WWord of the looming shortage spread in April. California-based Huy Fong Foods, one of the world’s largest producers of sriracha – a sweet and spicy hot sauce made from chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar that has become a staple in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine almost as commonplace as ketchup – he said Los Angeles Times that “spiral events” and poor spring weather had led to an “unexpected crop failure” of red jalapeño chiles at its suppliers in Mexico. Given that Huy Fong Foods processes around 45.3 million kilograms of chilies every year – or roughly the equivalent of 52 HMCS Sackville Ships – this poses a significant production problem.
“Without this important ingredient, we cannot make any of our products,” the company wrote in a letter to its customers.
Huy Fong Foods paused all orders placed after mid-April until September.
Months of shortages have led to a California restaurant offering free food in exchange for sriracha and a BC grocer to auction its last few bottles for charity. (“Of all the supply chain issues in the world, this one feels personal,” a Vietnamese street food hangout in Los Angeles lamented on Instagram in June.)
But if the sriracha shortage has emptied your kitchen cupboards, it also presents an opportunity to try a different flavor – and at The Coast we’ve got you covered. We spoke to three local grocers and hot sauce vendors to get their recommendations.
JJ Korean Mart (Göttinger Strasse 2326)
Go-to Sauce: Gochujang
Sohee Moon has been delivering Korean goods to the north end of Halifax for four years. As co-owner of JJ Korean Mart near the corner of Gottingen and Buddy Daye streets, Moon has witnessed her homeland’s cuisine rise in popularity over the past few years, from bibimbap to bulgogi.
She recommends gochujang, a thick, sweet-and-spicy fermented chili paste, as an alternative to sriracha—and she has a shelf full of the paste in her shop, ranging in heat from mild to extra hot.
It goes for “everything,” she tells The Coast – whether it’s “pasta and chicken and rice” or street food tteokbokkimade from steamed and fried rice cake noodles cooked with fish cakes and scallions.
For a bit more flavor, Moon says, try mixing gochujang with sesame oil, vinegar, and a pinch of sugar next time you want to add a pinch of spice to your dish.
Thomeh Market Kwik Way (5580 Cornwallis Street)
Go-to Sauce: Sambal Oelek (Chili Garlic Sauce)
Born in the Da Nang region of central Vietnam, Danny Vo has a high tolerance for chillies.
“The spiciest food in Vietnam is in the middle [of the country]’ boasts Vo, who owns Thomeh Market Kwik-Way.
After arriving in Halifax in 2019, Vo and his wife Clara took over the Kwik-Way from longtime owner Joe Thomeh earlier this summer. The two have worked to stock the shelves with more Vietnamese and Thai offerings — and eventually to serve their own hot dishes, from curries to spring rolls to hot and sour soups.
Vo recommends sambal oelek as a condiment you can put on sandwiches, in stir-fries and pad thai, or in soups — “any type of food, as long as you like something spicy,” he tells The Coast. If you want to dress it up in a marinade, Vo adds, you can pair it with barbecue sauce.
From Mild to Wild Hot Sauce Shop (5640 Spring Garden Road)
Go-to Sauce: Hellfire Club Habanero Hot Sauce
The moment you enter David Jobe’s orbit, you’ll be thrown into a hot sauce hurricane. As a boy in Truro, Jobe walked around with Tabasco sauce in his pocket — “because I was going to my friends’ house for a barbecue and they had ketchup,” he tells The Coast.
Since opening his first hot sauce shop on Barrington Place in 1992, the owner of From Mild to Wild Hot Sauce Shop has traveled the world in search of Scoville-topped sauces and condiments. (The Scoville scale, which measures the hotness of a pepper, was developed in 1912.) He can rattle off a cupboard’s worth of bottles that he insists you try, and he’ll get poetic with everyone, like an audiophile talks about his vinyl collection or your uncle keeps talking about the Leafs’ last Stanley Cup in 1967.
“There’s always something different for hot sauces,” says Jobe, before rhyming through half a dozen bottles that he recommends for enhancing everything from steak and turkey to pancakes and ice cream.
However, his signature sauce is a recipe he perfected while living in China for 10 years: “It’s an Asian seafood sauce, [but] I added a bit of flair with the papaya…you get the sweetness of the tomato at the beginning and apple cider vinegar and habanero at the end, so you can almost outrun the heat.”