Asian food products never fail to keep me guessing. Not long ago, I was in desperate need of hoisin sauce for Vietnamese tuong, the dipping sauce that I use for salad rolls (goi cuon). My preferred brands of hoisin are Lee Kum Kee and Koon Chun, the former being easier to find in regular supermarkets than the latter. I don’t have an Asian market in my town, so I went to my well-stocked local health food market, Staff of Life. I discovered that they had squirt bottles of hoisin sauce that were labeled in Vietnamese as “tuong an pho” – meaning bean sauce for eating with pho.
For years, if I wanted a little hoisin sauce for dipping my pho meat balls (bo vien), I’d simply dilute some of my regular jarred hoisin sauce. I always use the jarred stuff and figured that pho restaurants did the same. I’m not one to squirt hoisin sauce into my pho bowl because in my mind, that’s sacrilege. Given that, my personal knowledge of the hoisin sauce used for pho is limited.
I took the squirt bottle of Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce home and used it for my spicy garlic tuong dipping sauce. It didn’t quite taste right, was somewhat flat and strangely tart. On that day, I thought I was off my game.
But I recently bought a new jar of Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce and realized that the contents of the jar and those of the squirt bottle are NOT the same. Who can tell from the labeling at the top of this post? In either English or Vietnamese?