Last Updated: October 29, 2014
You are panting as you briskly make your exasperating journey on foot to a sheltered sanctuary peddling your favourite lunch. Perhaps you’re thinking about some grilled chicken, but in the moment, you might just as well be someone else’s meat on the public grill. As your impeccable office wear begins to be attracted to your skin’s increasing moistness, you may be wondering why you ever left the sacred air conditioning of the workplace in the first place for a food hunt under the sweltering sun.
You shortly forget all of that after finding yourself in one of those bazaars offering multitudinous local foods. The many options are now before you as you first deliberate between an iced Coke and a blended fruit drink to calm those heated nerves. At a distant table, you spot in bewilderment a man enjoying a hot teh by himself, and you are quite convinced that one of you is crazy.
Who’s getting it wrong? Well, it’s hard to say. Irritable sweat stains and religious shade hugging are the only things we can assume are here to stay. But on the other hand, how we adapt to the interminable fever with our gastronomic choices can perchance resemble how you would approach a new RPG with a bunch of battle-tested strategies- to find out what works for you, you never know till you try.
Today, we explore 5 local dishes that follow the traditional Southeast Asian feasting practice of “Fighting Fire With Fire”. Just as some claim that one can sweat a fever out, we want to find out whether eating hot and spicy food to lower body temperature is fact or myth, or in gaming terms, has a high or low cooldown.
“Spicy sand” laksa of Peranakan origins has enraptured many locals and tourists in Singapore and Malaysia alike with a delectable burning aftertaste. The curry-laced noodle soup simmered in coconut milk and conditionally enjoyed with a side of sambal typically accompanies toppings like cockles, shrimp and fish sticks, garnished with Vietnamese coriander.
If it is no secret that spice and sweat are synonymous, there has to be an underlying reason for the natural spice fervor in sultry Southeast Asia. Indeed, based on a human condition that feels like compensatory perspiration, the increased internal heat when you are filled with something hot or spicy (or both) like the tangerine laksa broth causes your body to have a cooling reaction by producing sweat.
The smooth dissipation of that sweat will then leave you with an incredible cool that is arguably more effective than the freeze that our trusted ice cream brings. As always, one must point out the existence of right conditions.
Also known as pork rib tea, this Chinese herbal soup concoction with an elaborate range of herbs including cloves, garlic, and cinnamon is boiled with succulent pork ribs to altogether produce a balanced, peppery stock adored by Hokkien and Teochew populations.
While sweat-inducing soups like bak kut teh can in the long run have cooling properties, know that if you’re fully decked out and your sweat can’t evaporate, there is not much cooling to be done at all. Likewise, drinking it under the balmy spotlight is not advised.
Thailand’s renowned clear soup spice terror is an amalgam of fragrant herbs such as galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass cooked in a broth with shrimp and sliced fish. The addition of crushed chili peppers, lime juice, and fish sauce chiefly contributes to Tom Yum’s sour kick.
Besides the tongue sting that the soup often gives, its lemongrass component provides that mentholated surge similar to mint. Seeing that Moroccan folk also combat their overbearing heat with hot mint tea, this Thai delight may deserve a go on a sunny day.
Served pretty much with any staple ranging from prata and naan to rice and noodle, this perennial sidekick that is formed with coconut milk, turmeric, chilies, garlic, and shrimp paste can usually be counted on to fortify the entire meal with an invigorating touch (the hot kind). If potent enough, sweat is destined to follow.
This steamboat favourite is an absolute beast raging with Szechuan peppercorns, dried chili peppers, and a plethora of other Asian spices. Mala’s (麻辣) defining trait is its long-lasting paralysis upon your tongue, and it is this very numbness that has made the oil-rimmed sauce a mainstay in many stir-fry dishes, stews, and soups.
With a more-than-adequate serving of the Chinese broth, you might find yourself forgetting how hot the day was in no time.
Don’t get me wrong, being sufficiently hydrated with requisite servings of fruit remains the safest way to keep your body temperature low and survive sizzling weather. But if you feel like you’ve hidden enough from the scorching rays and want to shake things up, perhaps some longstanding traditions can impart some precious lessons.
Just remember that as you’re sweating profusely over some tasty soup, all that extra bodily liquid generated needs to be quickly dispelled for a proper and prolonged post-meal cool. Should anyone want to share more cooling strategies, we would be most interested to experiment. In the meantime, there’s that list for you to sweat on.
Related Guide: Famous Local Foods in Singapore To Eat Before You Die