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Sriracha is for Losers

I have noticed the better Vietnamese restaurants will have "mustard jars" of what seems like home made "salsa". As oppossed to Sriracha its got a clean flavor and lots of textural contrasts with flecks of chile & seeds... it certainly has garlic & maybe other spices... but overall it has such a clean, absolutely delicious flavor that I can't resist just sipping with one hand while drying the sweat off my forehead with the other.

Does anybody know what this sauce is called? The following blogger makes a homemade Viet style sauce... hers is a bit less coarse.. and lacks the deeper mahogany color of the sauce I am describing.


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  1. I like a lot of different hot sauces and spices, including Sriracha. Guess I'm a loser. :::sigh:::

    1. In "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen," one of two Vietnamese cookbooks that are this month's cookbooks of the month, Andrea Nguyen has a recipe for what she calls a dipping sauce that has the following ingredients:

      1/3 cup fresh lime juice (2 or 3 limes)
      1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar (optional)
      3 tablespoons sugar
      2/3 cup lukewarm water
      5 to 6 tablespoons fish sauce
      2 or 3 Thai chilies, thinly sliced
      2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

      She goes into some detail explaining that these quantities are just a guideline to help you develop your own version depending on how you prefer your balance of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy.

      I'm not sure where the deep mahogany color would come from, unless it's from one of the darker, stronger brands of fish sauce. Or it could be that they have another ingredient in there. Hoisin, perhaps?

      9 Replies
      1. re: JoanN

        The mahogany color comes form the dried chiles used. The version I am describing would have minimal sugar or fish sauce.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Hmm - none of the sauces that I've seen in Pham's book (one of the two COTM books) calls for dried chilies, nor do any of the recipes. Some recipes call for a caramel sauce, but I've not read that that is incorporated into a dipping or other sauce.

          Edit - I wonder if the color could come from a dark soy sauce - such as a sweet soy sauce - that is called for in some recipes?

          1. re: MMRuth

            Thats it.... next time I go to a Vietnamese place I will take pictures of it and post... heck they might even provide me a recipe guideline.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Thanks - please do take photos and/or ask them what is in the sauce. It would be interesting to know. I'll take a look tomorrow again at the sauces in the book to see if I'm missing something that might be what you are thinking of.

            2. re: Eat_Nopal

              Vietnamese restaurant? Minimal fish sauce? I'll believe it when you pry the recipe out of them. :-)

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                Estimado E N, try to go with the flow! Hawai'i was mostly Asian when I was growing up. You've got to learn that fish sauce and sometimes lots of it is a basic in many parts of SE Asia. Abrazos!

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  I like fish sauce... but the sauces described below are eons better than the brands of Sriracha I've tried.

            3. might the darker color come from oxidization, or tamarind?

              1 Reply
              1. re: alkapal

                Tamarind is certainly a posibility... but to stress there are flecks of (partially) rehydrated dried chiles.

              2. Maybe it's Sambal Oelek? Used in Indonesian Cuisine as well...

                4 Replies
                1. re: chefschickie

                  I thought about that, but sambal oelek lack the "deeper mahogany color" EN described.

                  I'm thinking it's a variant of something called "ớt sate" or "sate ớt" that's made with dried chili, lemongrass, and garlic all cooked in oil. See picture:

                  1. re: Ali

                    That is very close. The particular versions I liked had a little more of murky (less oily translucent) body... but we are very close.

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      Perhaps more like sambal badjak? It's darker than sambal oelek and is dried chili-based.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Hm. I called my mother just to see if she knew, and in her words, there are no Vietnamese hot sauce that looks similar to the sate sauce but is not made with oil as you cannot cook up the chilies and such without oil. (Of course, we're all southerners, so maybe that's the problem.) I'm stumped so am stuck with my original answer that it's a variant of the sate sauce, either made without oil completely or made with less oil and have some other liquid added.

                  2. If we're talking about the same stuff, it's called tuong ot toi. The simplest version is just fresh whole ot hiem (Southeast Asian hot red chile peppers) and garlic, ground together with salt, sugar, and/or vinegar as needed.

