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From Our Freshologists: Sriracha!

I can’t remember when I first noticed sriracha sauce. I’m sure I saw it many times before it actually occurred to me to investigate. Its ubiquity on most Asian restaurant tables makes it as easy to overlook as a salt shaker. But now, I can’t imagine my pantry without it. It’s as essential as ketchup and almost as essential as mayonnaise in my kitchen.

Sriracha is a chili paste usually made with some garlic and a little vinegar. It gives more heat than Tabasco sauce and the garlic-chili flavor combo seems to go with more types of foods than Tabasco (I got no beef with Tabasco sauce, though!) I put sriracha in spaghetti sauce, soups, quinoa salad, salmon croquettes, eggs, Bloody Marys, and hot wing sauce, in addition to traditional Asian dishes like stir-fries. And it’s really gaining a lot of respect from foodies and home cooks everywhere.

So it’s hard to imagine that something so part of the current food zeitgeist is relatively new to America. The most common brand, and the brand that introduced sriracha to America, Huy Fong, didn’t even exist until the early 1980s. An immigrant from Vietnam, David Tran, started making his famous sauce and selling it out of the back of his van in Los Angeles. The name “sriracha” is derived from the seaside town of Si Racha in Thailand. And the name Huy Fong comes from the name of the boat that brought Tran to America. The sriracha sauce in Thailand tends to be tangier and sweeter than the American version but this just makes it more easily adaptable to other foods in my mind. Huy Fong also makes a version of the sauce without garlic, Sambal Oelek.

Bon Appetit named sriracha condiment of the year for 2010. Every celebrity chef worth his or her salt lists it as a pantry staple. But I’m not one to hop onto a bandwagon. So I’ll just pretend I never heard any of that and keep on splashing Huy Fong’s sriracha into everything I eat.