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Jan 19, 2012 11:33 AM

What's with the salt & pepper shakers and Sriracha at every table in MSP?

I'm from SF and it is a new phenomenon to see S&P shakers and Sriracha Chili sauce at a majority of restaurants I visit. Any explanation for this? In SF you would never find S&P at the table in 90% of the restaurants. Sriracha being reserved for Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese cuisine. I'm curious to figure this one out. I asked several people and all they could offer was that it's always been like that. Anyone?

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  1. Maybe S&P at a greasy spoon and srircacha at a Thai place, but I have never noticed them elsewhere.

    7 Replies
    1. re: semanticantics

      I can't remember where I was that had Sriracha and S&P at the table but it was not Thai or Asian in any way or form. S&P is practically everywhere. I was having dinner at Red Stag and when they brought out the food, salt and pepper came with it. No one asked, it just appeared. I ate at Common Root Cafe and although the salt and pepper and sriracha weren't at the table it was at the utensils/water/napkins station. Brasa, same deal, S&P with "chili water". Eli's = S&P at the table. I know The Ugly Mug doesn't count as just a restaurant but they serve food and have a full kitchen and Sriracha and S&P at the table. I could go on but I'm not making a list of places that have it but more the reason behind it.

      1. re: Petey McNichols

        For S&P I'd guess the reasoning is so that customers can adjust the salt and pepper levels to their preference. At more upscale or chef-driven restaurants than those on your list, I think you'd be less likely to find S&P offered (other than the waiter with the grinder), with the idea that the dish is seasoned as it should be in the kitchen.

        While many people do have nordic heritage as DB Cooper mentions, we are all pretty used to Vietnamese food by now and lots of people like to add some spice to things. Others don't, so it's there as an option. I think people especially like Sriracha on fried foods.

        Why don't restaurants in SF put them on the table, anyway?

        1. re: LiaM

          The only restaurants that would have S&P on the table in SF would be on par with Denny's. I understand the greasy spoon having the shakers but it seems that places on par with Red Stag, Mill City, Common Root would already be seasoning the food before it hits the table. I guess the Nordic heritage must play a big part of it. Just never saw anything like it. I've been to restaurants all over the globe and MSP is really the one that pops up in my mind as S&P as a norm.

          For "fancier" restaurants like Heidi's, Bachelor Farmer, etc. do they have S&P readily available? Places of haute cuisine are reticent to provide additional seasonings to dishes because it flies against the face of what the chef is doing in the kitchen. I wonder if chefs in MSP just figure it comes with the territory or whether they don't want to as well.

          1. re: Petey McNichols

            What I meant by my reference to nordic heritage is that although there is a stereotype that we eat nothing but bland things in white sauces, this is not (or at least no longer) true. At the same time, there is a wide range of preferences, and I think many cooks in MSP probably accept that what they consider perfectly seasoned might not be what every customer considers perfectly seasoned.

            Yes, I would be more surprised to find S&P on the table at Heidi's, Meritage, etc. than at the places you've visited.

        2. re: Petey McNichols

          Chili water at Brasa? I've never seen that there, is it new? How odd - that's a Hawaiian thing.

          Salt shakers are very important in restaurants that insist on putting a little napkin down under the drink glass. You sprinkle a little on there so that the napkin stays on the table.

          Or better yet, order wine ;)

          1. re: shadowfax

            I think it's actually a peppery vinegar at Brasa, but I might be wrong.

            1. re: BigE

              Peppers in vinegar & water = chili water in Hawaii. Sorry, I see that concoction and I call it what I originally was taught.

      2. Really, you don't find S/P at 90% of the restaurants in SF? That has always been the tradition here. Maybe it's because 90% of the food here has no seasoning so they figured they'd just let you do it yourself. Let's face it, nordic countries aren't known for heavy spice and that's the heritage of most people around here. But every restaurant in town has always had S/P available since I've been around.

        As for Siracha, that's newer. I think it is because that's a "chef's sauce" and restaurants want to have it available to show chefs and other foodies in the know their street cred.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Db Cooper

          I'm guessing Db Cooper has tongue firmly in cheek. I don't see S&P on the table at many of the finer dining establishments, but the places that Petey mentions are hardly the finer dining establishments - Common roots? Brasa? Even Red Stag, while it has good food, isn't exactly a Meritage, Vincents, Bar La Grassa, etc.

          As for Sriracha, my take on it is that it's a hipster thing. Friends of mine put Sriracha on everything, and brag about it, as though Sriracha is this undiscovered secret that only true "foodies" know about it. It's hilarious. PF Chang's has been using it for over a decade - hardly the cutting edge for "foodies". To an extent (I'm not saying uniquely), it's about the love affair with everything Asian cooking - put it in a bottle with Asian writing, and it takes on a different dimension, regardless of what it actually is. Asking for it makes it sounds like you know something that no one else does, even though PF Chang's knew about it more than 10 years ago. I don't think that that equates with "street cred".