                    There are probably as many versions as there are cooks, but dried chiles are a new one on me. As a matter of fact, I don't think dried chiles are often used in traditional Vietnamese cooking, but I may be mistaken.

                    As far as I know "tuong ot toi" and "sambal oelek" are just the Vietnamese and Indonesian names for the same thing. Many Vietnamese restaurants have a big jug of Huy Fong brand sambal oelek in the back from which they refill those mustard jars.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      So the picture above doesn't strike you as dried chile based?

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        The stuff in Ali's picture definitely looks like it's made from dried chiles. Shows how much I know.

                        I haven't seen or heard of ot sate before. Maybe it's a regional thing?

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          no I have seen it made at home before, it is definately fresh chilies.

                        2. re: Eat_Nopal

                          Fresh. Could the color have come from Keycap Manis? Was it sweet, at all?

                      2. What? You say that now? After that loooong post where you praised Sriracha to the heavens and said that Tabasco was the worst? And here I sit with the 3rd bottle of Sriracha in the fridge because I was determined to try to like it and now do. You turned the tables and have your eyes on another? Arrrrggggghhhh.... (O_O) I don't even have to look up the correct spelling any more. All because of you. Now you have spurned Sriracha. What evil lurks.......

                        1. Wow, I was sooo afraid to say it because so many ppl think Sriracha is like crack! But to me it is too heavily vinegar laden and that alters the food in a bad way unless you want a hot and sour element! I use it in some things, but really the homemade stuff without all the vinegar is much better.

                          Yes, the real deal is tuong ot toi, and I have seen some friends' moms make it before along the lines of the way alanbarnes describes it above, with fresh red chilies and all in the blender. watch out because when you blend it the fiery heat wafts into the air and can poke your eye out. The color darkens with age. The sugar, salt, and (tiny amount) of vinegar preserve it, so it lasts a long time.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: luckyfatima

                            It might be that whether one uses dried or fresh chiles depends on what one has on hand or prefers. The condiment might be the same, but variations can and do occur. I would have my doubts that there is one single version of this condiment. Just as there are different versions of hot lime pickles, Korean dipping sauces, etc. Variety - a boon, but also a bane when you find the perfect combination of ingredients, but then are unable to recreate it.

                            1. re: luckyfatima

                              Here are some recipes for and photos of tuong ot toi:


                              One recipe uses raw chilies, the other cooked ones.

                              1. re: MMRuth


                                could this sauce be frozen in ice cube trays for later use?

                                how long would the fresh pepper sauce last in the fridge? a week maybe?

                                1. re: toodie jane

                                  I don't know, actually - but you want want to ask on the COTM thread for sauces by Nguyen this month:


                                  I've not tried this recipe yet.

                            2. it definitely sounds like Tuong Ot Toi (garli chili)

                              here's a pic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sorrydad...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: janeBee

                                Nope, that's a different condiment.

                              2. Teochew Chinese/Viet restaurants often make their own satay (aka saday, sacha, sate') condiment and you can buy it by the jar to take home. That's the dark colored (dried chili based with many other salted and pickled elements) condiment in the small pots. It's totally different than the Malay/Indonesian style satay sauce. I've recently posted about the versions at Toon Kee and Sun San in San Francisco. Sriracha has its place, and I would use it in a different way than saday sauce.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Melanie, that one IS with dried chilies, garlic, and oil, right?

                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                    Loser perhaps, but then the very kind Asian ladies and gentlemen wouldn't always -- I guess I look the gringo -- point out to me 'you know that's very hot' when I'm picking up my bottle of Sriracha in the local Asian grocery.

                                    That's worth the price of admission.

                                    1. re: dolores

                                      In Dallas, in the 60's, we would ask for more "soup" when the salsa disappeared before the chips. That raised a few eyebrows!

                                    2. re: luckyfatima

                                      Melanie: Oh it occurred to me, is that the one with dried chili, chicken broth, soya sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and oil blitzed together? If it is that, that stuff is magical and beats Sriracha anytime.

