Some American brands have become so popular that the brand defines the product and not the other way around. For example, a paper tissue is commonly referred to as a kleenex (no need to capitalize the K) and to make a photocopy of something, we say we'll "xerox it." Has Sriracha hot chile sauce become synonymous with Asian hot sauces? There are competing Asian hot sauces but are we at a point where Sriracha is THE one? Perhaps with Vietnamese food, as you can't avoid the squirt bottles at Vietnamese restaurants. But where else?
A few weeks ago, American culinary historian John T. Edge and I had an email exchange about Sriracha for his piece, "A Chile Sauce to Crow About", in today's New York Times Dining Section. He relates the history behind Huy Fong (Rooster brand) chile sauce company, recounts how founder David Tran and his family came to the United States from Vietnam, and traces the birth of Sriracha chile sauce to its current popularity today.
Along the way, John T. notes the myriad ways in which Sriracha has gone beyond the Vietnamese kitchen and been incorporated into other cuisines, even that of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who counts Tuong Ot Sriracha as a stealth ingredient. (In Vietnamese "tuong" means fermented sauce and "ot" means chile.) What's unexpected cool is a listing of unexpected uses of Sriracha in 20 states in the U.S. It's no longer just an urban thing or even an ethnic-enclave thing. It's not just a Viet sauce, though Huy Fong founder David Tran originally developed the sauce for the Asian market, primarily Vietnamese pho restaurants. The Sriracha Facebook fan page has over 130,000 fans!
Update: Sunday, May 24, 2009: An editorial in the New York Times by Eduardo Porter misinterprets Edge's piece, causing the poor man to suffer dissillusionment. For the record, Sriracha is a sauce originally made in a seaside town called Sriracha. "Sriracha" is a brand of hot sauce developed by Chinese-Vietnamese-American David Tran in Rosemead, California. It's highly likely that Tran was inspired by the original. So Sriracha was not originally invented in Rosemead (that's in Los Angeles County, not Los Angeles!).
This all brings me back to the question from yesterday: Is Asian in? And, how should/could we measure it? Can Sriracha surpass Tabasco in America?
Also, if you have interesting/inventive uses for Sriracha, let the rest of us know.
- Homemade chile garlic sauce recipe
- Vietnamese-style sate chile sauce recipe
- Preservatives in Huy Fong/Rooster Chile sauces