‘Tis the (Chili Grinding) Season

What do you do when you can’t find just the right sauce to complement your dish? You make it. That’s exactly how Huy Fong’s Sriracha was born. Fun fact: the lesser known, but eponymous Sriracha is actually a Thai sauce, sweeter than Huy Fong’s and originating from the town of Sri Racha in Thailand.

Last month, I toured the Huy Fong factory in Southern California during the last day of the chili grinding season. Huy Fong Foods actually makes three sauces in their shiny new, state-of-the-art factory: the famous Sriracha sauce: Sambal Olek, a more pasty chili vinegar sauce; and their chili garlic sauce. Conveniently, they’re all made from the same few ingredients, so harvesting and grinding the chili each season covers all three products.

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One of the last truckloads of chili coming in from Underwood Ranches.

Apart from owner David Tran’s humbleness, the other thing I admire most is his use of local ingredients to make this Asian staple truly American. The chilis are trucked in from Underwood Ranches, which has locations in Southern and Central California, and the garlic is from Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed garlic capital.

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Chili avalanche. What photos don’t capture: folks sneezing and coughing.
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Chilis getting cleaned and selected after they avalanche in from the truck.

The tour of the factory itself can actually be booked year round. What’s special was watching the trucks of chili roll in and get selected, crushed and packaged into the blue bins. Another surprising fact I discovered on this tour was even the Sriracha bottles were made in this factory, so the labels can be screen printed right onto the bottle. Having been inside much smaller foods factories, it was amazing to me how automated everything was here, from the chili selection, to the bottle making and packing of the bottles.

Sriracha bottles, marching to the boxing station.
Sriracha bottles, marching to the boxing station.

The tour ended with a sampling of various items made with the famous sauce. While Tran knows his famous sauce has peak popularity, he doesn’t hold back those who get creative with it. In fact, Huy Fong embraces it in their Rooster Room, with  souvenirs and snack creations ready for purchase.

Sriracha ice cream, handed out from an ice cream truck on the grounds of the factory.
Sriracha ice cream, handed out from an ice cream truck on the grounds of the factory.

Huy Fong Foods

4800 Azusa Canyon Road in Irwindale, CA

Watch the documentary to learn more about this epic sauce!

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International Dumpling Party

International Dumpling Party

Spring forward! It’s been quite awhile since I posted. Lots to update on my trip to Thailand/Hong Kong, as well as some other fun things. But first, a party….

My mom once told me that she loved eating wonton soup when she was pregnant with me, so my love for minced meat wrapped in pastry of different forms doesn’t surprise me. Last month (while eating a gyoza), I was marveling about how many different types of dumplings existed in the world. There was the gyoza I was eating (Japanese), xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which originated from Shanghai, but became popular through a Taiwanese chain called Din Tai Fung. Then, there were mandoo, the Korean version, a bigger more plump dumpling, eaten steamed, pan fried or in a soup during the new year. So many different types of Asian dumplings! And if you think beyond that, there’s ravioli, European dumplings, western dumpling soup — possibilities are endless!IMG_7618Din Tai Fung’s mascot

With that, I decided to throw an international dumpling party a couple of weeks ago. We’d help make a few different types of dumplings and enjoy them all together. I thought I’d kick it off by making Korean mandoo with a beef filling. Dumplings are such an ideal food — they are packed full of goodness in such a small package, but little did I realize the work that goes into them!

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My first attempt at making mandoo. Tip: read instructions carefully!

I won’t place blame on one thing in particular, but the extreme jet lag I was still suffering, along with the full work week did not help with my already lacking skills in following detailed instructions (I hate putting together IKEA furniture for this very reason!). I forgot to par-boil (in Thai, ลวก) the cabbage before combining it into the mixture. You’ll also notice the giant batch here — I tried to double the batch, but did it wrong and added way too much of one thing (onions – oops) and way to little of another for it. I ended up picking out the onions (which were supposed to not be raw, another oops). I also improvised and added in some shitake mushrooms (yum!) and shredded carrots (bad idea – see below). I spent about 3-4 hours putting all the dumplings together, from prep to wrap.

The mandoo turned out decent, but I came away with many lessons from my first attempt:

  • While you may not hold to this rule in your other dishes (like me), it’s important to follow directions on dumplings, especially in measurements!
  • Chop everything in bite sized pieces — that means shredded carrots, too. Having carrot pieces poke through the shell will make the dumplings fall apart easier
  • Don’t overstuff! If you feel like you’re trying to get back for all the times you ate an under-stuffed dumpling, now is not the time. Overstuffing the dumpling causes it to explode when cooking
  • If you want to save the dumplings, best to cook them first, then save them, especially if the skins are fresh and very soft (like these were). Or, dust with some flour to make sure they don’t stick — yet another “why didn’t you read the instructions, Taya?” moment :/

My friends and partners in dumpling-making crime the next day were much more successful. They followed the instructions in their recipes (and were also already-skilled cooks).

Photo Mar 08, 6 18 01 PMDumpling makers, hard at work on shu mai 

Photo Mar 08, 6 51 34 PM Photo Mar 08, 7 26 20 PMShu mai from my very talented homemaker friend.

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Gyoza from my partner-in-crime and co-host, Rose

In total, we had 4 different kind of dumplings: my mandoo (Korea), two different styles of shumai (Hong Kong), a gyoza (Japan).  We also had some Taiwanese sticky rice, egg noodles and roast duck to round out our feast.

I almost feel like Sandra Lee (gah!) or Ina Garten for saying this, but throwing a dumpling party doesn’t have to be as time consuming as I made it. The fun was in making the dumplings and eating it together. 😊