                                      1. re: luckyfatima

                                        Here's a reader's reverse-engineered version on vietworldkitchen,

                                        The ones I've seen seem like all dried chiles and little fresh, looking coarser, denser, and darker in color. Also, this recipe doesn't add dried shrimp, anchovies, salted cabbage hearts, pickled turnips, black beans, or any of the umami-rich seasonings that make it so unique to each chef and addictive, and uses MSG and fish sauce instead.

                                        I had a dyslexic moment in my earlier post, the restaurant in SF is San Sun (not Sun San).

                                        edited to add: Looking further on the vietworld kitchen site, Andrea says that sate sauce "vietnamese" dishes were invented abroad, which I doubt. I wouldn't put peanuts in it as she concocts here (and says she's not had it before but made up this recipe).
                                        Again, where I've seen it in the SF Bay Area is at Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants. These are run by ethnic Teochew people whose families immigrated to Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia in the Ming dynasty (400+ years ago). So, I don't think it was invented in the US, but perhaps part of Chinese culinary culture in Vietnam and not among ethnic Vietnamese. Hu tieu hai san sate is a Teochew soup.

                                      2. re: luckyfatima

                                        And many other things. The sambal oelek-type sauces that others are describing are a whole other thing, like you'd use with Hainan chicken. EN's looking for satay sauce, which is more like an oily paste than a sauce.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          The Spicy Rooster (a more innocent nickname than that used by most fellow diners), is just the starting base. We have added more chili flakes, hoisin, and one of my Korean buddies likes to add the puree of an Asian pear and minced garlic. He continues to have trouble finding people with whom to converse.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Okay, EN, looks like we're at an impasse without further info from you--is the stuff you're chowing down more like salsa, or is it an "oily paste"?

                                      3. It's generally sold as "Chili Paste With Garlic" - maybe without garlic sometimes, but in broad terms it's ground chili peppers instead of Sriracha's pureed chili peppers.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: wayne keyser

                                          So this other stuff is for sale? In Asian groceries?

                                          So I look for 'tuong ot toi'?

                                          1. re: dolores

                                            I don't know if we're sure that what EN had was this or not.

                                            I was reading Pham this morning, and she refers to 'tuong ot toi' as chili paste, ground - and says that it is made with "coarsely ground (unseeded) red chilies, garlic and vinegar." She recommends the Rooster brand. 'Tuong ot' is chili sauce aka Sriracha sauce, and she said that it is a "smooth puree of seeded red chilies, vinegar, garlic and sugar".

                                            Does anyone know what 'toi' means?

                                            Looking forward to EN reporting back.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                Thank you. I wonder if that means that there is more garlic in tuong ot toi than in tuong ot?

                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  "Tuong ot" just means chili sauce. Maybe it's assumed that if you don't specify anything else you're talking about Sriracha, but If you look at the bottle it says "tuong ot Sriracha," or Sriracha chili sauce. (Sriracha is a city in Thailand.)

                                        2. One other thought--in high school I had a recently-immigrated friend who mixed Sriracha and hoisin together and dipped everything in it--he called it "Vietnamese ketchup." I made bun for dinner last night and, inspired by this thread, used tuong ot toi instead of Sriracha to make the spicy-sweet dip. It may not be what you're talking about, but it was pretty consistent with your description. And quite delicious.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            I've done that combo with a little honey, a tiny amount of bottled BBQ sauce and some extra garlic. It's great on ribs.

                                          2. Don't know what the sauce is called. But color me a loser. :)

                                            1 Reply
                                              1. re: kirkj

                                                thanks for the link, the pictures look awesome, and I can't wait to try my hand at concocting the lemongrass chili sauce... my mouth is actually watering as I think about this.

                                                1. re: kirkj

                                                  that recipe looks amazing. I think I'm going to try it out. I am going to mix it with some mayo and dip dried squid in it. yum yum

                                                2. They tend to buy Sriracha (or a similar sauce) in bulk then put in smaller jars. It is important to note that on a trip to Vietnam in 1999, I would see Sriracha on the tables of tiny restaurants in small towns. A good example of quality of this brand such that it is exported from the US to Vietnam.