From Mexican tamales to Indian curry to Szechuan crispy beef, the foods served in hot climates are often spicy-hot.

Although it seems odd, admits psychologist Paul Rozin, eating dishes laced with chili peppers, ginger and other hot spices can make you cooler. (Is that why they call it chili?)

Rozin, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has studied food preferences and acquired tastes, says sweating is part of the body's reflex response to a burning sensation in the mouth. "If you are in a dry place where the sweat can be evaporated," he says, "eating hot foods may help you keep cool."

While he says "it's unlikely" that cultures in hot climates developed their cuisine for its cooling factor, he admits, "it's possible."

Many area restaurants recreate international super-hot specials, and true "hot heads" know they can request their food be prepared extra hot. Among the area's finest dragon-mouth delights:

* Zarzuela de Marisco (seafood casserole) at El Caribe, 1828 Columbia Rd. NW.

* Gang Pa (house-special curry) at Siam Inn, 11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton.

* Eggplant With Garlic Sauce at the Sichuan Annex, 1210 19th St. NW.

* Chhole (chick pea curry) at Siddhartha, 908 Thayer Ave., Silver Spring.

* Tai Ching Chicken at Szechuan & Hunan, 1776 East Jefferson, Rockville.

* Chicken or Beef With Chili and Garlic at the Thai Room, 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW.

* Montezuma Dinner (two tamales, chili, beans and salad with hot jalapenos) at the Tucson Cantina, 2605 Connecticut Ave. NW.