David Tran: Hot Sauce Visionary

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This is the story of a boy, a dream, and a very spicy sauce. As a young man growing up in a village near Saigon, David Tran dreamt of creating the Asian equivalent of ketchup—something everybody would want to slop onto everything. During the Vietnam War, he and his family made a living selling dipping sauces that were packaged in recycled baby food jars. As the condiments grew popular with soldiers, one product became a clear favorite—a spicy, oil-based sauce, usually served with grilled meat. It was Tran’s version of a Thai paste called Sriracha.

By 1979, the sauce business had raised enough money for the entire family to flee Vietnam and immigrate. Tran set out for America on a boat called the Huy Fong. Eventually, this boat would become the namesake for his American sauce company—Huy Fong Foods.

Tran packaged his Sriracha—a blend of red jalepeños, garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar—in a bottle bearing a distinctive rooster seal. Initially, he hoped to sell his “Rooster Sauce” to Vietnamese immigrants. But soon, Sriracha became an American mega-hit. These days, Huy Fong Foods produces more than 10 million bottles every year, with ingredients listed on the back in Vietnamese, English, French, Chinese, and Spanish. Sriracha pages on Facebook have hundreds of thousands of fans, and at night, the Huy Fong customer service line rings off the hook with drunken pledges of devotion. Sophisticated palates enjoy Sriracha, too; celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten swears by it. When was the last time ketchup got that kind of endorsement?

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a contributing editor to BoingBoing. This entry was excerpted from the 2010 mental_floss magazine story "The United States of Amazing!"

March 13, 2011 - 5:05am
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