The Killer Inside Me: One Man's Brush With Scotland's Hottest Curry

Some like it hot, but some like it hotter. While it seems society has mostly moved on from boorish drunks attempting to assert their masculinity by ordering the hottest curry on the menu, there's still a certain fiery frisson that comes with pitting your weathered, leathered tongue against the picante might of Mother Nature's most volcanic chillies. Last year, the Kismot in Edinburgh made headlines across the world when they launched their "Kismot Killer", a curry so potentially incendiary that waiting staff straightfacedly demand customers sign a legal disclaimer before taking a fork to it. (We especially liked this wily clause: If you die whilst eating or as a direct result of eating the curry, members of the table will share the cost of your Kismot Killer.)

If you finish the Killer, you get it for free, plus a signed certificate proving your durability. If it finishes you, well ... your fellow diners will just have to cough up. You signed a contract! So what is it like to experience with Scotland's hottest curry? Friend of TATTGOC Scott Shaw danced with the Kismot Killer for BBC Radio Scotland in December last year, and kindly agreed to tell us what happened that fateful morning live on air – and the vengeful aftermath. At least we can assume that he survived the experience ...

(The pictures come from the Kismot Killer Hall of Shame – check out
the Kismot's awesome website for some portraits of those who beat the Killer, and also a nice picture of Lionel Blair too.)

So Scott ... you brave, impulsive, foolish man. How did you first come in contact with the Killer? A producer friend from Radio Scotland phoned and asked if I would help them with a radio broadcast about curry. They wanted to do a live uplink from the Kismot restaurant on St Leonard's Street so I thought at first it was going to be a technical job, setting up the satellite or holding the microphone. It was only because I got down there ten minutes early to scope things out that I realised I was going to be the one actually eating it …

Was there a particular reason they rang you?
I’d been talking to the producer many moons ago about how I used to love a hot curry, a proper vindaloo or even a phaal. I think that stuck in his head, so when the news story came up about this super-hot curry he thought: who do I know who would be stupid enough to try this? The irony being that since our initial discussion, I’d done myself some damage – it wasn’t curry-related but it meant that I’d lain off the super-hot curries for a while. A jalfrezi was more my style.

Where did you used to eat these super-hot curries?
These were Highland curries, the kind you get up in Inverness. I have a theory – and perhaps this should be a discussion for a later date – that the further north you go, the hotter, and better, the curries get. It’s so cold up there that anything that generates heat is most welcome, and the curries are amazing.

But back to the Killer. This live radio broadcast was in the morning, right? It was for the Fred MacAulay show at 10.30am in the morning. So I’d had a coffee but the next thing to hit my stomach was going to be this curry. There were some alarm bells. But even then it didn’t really register. Because I was into the curry thing, you know? I know how to deal with a hot curry, there is an almost nirvana-like state one must get into, you open up those nasal passages, you experience the spices, you don’t just focus on the heat. And even though I’d been told this was going to be the world’s hottest curry, I didn’t actually believe it was going to be the world’s hottest curry – this is Edinburgh, for chrissakes!

How was it presented to you? I got talking to Akbar Ali, the manager, and he lives to talk about this curry. The Kismot is just opposite St Leonard’s Police Station and he tells me the local cops are convinced that their pepper spray isn’t as strong as the spices in the Kismot Killer. He tells me that the only people who finish it either have no sense of taste or that they’re junkies who do methadone so they can eat the curry and get it for free. It’s fantastic patter. He’s an amazing guy, with a great spiel and sales pitch, but I admit I was getting a little nervous.

We were just getting ready to go live on air, and I was eating in the kitchen because we had to put the satellite link-up out the back door, so the table setting was beside the oven where the Kismot Killer was emerging, and they brought it out just as we were going to go live. And the moment it came out of the oven, it felt as though someone had set off tear gas. I felt it on my eyes before I felt it on my nose. That’s what was going through my head: I’ve never felt food through my eyes before and we’re seconds away from going live on national radio.

