Pork on Fire (The Spiciest Dish in New York?)

On Friday, I sent out the following e-mail to my pork-eating friends:

Dear Friends,

Today I was reading the New Yorker profile of the only food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, Jonathan Gold. In it he says of a spicy Thai food dish: “It was glowing, practically incandescent. You bite into it and every alarm in your body goes off at once. It’s an overload on your pain receptors, and then the flavors just come through. It’s not that the hotness overwhelms the dish, which is what people who don’t understand Thai cooking always say, but that the dish is revealed for the first time–its flavor–as you taste details of fruit and turmeric and spices that you didn’t taste when it was merely extremely hot. It’s like a hallucination.”

This passage inspired me to confront what is supposed to be the spiciest dish in all of New York, the Pork on Fire at Rhong-Tiam. I’ve already done battle with spicy food at Rhong-Tiam (see this post), but now I’m ready to face my fears. And I thought it would be fun to get a group together THIS SUNDAY NIGHT to face the fire. The only rule: if you come, you have to order PORK ON FIRE. For more info on PORK ON FIRE, read The New York Times description here.

The money quote: “It’s not so much a dish as a session: an hour spent suspended exquisitely between pleasure and pain, craving and fear.” [The article also calls it a “contender for spiciest dish in the city.”]

Do you have the guts to join me?

I was thinking we’d meet there at 7 PM. It’s right near NYU.

NO need to respond to this unless your answer is YES!!

Bravely yours,


For the rest of Friday and all of Saturday, I waited for the responses to come pouring in. How often would my friends have the opportunity to eat the spiciest dish in all of New York with the spiciest person they know? I waited and waited and waited and then I got an e-mail from my friend Jimmy: “Have fun – this sounds like my worst nightmare.”

What was wrong with my friends? Didn’t they read that quote from Jonathan Gold? What were they afraid of? “Fiery diarrhea,” answered Craig.

And then my prayers were answered when a relatively new friend, Chris Dufault, said that he’d come but that he wouldn’t be eating Pork on Fire. He’d bring a friend, however, who would eat Pork on Fire so I wouldn’t have to eat it alone. I was too dispirited to throw the rules back in his face so I agreed.

On Sunday night, I brought Craig (who came when he knew he didn’t have to eat Pork on Fire either) to meet Chris and his friend. His friend, it turned out, was named Doug and Doug’s roommate is a food blogger I like: Ganda of Eat Drink One Woman.

“So I was thinking,” I said as we sat at the table. “Maybe we should just order one Pork on Fire for the table and then each of us can get our own entrees and try it.”

“Nu uh,” said Chris Dufault (pronounced du-foh), “you have to order it for yourself. You can’t back down now!”

“At least you’re in this with me,” I said to Doug.

“I’m going to order beef salad,” said Doug. “But I’ll share it with you and eat some of your Pork on Fire.”

Beef salad!!? What was happening!? Was I going to have to face Pork on Fire alone?

The waiter came to take our order. Craig ordered the drunken noodles, Chris ordered larb-gai (the dish that burned my face off last time), and Doug ordered his beef salad. When it was my turn, I proudly announced my order: “Pork on fire!” I shouted. The waiter shot me a look like “no! no! it can’t be!” But I nodded: “Yes! Yes! It CAN be. It MUST be. This is my fate, my destiny.” He nodded solemnly and walked away.

“Are you ready? Are you scared?” asked Chris.

I entered a zen-like state and crossed my legs in deep contemplation. To face this dish, I’d need to use every tool in my belt, every cooling agent in my soul.

At last, the dish arrived. Here it is, in all of its dangerous glory:


“Ooooh,” cried the crowd.

“Are you ready?” asked Chris.

“Here,” I said. “Take a video.” This is the video of me taking my first bite:

For those of you at work who can’t watch that video (and I’m starting to think that’s a large number of you), my reaction was basically: “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” Then a few seconds go by and I start to feel it.

But, funny enough, even after eating lots and lots of it, the heat was a peculiar sort of heat. It wasn’t a burning sensation, really, like you get with Tabasco or Sriracha; it was more of an exquisite pain, an illumination of sorts–the inside of my mouth felt alive and tingly and slightly numb. Look, with a little help from Doug, I finished the whole plate!


Chris, the Great Taunter, the one who forced me to order Pork on Fire for myself, didn’t fare as well. By all accounts, his dish–the larb-gai–was even spicier than mine. (Remember how it almost burned my face off?) The last laugh, I’m afraid, was on him:


But I thank those brave souls who joined me to confront a dish I’d be too afraid to confront alone. Now that we’ve formed a scary food society, I look forward to their joining me next week for live octopus, pork uterus and ant larvae salad.

Let's dish!

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