An Ode to Sriracha
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Sriracha is to a little Asian kid what tomato sauce is to an Aussie kid. Sriracha is a hot sauce, originally from Thailand, which sits on the table at most Asian restaurants. If it's Thai-made, it tends to be thinner and has more vinegar; if bought in Hong Kong, it has more heat and is quite thick; and the Australian iteration of the sauce lies somewhere in between. Either way, it’s affectionately known as “Cock Sauce” due to the rooster on the bottle. I remember when I was growing up in Melbourne's Western suburbs, in a yet-to-be gentrified area, I was sent to school with a thermos full of herbal soup and box of rice with the night before’s leftovers liberally covered in sriracha. At the time, I felt too embarrassed to eat around the other kids with their cling-film trapped white sandwiches with the crusts cut off, filled with margarine, ham and cheese.
There was always a bottle of it in the cupboard and my parents never really used it as it was too low-brow, unless it was on offer at Yum Cha. We had a family friend live with us for a while, a decade or so younger than my mother and a total FOP (Fresh-off-the-Plane). With her, came lessons on how to be a lady (as my father was raising me as the son he never had), Nissin cup noodles and bottles of sriracha. She was my second mother.
The first time I tried sriracha, I was in prep. My father was teaching me how not to kill everything he was growing in the garden and he tricked me into eating a raw chili straight from the bush his friend smuggled in from Thailand. “It’s cold,” he said, “it won’t hurt you.”
For about five minutes, I saw Jesus and told my father I would never trust him again. Fifteen minutes later, we were inside after cutting a handful of garlic chives from the front of the house. I sat on the bench, leaning into the sink, thrashing the lengths around in the water to wash off the dirt and neighbour’s cat-pee as my dad heated up the wok and proceeded to stack the bench with leftovers and cold rice.
He was making fried rice; the quintessential leftover staple for any Asian.
He would always start with a wok so hot, smoke would roll out of it, and then he would add vegetable oil. He’d follow with a few slithers of white onion and a slice of ginger, which would have the life burnt out of them before being fished from the wok with wooden chopsticks. He told me this would flavour the oil, then he'd turn the heat down a little before adding as much diced onion as would balance on his cleaver. He’d follow it up with a lightly beaten egg and any other uncooked protein before adding the fridge-cold rice, which he’d smash into the egg, separating the grains, and whatever leftovers he would deem appropriate. He’d season the contents with table salt, white sugar and the smallest touch of light soy before throwing in the garlic chives to soften.
For a four year old who was taught from day one that maths, science and playing the piano are the most important things in the world next to being better than their parents' friends' kids, the one-minute process of cold, sterile rice packed into and old tofu box being transformed into a fragrant heap of hot, savoury textures was the closest thing to magic.
No, it was magic and my father was a magician.
For his next trick, he filled a small rice bowl with fried rice and sat his friend’s bottle of sriracha next to it.
“What’s that?” I said.
“See-lai- cha.” That’s how we pronounce it in Cantonese.
“I know dad, but what is it?”
“Sauce. Just sauce. Stop asking me and have some. You need to try it to know.”
He squirted a one-second measure into my bowl and I mixed it around with my spoon.
We crazy Asians do that sometimes.
I could feel my father watching me as he shoveled hot rice into his mouth, puffing up his cheeks so he would look like a chipmunk. As I took a bite, I could see his eyes fill up with deviance the way they did when he convinced me to eat that chili.
Alas, the chili had reset my palate and I quite enjoyed the sriracha. The joke was on him; silly, old man. I grabbed the bottle and enthusiastically dotted little sriracha bombs all over my rice.
That is where it all began. Of course, my tastes for chili sauces has grown since then, but this is the most accessible way to share an obsession in which I am not alone. The sauce itself has lost its cultural identity, which I don’t think is a bad thing as I don’t have the shame I possessed as a child when I play cowboy with it now.
Ways to use Sriracha that will make your High Expectations Asian Father cry:
On fried rice, obviously. I’m of the camp who believes that soy sauce should never be added to fried rice, so apart from the Prik Nahm Pla we have at work, I get trigger happy with the sriracha.
In your Bloody Mary, because Tobasco is so annoying to shake.
On toast, with butter (in your face, Fabio) and keep the crusts on, you’re not four.
On fried eggs.
In your pickling liquid. No, seriously.
Pan-fried seafood. When it’s almost done, squirt in some sriracha add some butter and baste.
In your mayonnaise, and if you’d like some familiar culture-clash, use Kewpie (or as I call it, naked boy) mayonnaise.
In your cheese toastie.
With your hot chips, mix it in tomato sauce. Actually, any fried foods, particularly chicken.
In your salad dressing, that is, if it is a dressing and not a vinaigrette.
In your coke. Adopt the martini-in-the-freezer method where instead of replacing the swig you take out of the bottle with vermouth, you squirt in some sriracha.
In your caramel. We have chilli-chocolate, how is this a far stretch? Last summer, I may have made some ice cream with a sriracha caramel swirl added to the churner. It didn’t suck. Alternatively, if you’re not one for making your own ice cream, buy the icecream and add the warm sriracha caramel to your bowl
On your popcorn. I can’t take credit for this one. We serve this at work.
In your crappy beer. For example, Tecate with sriracha and a wedge of lime. You’re welcome.
Now, aren’t we glad my dad didn’t trick me with a spoonful of MSG?
Lead image via Shutterstock.