I suspected that I had a ‘problem’ when I recently discovered that I had an abnormally large collection of Maggi Seasoning sauce. Are you familiar with the soy sauce-like condiment that practically has cult status among the Vietnamese? The French likely introduced the European wheat-based seasoning to Vietnam, where it became a part of our cuisine (it’s practically synonymous with banh mi) and a status symbol (if you can afford the pricey imported version, you are stylin’!).
Invented in the late 1880s by Swiss miller Julius Maggi (1846-1912), the inky sauce mysteriously imparts a deep meaty flavor to whatever it touches, often elevating the banal to the sublime. I grew up with it and we simply called it “MAH-ji.” (Non-Viets often pronounced it as Maggie like Rod Stewart’s song, Maggie May.) The square shaped, slender-necked bottle sat alongside the fish sauce and soy sauces in our kitchen and at the table for a few last minute dashes. Certain Viet takes on western dishes -- roast chicken (ga ro-ti), pan-fried steaks (thit bit-tet), and sandwiches (banh mi), are not quite the same without the condiment.
Maggi is also fabulous with black pepper. I finish fried eggs with sprinkles of both, and dip steamed bao into a puddle of the sauce loaded with pepper. A bowl of rice with Maggi and a little European-style butter is the bomb. Pasta with garlic and Maggi is a childhood favorite. You could say that I have a thing for it. I’m not alone because it’s super popular with a lot of other people on this planet.
If you’ve not tried Maggi out, there are many options, depending on where you shop. Since I’ve been collecting/hoarding Maggi, I have these tips and tasting notes to share.