Sit down at a table in an Asian restaurant or even a burger joint in the US, and you can’t help but spot the ubiquitous plastic bottle with its white rooster logo and green cap, full of bright red sauce.
Since 1980, Vietnamese native David Tran has been spicing up the Asian food scene in Los Angeles with his Huy Fong Foods Sriracha hot sauce. The mouth-burning condiment – named the best ingredient of the year by Bon Appétit magazine in 2009 – has since become an integral part of American dining culture and makes almost any dish, from pho to burgers, more interesting.
However, the Sriracha hot sauce beloved by millions is not the one we consume in Thailand – especially in the town of Sri Racha (or Si Racha), located on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, where the sauce originated.
The history of Sriracha sauce is uncertain, but the Chomrom Kon Ruk Sriracha – the Sriracha Lovers’ Association – and many of the older generation from the namesake coastal town believe it dates to the 1930s, when residents created a dip for their families that was at once sour and sweet, salty and hot, using a recipe consisting of peppers, Thai garlic, sugar, vinegar and sea salt.
The sauce became all the rage in Sri Racha, so much so that two families decided to market it under two separate brands: Grand Mountain (now known as Three Mountains) and Sriraja Panich.
While people in other regions may prefer nam prik kapi, a chilli sauce made with shrimp paste that dominates in the south, or jaew, a chilli-based condiment that incorporates fish sauce and hails from Thailand’s northeast, Sriracha is the sauce of choice for Sri Racha people looking to make anything tastier.
The way you consume Sriracha reveals whether you grew up with the sauce. Most Thais only eat it with certain dishes, such as Thai-style omelettes and deep-fried snacks. Just like American diners, however, Sri Racha natives find their distinctive sauce a perfect addition to everything from stir-fried noodles to noodle soups.
Some might say Huy Fong’s sauce pairs better with a greater variety of dishes, but Sri Racha locals – and most Thais – would disagree. We grew up with our own versions of Sriracha sauce, and prefer its locally made flavours to the imported bottle – a product we consider overpowered by the heat of jalapeño peppers and a surfeit of salt.