Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Snow day treats part II: Consider Sriracha Sauce
While I am on the subject of yummy snow-day treats, I think that a great way to get warm is to eat something hot. And I don't just mean temperature hot, but a burn-your-mouth-and-your-gut-additively-spicy hot, courtesy of Sriracha sauce.
My family has been eating Sriracha sauce since I was in elementary school, and it finally seems to be trickling out into the mainstream. Sriracha has been popular amongst the Asian-American community since the 1980's, and you can now find it in suburban grocery stores and even Applebees serves some sort of shrimp with a Sriracha-infused dipping sauce. When Sam Sifton of The New York Times asked several prominent chefs what they always had in their fridge, Sriracha sauce was right in there, along with eggs, dijon mustard, and full-fat Coca-Cola, in case of hangovers (best cure on the record!). And Sriracha was in this week's New York Magazine's Approval Matrix, which I always find hilarious, yet charmingly astute.
I just snarfed down a delicious bánh mi sandwich at Hinco's in Cobble Hill (Bergen Street & Smith), covered in Sriracha of course, to beat the chill that comes with tromping through slush and snow. Vronsky became addicted to Sriracha after having it every day with my grandparents out in California last spring. It is currently the only thing he has in his fridge, minus a few stray packets of ketchup and soy-sauce. My Po-Pop and Gung-Gung always put it on lo-mein and anything that is leftover. It really will make anything taste better! They say that at their age, nothing has taste like it once did, so the sauce gives it some zip. Po-po also says this is why she only likes to drink scotch versus beer, wine or another sort of liqour, ha. Me too, Po-po. Me, too.
But Sriracha has an interesting back story that helps explain some of its mass appeal. Sriracha is manufactured by Huy Fong Foods and was "invented" in 1984 by David Tran, the founder of Huy Fong, who admits he is both proud of the products popularity and slightly bemused. Hung Foy gets fan mail and fan calls everyday, from people who are suggesting new ways to use the sauce (on multigrain snack chips in lieu of salsa), or a drunk guy who can't even pronounce Sriracha in his current state and just yells "I LOVE ROOSTER SAUCE." (Sriracha's packaging has almost remained unchanged in its 30+ years: clear red bottle, several different languages printed on it, from English and French to Chinese and Vietnamese, all setting off a giant rooster).
Many chefs regularly admit to using it as a "sleeve trick," and Sriracha is now even carried in Wal-Mart after hiding in Asian grocery stores and metropolitan "ethnic food aisles" for years. It is now part of chain restaurants like PF Chang's, and is in food/street meat carts from New York to LA. Yet Tran never had such a broad fan base in his sights when he created Sriracha.
He maintains that he created the sauce with the Asian-American community, especially the Vietnamese community, in mind. He felt that even in America, they would be yearning for hot sauce to put in their pho, the beef-broth and noodle soup that I, too, adore. And yet he did not want to make an exact copy, and drew on many different Asian flavors and techniques. The name "Sriracha" comes from the Thai town, Sriracha, which is know for its home-made chili pastes. And the Sriracha bottle includes serving suggestions for everything from pho to hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, pasta and sauces to give it a nice bite.
Tran had always toyed with chili and pepper sauces, and when he finally struck on the winning combo of chili, sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar, a world-wide phenomenon was born. People dress up as Sriracha bottles for halloween and their are fan clubs that are hundreds of thousands strong.
I should qualify all of this and say that I am not a huge spicy food fan. I have never really taken to tobasco or jalapeno peppers, yet this is exactly the right kind of "heat" for me. Pick up a bottle today and see if you too will be converted!