keep aside with the crushed garlic and ginger. Chop the potatoes.
Chop the raja mircha finely. Wash your hands VERY well after chopping it. Otherwise you might temporarily blind yourself and it’s no fun cooking if you can’t see the ingredients.
- Put the pork along with the vinegar in a pan, add salt to taste, add a glass of water and let it cook until half done – at least 40 minutes on a medium flame. You can also boil the pork in a pressure cooker after adding the water; let it cook for at least 10 whistles.
- Add the potatoes to the pork while it’s boiling. You can leave out the potatoes if you want. I just like anything fatty which I can add to my food.
- Then add the tomato puree, ginger and garlic and let the pork cook until tender. When it is almost done, add the raja mircha and stir until the pork is cooked and tender.
- Add salt to taste and you’re done. The curry will have a bright red thick gravy.
It tastes perfect with plain white rice.
If you want to try raja mircha in a restaurant in Delhi, head to Nagaland Kitchen in Green Park. They have a bunch of dishes with raja mircha and excellent barbecued pork ribs which are accompanied by a delicious raja mircha sauce. It had me snivelling in no time.