But you were a professional … you soldiered on? The segment started and I was setting the scene for Fred, introducing Akbar and talking about how this was the hottest curry in Scotland and if you finished it you got it for free and got a certificate but the whole time, I’m staring at this curry. It’s a chicken curry but there isn’t even an aroma because it’s so strong – this curry is hotter than smell. And I’m starting to readjust how I’m going to do this, because I’m pretty sure it’s not going to work in terms of me talking while eating it, and I’m certainly not going to finish the whole dish in an 11-minute segment. So even though I know it’s not the right thing to do, I’m thinking I’ll put as much curry in my mouth as possible – the mistake an amateur usually makes, but I’m hoping that by bypassing the tastebuds. I’ll still be able to talk.

What about sundries? I’ve opted for rice over bread because I think bread might soak up too much of the fiery sauce, while rice might help to insulate against the heat and I definitely want to mix it with something.

And what did it taste like? Those first two mouthfuls – I felt nothing, absolutely nothing, they went in my mouth and straight down the gullet. So I said, “I feel a bit of a tingle, Fred” … and then suddenly my tongue just became too big for my mouth. It might only have been a tiny increase in size but it made a massive difference, I could feel my tongue pressing against the back of my teeth … and now the heat’s coming.

I think perhaps my body just shut down at first – it decided, you can’t handle that amount of pain, so we’ll go straight to numbness. Then the heat! The heat came directly from the stomach and it has that feeling … if you rub Deep Heat or Vicks on your chest, the heat comes from your body and you’re not quite sure when it’s going to stop. And I’m still trying to talk live on air but now I can’t speak, which everyone seems to find hilarious. I was sweating so much it was dripping off me and into the curry – and when your sweat is dripping into your curry, you know it’s probably too hot.

How much did you eat? I managed seven mouthfuls of the Kismot Killer, while trying to narrate my own meltdown, and then called it a day. I could feel my pulse was quicker and my heart was beating quicker and the sweat just woud not stop. I was drinking glasses of fruity lassi but I was still sweating. We were thankfully off air by then so I said my goodbyes and wandered off in a daze.

How were you feeling? It was as if my internal core has increased in temperature a couple of notches. I just couldn’t stop sweating – it was the changing-T-shirt type of sweat. This was December, remember, and I could have happily walked down Lothian Road naked. I got back to the office I was working in at the time and everyone was giving me high fives because they’d heard me on the radio. They were asking questions: Was it really as hot as you said? Then: Why are you still sweating? And Akbar had told me I was going to keep sweating until the curry was out of my system.

How long did that take? At least two hours, sweating continuously. I had to go down to the basement where it was coolest, turn off all the lights and lie down on the cold floor. And my sweat smelled like a vindaloo – this curry had been all the way through my system and yet was still hot enough to generate a proper curry aroma. I didn’t do any work at all that day.

What was the final result? I’m not one for toilet tales so I don’t want to go into details, but in its defence, the Kismot Killer leaves you very quickly. The human body is an amazing thing – it rejects things that it knows you can’t take. So everything left me after two hours.

And what was the aftermath?
I didn’t have another curry until March 2010, and it was something pretty pathetic in terms of spiciness.

So would you recommend the experience? If you want to show off to your mates or – more importantly – if you have a mate who’s a show-off then yeah, you should definitely suggest he tries the Kismot Killer, especially if you want to shut him up. Introduce him to the Killer and he won’t talk for the rest of the night … [some YouTube evidence below]

Have you returned to the scene of the crime? I haven’t actually been back yet, which is my loss. They’re really nice guys at the Kismot and they have a really fun attitude towards curry. It’s a family vibe. I should go back soon.

So were you upset you didn’t get a Killer Kismot certificate? I actually did get a certificate! I think they felt a bit sorry for me, so the chef signed one saying that I’d finished the Killer. Although Akbar did score out part of it and wrote “nearly finished”.

Wow. Thanks to Scott for sharing details of his morning of hot passion with the Kismot Killer. So should TATTGOC go wagons east again to test their mettle? And didn't they used to do some famously fiery curry at Bombay Blues on Hope St or is Trampy just imagining it?


jon Robertson said...

Wish I hadn't seen that. Remember hearing about this a wee while back and me and Doc being tempted. Bringing back some challenge spirit now.

Of course you are familiar with Man v Food. I worry that my pain may be as great as his on some of those various challenges.

Jemma said...

Amazing! I was part of the group in the video :) I've done a write up on our experience, if you're interested in a bit of background. ;)