MIKE KEELER: The REAL Siracha

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If you’re like us, you’ve needed to be pretty resourceful in the kitchen lately: when does this can of beans expire?; what can we make from these pickles?; how do you make barbecue sauce from scratch?; etc.

Luckily, there’s this town in Thailand called Si Racha. Population about 20,000. There they make a hot pepper sauce – which isn’t really that hot, on the Scoville scale the finished sauce is about as hot as a raw Fresno pepper – that is so perfectly spicy and delicious that it has become a staple throughout that part of the world. It is referred to generically as Sriracha – much like folks refer to “Soy Sauce,” regardless of who makes it.

There was a Major in the South Vietnamese army named David Tran. After the war, he had perfected a mean version of Sriracha, which he bottled and sold in Gerber baby food bottles.

David Tran fled Vietnam as a member of the Boat People in 1980. The boat that carried them to Boston was called the Huey Fong. The name “Huey” was pronounced “Huy” by the Asian passengers.

David Tran was born in the year of the rooster.

And so, shortly thereafter, when David Tran relocated to Los Angeles and started making his special recipe, he called his company “Huy Fong” and emblazoned his bottle with a rooster. He trademarked those elements but did not trademark the term “Sriracha.”

There was a vacant building in Rosemead, California that was previously owned by Wham-O (as in toys); Huy Fong bought it and moved into it in 1987. David Tran made special modifications to the production machinery he purchased to get the product just right.

In 2010, there was a choice for Ingredient of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine: Huy Fong’s Sriracha sauce. It caused an explosion in Sriracha awareness and sales.

Food manufacturers took notice, and since it wasn’t trademarked, the word “Srirachi” was soon splattered across the entire food industry. Today you can scarf a Sriracha Quesarito at Taco Bell, crunch a bag of Sriracha Kettle Potato Chips or even down a shot of Refinery29 Sriracha Vodka. Really.

But folks there’s only one Sriracha. It comes in a clear plastic bottle with a green cap. It features text in five languages. And there’s that rooster logo. It’s family-owned, family-made.

And luckily, just when the pandemic hit, we had one of the really large bottles in the door of our refrigerator, and it’s been saving our taste buds for the last three months.

It’s the original, the one and only, the cure for pandemic culinary boredom: Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.

(No word yet on whether it provides resistance to Covid-19, but we’re hoping.)

Mike Keeler