Spicy Pho Challenge:

Do You Dare?

By QUYNH (STEPHANIE) BUI | October 20, 2019

The Inferno Phở Bowl. Quynh (Stephanie Bui) / The Amsterdammer

Phở and being able to handle spicy food are two of my most prideful attributes as a Vietnamese. However, I was shaken to the core by the Spicy Phở Challenge at Ô Mai, a Vietnamese restaurant located in Amsterdam. 

My friends and I decided to take on the infamous Spicy Phở Challenge at Ô Mai to relieve us from our remaining midterm stress. While there were three levels to choose from, I was aiming for the grand prize the Inferno (with the highest level of spiciness, as inferred by the shocking number of cartoon chilies on the poster).

The award for the winner was tempting: if you finish the Phở bowl (which costs €15) within 30 minutes, you won’t have to pay. On top of this, you will also be gifted with a €30 voucher from the restaurant; as a student, this is a fortune.

 There were only two caveats: you will need to finish everything – the noodles, beef and broth – and you are not allowed to drink anything during the challenge. As an Asian who has tried spicy food in Europe before, I asked myself the age-old question: “how spicy can it be?” And oh boy, how I underestimated it. Little did I know, I was going to embark on the most intense, adrenaline-inducing 30 minutes of my life. 

There it was: the steaming, gigantic Phở bowl that I was determined to conquer. It seemed fine just like any deliciously harmless Phở bowl, with only a reasonable and not-at-all overwhelming spoonful of hot sauce. As the waitress pressed start on the timer, I slurped down the first spoon of broth and my valor quickly faded away. The spiciness didn’t kick in immediately, but instead decided to sneak up when I least expected it. A fire was burning through my tongue, and the heat from the broth and the sauce was almost unbearable; it was unbelievably and insanely spicy. My entire body began shaking as I gushed out nonsensical Vietnamese phrases (to which my friends can testify). These were the signs letting me know how big of a mistake this truly was.

Photo by Quynh (Stephanie) Bui / The Amsterdammer

My friends and I were sweating profusely, with our faces burning and our hands trembling. It was not our most elegant moment, especially from the perspectives of the diners that sat next to us. My mind was dazed and half-unconscious due to the hotness of the sauce, but one question persisted: “what on earth is in that sauce?” The heat lingered, and my taste buds refused to acclimatize to the spiciness as it kept coming at us in recurring waves of terror. 

Although I managed to finish the noodles and beef, the devilish and chili-covered broth was keeping me away from the glorious victory. As I attempted to gulp down the last of it, everything ceased to exist. Pushed to our absolute limits, we decided to give up while desperately signaling to the waitress for a much-desired glass of milk. Defeated, we exclaimed to the waitress how impossible it was to finish the challenge because of the surprising level of spiciness. She just laughed it off: “the sauce was made by the Vietnamese owner, so even Asians can’t take it.” Well, he clearly knows what he’s doing.

If you are in the mood for something adventurous, test your limits with the Spicy Phở challenge which will be available till the end of October. You can learn more about the challenge here and also watch a comprehensive video of how the Inferno Phở bowl is created. Please do take careful consideration of what you’re getting into, though, because it can cause some damage; I’m still feeling the effects by the time that this article is being written. As for me, I will soon make my return to attempt the Medium level and avenge my Vietnamese roots.

Photo by Quynh (Stephanie) Bui / The Amsterdammer

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