HomeAsian AmericansThe Real Origins of Sriracha, America's Most Beloved Asian Hot Sauce

The Real Origins of Sriracha, America’s Most Beloved Asian Hot Sauce

About 10 years ago, Sriracha became one of the most popular hot sauces in the United States, beating out tabasco, reports Hindustan Times. Today, it is generally the only Asian hot sauce that Americans know.

It has become a ubiquitous ingredient, used by everyone from gourmet chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York to food cart chefs in hip neighborhoods. Even McDonald’s has incorporated it into their meals.

However, the history of Sriracha dates much further back than its recent rise in the United States, where it was popularized by a Vietnamese immigrant named David Tran. In fact, the hot sauce has it’s roots not in Vietnam, but in Thailand.

One legend says that a Thai woman named Thanom Chakkapak invented the sauce in the city of Sri Racha. The traditional sauce is tangier and thinner than its American counterpart.

Khun Keiengsak, the owner of the only Sriracha factory still in business in Sri Racha, Thailand, claims that Tran copied the sauce from his city to profit in the United States.

“This Vietnamese man came once to Pattaya (a resort close to Sri Racha), tried the sauce and decided to make it,” said Keiengsak. “He says that it is a Vietnamese sauce from his childhood! They do not even have this sauce in Vietnam. If it is ‘Vietnamese’, why is it named after my town?”

In 1980 Tran founded Huy Fong, the California-based company that is almost synonymous with Sriracha to Americans. The rooster trademark was chosen because Tran was born in the Chinese year of the rooster, according to Los Angeles Times.

Tran’s story is that he fled to the United States after the Vietnam War with no money in his pockets. Remembering the hot sauce that he ate as a child in Vietnam, he decided to try and remake it in the United States. Although critics doubted that Americans would be able to stomach the very spicy hot sauce, Tran stuck to the original recipe, which later became a success.

Thai people have been vocal about their discontent with Tran’s appropriation of Sriracha. “Why does he say it is Vietnamese?” asked Khun Keiengsak. “It is a well known local sauce. Just say that you are making a traditional Thai sauce. Why do you need to take it away from Thailand and say it is from somewhere else?”

In 2013 director Griffin Hammond filmed the documentary “Sriracha,” which details the sauce’s origins. It won Best Short Film and the NYC Food Film Festival. The 33 minute video can be found here.

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  1. RE: The Real Origins of Sriracha-America’s Most Beloved Asian Hotsauce:With a name like Sriracha, I figured it was Thai.

  2. RE: The Real Origins of Sriracha, America’s Most Beloved Asian Hot Sauce: In my youth, my Dad introduced Shark Brand Sriracha to me and we eat with things like Popeye’s Chicken and even hot dogs. Sure, we knew Huy Fong foods and were fans of their Sambal Oelek, but we never were stir crazy about their Sriracha that much because of the aforementioned feelings above. It was until I was 33 that I tried Huy Fong’s version, and despite being tasty, I still grit my teeth about it sometimes. It’s nice to finally see some acknowledgement about this given the stories my Dad would tell me about the sauce (he would even mentioned that in Sri Racha, you would eat it with seafood and that some varieties were even yellow), but in unfortunately for somebody like me, it’s too little too late.

    Nevertheless, thanks for reporting this. I’m glad that the rest of the world can enjoy one of Thailand’s most unique sauces.


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