In Joensuu, a peaceful village in eastern Finland, Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman noticed a strange advertisement at a nearby burger shop. The Naga burger came with the warning, “someone calls the fire department,” on the menu. In Assam, where he was raised, Rahman, 39, ate bhut jolokia, commonly known as the ghost pepper, most frequently pickled with lime and other vegetables. While travelling in Brisbane, he noticed the burger and decided to taste it after signing the necessary waiver. He observed that it was spicy enough to slightly warm up the Australian winter, “albeit not as spicy as it is in northeast India.”
When it is served in the northeast, chili is most delicious as a chutney with heaping bowls of rice, beef or pork curry, lentils, salad, and boiling vegetables. With Maggi or Wai Wai instant noodles it also delivers a powerful punch that leaves you with a runny nose, loud hiccups, sweats, and an internal volcano of heat. The bhut jolokia is an essential component of every meal for those who are a part of Indigenous communities in northeast India. Maniram Gogoi, who has a modest retail establishment in Assam, Guwahati, for northeast produce, used the ideal Assamese term to describe the phenomenon: bhujon thela. “We can’t have food without chili.”
However, the bhut jolokia, a key ingredient in a northeastern thali in India, has evolved into a cultural anomaly spanning the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, appearing in cocktails, ice cream, and even donuts. In the West, bhut jolokia has evolved from a traditional northern component into the adventure sport of the chilli world due to its ascent to its global reputation as one of the hottest chillies in the world.