Today's New York Times food story on our legendary local Sriracha Chili Sauce has been the subject of some chatter on blogs and Twitter, and I even got an email from an LA Observed reader who snarked that it was the kind of story "the L.A. Times used to do." The thing is, I'm not sure he knew that the LAT's Peter Hong did do that story — as a front page Column One way back on Jan. 17, 1997. And I quote:
Without knowing it, you might be among the millions of Americans burned by David Tran. And if so, you probably liked it.
A diminutive, balding man who comes to work in coveralls, Tran is known to few beyond his family and 15 workers at his Rosemead hot sauce factory.
But his fiery red sriracha (sree-rah-chah) relish, packaged in a green-topped clear-plastic squeeze bottle that looks like it was meant to hold glue, has captured the hearts and minds of spicy-food fans from Fresno to France.
Tran sold about $7-million worth of hot sauce last year. That is way beyond what he expected when he started mashing peppers to make ends meet 17 years ago as a newly arrived Vietnamese refugee. "I thought I might make a thousand dollars a month, and I wouldn't have to work for somebody else," Tran said.
He has not advertised the sauce, which first appeared at a handful of Southern California Asian markets and on the tables of Vietnamese noodle shops. But enthusiasts--some of whom liken their first taste of the sauce to a gustatory epiphany--began to pass bottles on to friends. By word of (scorched) mouth, sriracha moved out of the Asian ethnic enclaves and spread like a California wildfire.
I'll be squeezing some on the chicken as soon as the grill heats up.