Tiger + Lily – Spiciest Dish In Columbus Series
A new meaning to the word “inferno.”
Re-opened for carryout and delivery, Tiger + Lily sits on Gay Street just to the east of High. It’s a cozy spot with large windows to let in natural light and we’ve ventured there a few times prior to the pandemic. I’d had the Mala Firecracker before, but The Lady of the Farm pointed out that you could make it extra spicy with something they called “Inferno chili oil.” Hearing this information for the first time, it was clear we needed to go back.
Before we get to the main event, we have to talk about these Pop Fries. “Waffle fries, Korean BBQ Angus steak, kimchi, green onion, Sriracha, Japanese aoli, Parmesean cheese” served in a large portion is one of the greatest ways to consume fries that we’ve come across. The kimchi packs enough of a punch for The Lady of the Farm to notice and the sriracha brings out a little extra kick as well. Really you could probably eat these as a meal alone and be satisfied.
This week’s spiciest dish was a fringe spiciest dish because it’s not explicitly called out on their standard menu, but it’s very clear on their online ordering that you can ratchet up the heat level of the Mala Firecracker Ramen to Extra Spicy Level 5. We scoped it out to be sure that it was something that we could order and sure enough, the Mala Firecracker Ramen or Tom Yum Ramen can be made their spiciest dish with the addition of their Inferno hot chili oil (a sauce/oil you can also get on their double-fried chicken).
We’d been to Tiger + Lily previously and I’d had the Mala Firecracker Ramen, but the Inferno chili oil was new to me. Take a look at this little cup of chili oil.
Yes, this initially unassuming cup of liquid is in fact a raging inferno of death. Made with five different peppers, though we don’t know the range of heat, the chili oil is loaded up with pulsed and lightly blended chili chunks. I’m not confident, but I’m 80% sure that when I initially poured the oil in to reveal the chilis I heard the chicken in my bowl let out a quick scream of terror. Dumping the chilis onto the ramen and pouring in the broth, I stirred the ingredients and prepared the dish.
One of the reasons we use a bowl with white flowers is to show off just how red the food inside is. You see the redness? You see the seeds? I began having Shinigami Ramen flashbacks. Smash cut to staring through foggy sunglasses at a bowl of reaper ramen and crying until my mucus membranes gave up. Going into this Tiger + Lily dish, I felt confident that it wasn’t going to be that spicy. Sure, the Inferno chili oil was a new wrinkle in how hot they were making this dish, but surely it wouldn’t be that crazy.
As I began to noodle out the ramen, the first few bites give a nice clear picture of the flavor profiles. “Noma wavy noodles, crispy panko chicken breast, enoki mushroom, onions, corn, marinated soft boiled egg, peppercorn, sesame seed, spicy soup” all work well together in a savory mix with an addictive taste. I was given a few seconds to think about things before panic set in. The third slurp of noodles brought with it a big wave of heat. It was subtle at first, but slowly intensified. My tongue lit up, suddenly aware of the Inferno chili oil, but it was too late. My tongue was completely coated and unable to do anything but suffer in silence.
With each slurp of the noodles, the heat continued to rise and my nose began to run before I finished the soft-boiled eggs (what I typically eat first). The “spicy noods paradox” posits that in order to consume said spicy noods, one must force themselves to increase the pain. The act of slurping the ramen into your mouth cranks the heat up with each new raise of your chopsticks. I took a brief break to blow my nose and talk to my eyeballs about not letting any water out.
Plunging back in, the corners of my mouth caught on fire. As the heat increased I started hearing a voice whispering “why so serious” and began to wonder if someone could accumulate scars at the corners of their mouth from spicy ramen alone. At this point, I was able to start to pick out (or at least I think) some of the peppers. The szechuan peppercorns are definitely alive and well, numbing your mouth a bit, but I also picked up on some Thai Chilis, potentially some jalapeños and I think some habaneros. I have no confirmation at this point, but from flavor profile, that’s what I would bet on.
Wiping the sweat from my brow and working through the other ingredients, I learned each has its own special “spicy soaking properties,” a scientific term we coined while eating this dish. The eggs are a the low-end of the spicy soaking spectrum, but the top was the most unassuming ingredient, the enoki mushrooms. You wouldn’t think it, but chomping through those mushrooms let loose an intense wave of heat. The hallucinations picked up and I felt a slight ringing in my ears. Did I travel back in time to 2019? Was the last year a simulation? Was I still eating the Shinigami Ramen?
Stabbing around in the bowl, I realized I had completed the noodles. Only the corn and onions remained in the spicy broth. As I grasped the sides of the bowl, The Lady of the Farm half-heartedly said “you don’t have to do that.” She knew, and I knew that yes, I had to drink the broth. As I did with the Red Dragon at Fukuryu and as I tried to do with the Shinigami Ramen, you must drink the broth as it is the truest form of the spiciness. Lifting the bowl to my face, I took the first sip. Savory broth washed over the inside of my mouth long enough to make me think I’d imagined the heat level, but then the broth had to go somewhere.
Swallowing the broth intensified every aspect of heat that had existed to this point. I’d never thought about how to swallow liquids before, but this broth was making me question it. Hitting the roof of your mouth, it leaves a prickly heat before disappearing into your body, warming it along the way. I hadn’t realized, but I was mouth-breathing something fierce and my nose drip had turned into a full-on deluge. Little pillows of spice-soaked corn bumped my lips as I continued through the broth, a subtle reminder that they too had some heat left to offer. The waves of heat ebbed and flowed until I reached the end, grabbed a spoon and finished up the corn I’d uncovered.
Looking into an empty bowl (minus some more flecks of peppers and oily residue), I was blown away. I’d not expected much from this dish. I didn’t think an “inferno chili oil made with five peppers” was going to hurt me as much as it did. I’m an idiot.
As the heat lingered, I thought about the dish and where it ranked. Due to the linger, the effects during consumption and the range of intensity of heat, we’re placing the Mala Firecracker Ramen – Inferno at #8 on our list, bumping JT’s Stupid Hot Wings down, and keeping the Winking Lizard Pure Evil Wings where they are. Intense, but delicious, this is a dish I can see myself eating many times over.
You can find Tiger + Lily at 19 E Gay Street, Columbus, OH 43215.
Look below for more in our spiciest dish in Columbus series and hit us up if you have any suggestions that are not already on our list!
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