          1. re: foreverhungry

            The tongue is firmly planted in cheek considering the restaurants of today. That being said, ten or fifteen years ago, the quality of dining in this town almost demanded that salt and pepper be on every table. Things have changed and for the better, but I think the tradition started as a passive MN thing. "Oh, you decide how much spice you want on your food. Far be it for us to do it for you. It's your call." It's sort of just the way we are.

            Totally with you on the Siracha take. It started in those columns where people ask chefs what was in their fridge and almost all of them would say, "The Rooster." From there, it took off with the hipsters and the foodies and thus you see it on tables today. And it isn't just trendy restaurants either as I had it served as a side for my Coney Dogs at The Gopher Bar too. Let's face it, NOTHING is trendy about the Gopher.

            1. re: foreverhungry

              who said that sriracha was/is "the hipster ketchup?" so true.

              1. re: soupkitten

                Hipster Ketchup!! Hilarious! Never heard that before.

          2. S&P is normal, Sriracha...not at all. Aside from Asian joints, I couldn't name 5 places where I've seen it at the table.

            13 Replies
            1. re: BigE

              Al's Breakfast has a bottle of Sriracha behind the counter. But ya gotta ask for it. I never have. I'm not brave enough. (Besides, I usually get pancakes.)

              I agree that it's rare to see Sriracha in a non-Asian place, but I love that it's becoming more available. It's fabulous mixed half-and-half with ketchup for a burger and fries. In fact, my favorite bison-burger place doesn't have it (Trotter's), but I'm thinking of bringing a bottle to donate next time I'm there.

              1. re: AnneInMpls

                I don't use much salt in my food, and I've found that a lot of restaurants under-salt their food, so the diner can add to their discretion. I do prefer freshly ground pepper, but I know that it takes extra time for the servers, so I think they leave it on the table to save servers' time.

                As for the Sriracha, we have a large Asian community in the Twin Cities, and it's become as ubiquitous as Tabasco or any other hot sauce. I especially love it with breakfast dishes.

                I, for one, love it.

                1. re: SmartCookie

                  I don't see "freshly ground pepper" on many tables. Now that I think about it, I don't think I have seen freshly ground pepper available on any table (though my memory isn't good). By freshly ground, I mean a pepper mill. What comes on tables is the shaker filled with the contents of the 20 lb bag of mccormick's ground black pepper.

                  Better restaurants should serve their food properly seasoned, and for that, chef's taste should rule, assuming a good chef. Just like some folks might prefer their pasta soft as paste, but it's up to the chef to serve pasta as they see fit. Good enough for me, and it's very rare, when at one of the better eateries, do I believe food is undersalted.

                  If we're talking diner/glorified diner/pub/"gastropub", etc, then yeah, salt on the table is fine. Just like ketchup on the table is fine at some places, but not-so-much at others.

                  I'm not knocking on Sriracha, but I do find that most folks I know that love it wouldn't know the difference between that and a thicker Tabasco. Afterall, Sriracha isn't a brand, it's a style of hot sauce made from hot peppers, vinegar, garlic, salt, and sugar, just like many brands of hot sauce that don't come in a bottle with Asian markings. The stuff we get in the US is made in the US, not imported. And it's Thai, not Asian, which would be like saying that because giardiniera is a tasty Italian condiment, therefore it is good served on all European dishes.

                  Hipster ketchup (thanks soupkitten!) is the best description of Sriracha I've heard. Put out a bottle of Sriracha and a 6 pack of PBR, and watch the flannel flock in on their singlespeeds.

                  1. re: foreverhungry

                    Ha, hipster ketchup! I wish my love of Sriracha would qualify me as a hipster... I can only dream. That, plus develop a taste for PBR, and trade my recumbent for a one-speed. (I do have a good flannel wardrobe, but doesn't every Minnesotan?)

                    Oh, and speaking of freshly ground pepper: Punch St. Paul (Grand Ave) provides "individual" pepper grinders that you can pick up with your napkins and silverware and red-pepper shaker. These grinders are small and easy to use, and there's nothing better than freshly ground pepper on a Margherita Extra. I wish more restaurants would provide this type of pepper dispenser!

                    1. re: foreverhungry

                      " And it's Thai, not Asian,..."

                      Isn't Thailand considered Asian?

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Yes. Just like Italian is considered "European". But many folks say "Sriracha is an Asian condiment", or that "I put it on Asian food". I don't know that many people would say "giardiniera is a European condiment", or "I put giardiniera on European food".

