Sriracha is Everywhere
Sriracha, the spicy Vietnamese hot chili sauce, seems to be everywhere these days. Since the 1980’s it’s had a place alongside Tabasco, and other hot sauces, in Vietnamese restaurants, Pizza joints, noodle shops and private homes.
Now, it’s in the news. National media outlets picked up the story of Sriracha’s neighbors in Rosemead, California protesting the stinging smells of sauce making and received a temporary injunction against production of the successful sauce causing Sriracha hording nationwide. A Texas politico has proposed Tran move his business to tax-free tolerant Texas tout de suite. There is also a friendly public debate on YouTube, between Chef Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods and Chef David Chang, Owner of Momofuku Restaurant Group, over Sriracha’s superiority, or not, to competing chili sauces, including Crystal Hot Sauce.
Though made in America, Sriracha, and its bouncy plastic bottle with a proud rooster and cheerful green cap is a favorite accompaniment for any cook or heat-loving eater who comes across it. Much like beloved American ketchup, it’s densely red, zesty, and has notes of sour, sweet and spice. The bright white lettering, in English, Vietnamese and Chinese characters makes us feel instantly exotic, while we are just grabbing a familiar condiment in its global guise.
Sriracha’s ingredients have a lot in common with traditional Louisiana hot sauces; chilies, in this case red jalapenos, and vinegar, with the addition of garlic – no water is added to Sriracha; which makes for its thicker and more fibrous consistency. Sriracha will form a kiss-like drop when squeezed onto a spoon full of noodles, or on top of Pho, the popularized Vietnamese soup.
Here in New Orleans, Sriracha is fairly universal and a cultural marker of the cosmopolitan nature of the city and the Vietnamese contribution to the food and restaurant scene. Vietnamese ingredients and dishes became popular following the fall of Vietnam and the influx of Vietnamese refugees into the United States. Huy Fong Foods, the maker of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, was opened by David Tran 1980 in Los Angeles after his arrival from his native Vietnam.
Sriracha was initially only for Vietnamese foods, like Pho, Banh Xeo; the Vietnamese savory crepe, or fresh spring rolls; soft and cool with filling that peeks through translucent rice paper. Today, Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce can be spotted all over New Orleans and the Vietnamese connection with the city and the cuisine can’t be denied.
I was first introduced to Sriracha sauce in the early eighties while working at a resort in Tucson. The Banquet Chef was Vietnamese-Chinese with classical French training. He horded Sriracha and would apply it to each third of a chicken wing or drumette, all the while licking his slippery lips and fingers.
Sriracha is found is pizza places, like Pizza Delicious in the Bywater, the stand-up sauce doesn’t soak and turn your slice soggy and can be squeezed strategically onto a single bite. Domenica, doesn’t stock Sriracha, but the hostess sweetly said “y’all can bring your own sauce to the restaurant, that’d be o.k.”
District Donuts Slider Brew also makes a hot little Sriracha Mint Mayonnaise. One recent morning it was used as a dip for a spicy sausage filled Kolache, by an equally hot guy in a black and red checked hunter’s cap. District’s homemade Kolache are a riff on the stuffed pastry popularized in Texas by way of the Czech and Slovakian Republics.
The sweetest Sriracha taste of all was the Maple-Sriracha glazed donut at District Donut Slider Brew. The glossy delicate pink Sriracha sheen coats a soft yeast raised donut with the pull a-part quality of brioche. Another great local touch is the topping of candied fresh thyme leaves, very NOLA. The fallen bits of sugar sparkle on the donut and help quell the spicy smack of Sriracha.
David Weiss says “People tend to accumulate hot sauce.” The Weiss Guys Bakery owner-baker and supplier of great buns and breads to Company Burger, District, and the Royal Orleans, has a bottle of Sriracha in his fridge, along with quite a few other brands of hot and chili sauces.
Sriracha is a go-to hot sauce, even in Louisiana, arguably the commercial hot sauce capital of the United States. In the U.S., as in Asia, we use multiple hot and chili sauces. Diners have their favorites, or use the sauces for different applications or in complementary combination to one another. Now, we couldn’t live without Sriracha, there is no substitute.