                        It seems that to many people, "Asian food" is this homogenous grouping of food, all of which can benefit from Sriracha, because hey, Sriracha is Asian, right? But that is as ridiculous as saying all European food is a homogenous grouping, and all can benefit from giardiniera, or mustard, or balsamic vinegar.

                        1. re: foreverhungry

                          Technically, "The Rooster" sauce that most people refer to is not Thai, its Vietnamese. Though produced in the US. "The Rooster" is the logo for Huy Fong based in Rosemead, CA

                          1. re: Petey McNichols

                            David Tran, who founded Huy Fong in CA, is Vietnamese, yes. But "The Rooster" is clearly a variant of Sriracha, which is a distinctly Thai sauce, named after a Thai city. I think it's a stretch to call the typical Sriracha that's served in the US as a Vietnamese sauce. That would be like saying that the pizza served at Pizza Lola is a Korean dish, not Italian, because it's made by a Korean chef.

                            1. re: foreverhungry

                              Though named for the Thai town of Sriracha known for chili sauces, the
                              "Rooster" sauce is essentially Vietnamese with a global palette in mind. Any Thai person I ask always says that The Rooster is not Thai and no one in Thailand considers it remotely Thai.

                              Here is a great article about the company and creation of the sauce.

                              1. re: Petey McNichols

                                I see what you're saying. Just like Tabasco is a variant of hot sauce, there are several versions of "Louisiana style" hot sauces, and many other styles that are distinct from Tabasco/Crystal/Franks/etc.

                                But it leads to a conundrum. I know that "Rooster" is made by a Vietnamese individual, and that all Sriracha sauces vary, just like most Louisiana hot sauces vary. Frank's hot sauce is made in Missouri (I believe), not in Louisiana anymore. "Rooster" is made in California, not Thailand, and by a Vietnamese. But "Rooster" is considered as a Sriracha. Ask for Sriracha, you are likely to get Rooster, but there are other brands out there. To most folks that ask for Sriracha, they wouldn't know the difference between Rooster or other variants. Just like most folks are oblivious to the differences between Tabasco, Franks Red Hot, Crystal, etc. (even though most folks would clearly taste a difference in a head to head comparison).

                                My point is that Sriracha is a Thai sauce - by definition of the name. Folks that get Rooster may be getting a sauce that's Thai, but there are other brands, and the roots still go back to Si Racha, and hence Sriracha.

                                So it's a conundrum to say that a sauce commonly refered to a sauce named after an area in Thailand isn't Thai. I get what you're saying, but then the only logical conclusion to draw is that Rooster isn't Sriracha. But that just doesn't seem quite right.

                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                  So, Rooster Sriracha is 100% American - it's a great example of our melting-pot effect on food. Love it, love it, love it! (The multi-ethnic mix, as well as the product itself, that is.) I guess that's one more reason for me to give when asked why I like it with buffalo blue-cheese burgers. :-)

                  1. re: Petey McNichols

                    "Mill City Cafe is another one."

                    Mill City is in the NE. NE is a hipster hangout. Sriracha is hipster ketchup.

                    Makes sense.

                2. Salt and pepper shakers are universal around the country at any restaurant that leaves a setting on the table that might also include ketchup and mustard. That would mean almost all bar pubs, grills, cafes and diners, and an absolute must at breakfast. It is not unique to the Twin Cities and it is just as common to like restaurants in SF from what I can remember. A step up you might find grinders for peppers and sea salt. Then at the top of the restaurant totem pole they like to grind the pepper for you like dispensing gold flakes and most food is too salty anyway (for my taste).

                  I can't explain sriracha but it is fairly new. There is one sriracha company that is rather aggressive. Maybe they did a campaign effort in the Twin Cities to get it in restaurants.

                  1. Is there something that bothers you that there is S&P on the table? Does it take up that much room? Do you find it ugly? I find that most of the food I get is under salted. Does that mean that I'm wrong and the Chef is correct? I demand that food be to my liking.I am paying for it. If the chef does not agree with me he or she can find another customer to fill the spot at the table where I won't be. Last time I was in SF the waitstaff was more than happy to supply me with a salt shaker.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: ibew292

                      Loss from theft....that's one thing no one has brought up. If having S & P shakers on the table is a Midwest thing, it could be because we are less likely to walk off with them.

                        1. re: DaKing

                          Are you suggesting that Midwesterners are somehow more virtuous that other Americans?

                          1. re: foreverhungry

                            Yes, if only because our propensity to move away from 'home' is less than other areas means there is greater social cohesiveness.

                            1. re: DaKing

                              Loss from theft is NOT the issue on this thread. And the overconfidence and bias is laughable as poverty and theft is not so regional!