Saturday, March 3, 2007

Rooster Sauce

Many Asian restaurants in North America have Huy Fong brand Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce on the table or available for asking. It is easy to recognize, since the bright red sauce comes in a clear squeeze bottle with an equally bright green cap. And the company's logo of a rooster is prominent in the labelling.

We have a big bottle of Sriracha sauce in the fridge; it's great for squirting in soup or on noodles. And a jar of the closely related Chili Garlic sauce; it has more garlic and is a bit chunkier for dipping fried food in.

The company has its own Wikipedia page and a helpful FAQ on their web site. In an instant, Google finds an in depth article from Los Angeles magazine from a few years ago on the company and its founder. So maybe there isn't much to blog about.

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In the old days, finding this kind of information meant figuring out an authoritative source and then tracking it or him/her down. Now, there are lots of somewhat reliable sources immediately available on the net. And even old media's commitment to fact checking has gotten laxer. So often the problem is piecing together the truth from too much information.

The story of Huy Fong is inspiring. David Tran, an ethnic Chinese (Hoa) immigrant from Vietnam, comes to LA in 1980. He pours his life savings into starting a company to make a better Asian hot sauce. It becomes an Asian-American icon and a staple of post- ketchup and mustard American cuisine generally. It is so successful that it inspires not only cheap imitations but even outright counterfeits with civil battles well into six figures.

The name of the company, Huy Fong Foods Inc., is 匯豐食品公司 Cantonese: wui6 fung1 sik6ban2 gung1si1 Mandarin: hui4 fung1 shi2pin3 gong1si1. Huy Fong was the name of the Taiwanese ship that Tran took from Saigon to Kowloon. As the Los Angeles magazine article explains, 匯 huy means 'flowing together' and 豐 fong means 'big'. I do not know why the ship was named what it was, and Mr. Tran is obviously entitled to have his company's name mean what he intends; but 匯 hui4 also means 'remit (funds)', so 匯豐 hui4 fung1 is 'abundant remittance', specifically the return from the overseas Cantonese Diaspora, as in the Chinese subsidiary of HSBC 香港上海滙豐銀行有限公司 xiang1gang3 shang4hai3 hui4feng yin2hang2 you3xian4 gong1si1 Hong Kong Shanghai Huifeng Bank Ltd. or just 匯豐銀行 hui4feng yin2hang2 for short, using a variant form 滙 of 匯 hui4. It is also transliterated as Wayfoong. (When buying art from post-đổi mới Vietnam we usually wire funds to HSBC accounts there.) Huy Fong Foods' FAQ version shortens the story enough that it isn't clear where the Huy Fong carried Tran; without more of the story from elsewhere it might be interpreted as sailing all the way to the West Coast, rather than being just the first leg. And indeed, the Yahoo business profile has it going across the Pacific from Vietnam to America. According to an LA Times profile, he actually flew from Hong Kong to Boston after finally getting things straight with the INS.

The rooster logo was chosen because David Tran was born in the year of the rooster. From countless Chinese restaurant placemats, I know that I was also born in the year of the rooster. So, I assume Mr. Tran is twelve years older than I am, born in 1945. And indeed, that is what the LA Times profile says. However, the Los Angeles magazine article from April 2001 says that he was 51. Perhaps he is just modest about his age. But again in “Getting to Bottom of Hot Sauce Knockoffs” from the LA Times of April 18, 2005 (copied here), he is 55.

The point is not so much that there is a minor error in these online reports, but rather than each alternate fact is actually spreading in parallel. Let that continue for a few centuries and you have rivals religions.

The name of the sauce on the bottle is Tương Ớt Sriracha. ớt is 'chile pepper'. tương is 'sauce' (without specific qualification, it can be soy sauce: we have a bottle of nước tương thượng hạng 'first-class soy sauce'). A larger (and older) dictionary translates tương ớt as 'chutnee'. Sriracha, or more completely nam prik siracha น้ำพริกศรีราชา náam prík sĕe raa-chaa, is chili sauce from S[r]i Racha, a Thai seaport. ศรี sĕe 'glory' and ราชา raa-chaa 'royal' are loans from Pāli sirī and rājā, cognate with Sanskrit श्री śrī 'glory' and राज rāja 'king'. The same borrowed roots show up in Siriraj (ศิริราช sì-rí râat), a famous hospital named after a prince.

In Chinese, it is 是拉差香甜辣椒酱 M: shi4 la1 cha1 xiang1 tian2 la4jiao1 jiang4 C: si6 laa1 caa1 heung1 tim4 lat6jiu1 zoeng3 'Sriracha savory and sweet hot pepper sauce'. Sriracha is still spelled phonetically. And this is written clockwise at the bottom of the circle, which is to say from right-to-left. Right below it is the company name, all in one line and so left-to-right.

The blurb on the back is in English, French, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Sriracha, made from sun ripened chiles, is ready to use in soups, sauces, pasta, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chow mean or on anything to add a delicious spicy taste.
The French and Spanish could use a little work but are straight translations.
Sriracha aux piments forts est faite à partir de piments mûris au soleil ne nécessite aucune préparation pour accompagner soupe, sauce, pâte, hot dog, hamburger, chow mein ou quelque chose qui peut lui donner un bon goût pimenté.
Sriracha salsa picante hecha con chiles madurados al sol, lista para usar en sopas, salsas, pasta, pizza, perros calientes, hamburguesas, chow mein o en cualquiera cosa para darle un sabor picante y delicioso.
The Chinese is significantly different (it is written vertically right-to-left).
Mandarin: wu2 jia1 se4 su4 zhi1 shi4 la1 cha1 xiang1 tian2 la4 jiao1 jiang4 nai3 cai3 yong4 te4 zhong3 da4 hong2 xin1 xian1 zhi1 zhi3 tian1 jiao1 xiang1 suan4 jing1 zhi4 er2 cheng2 yong4 yu2 tiao2 he2 ge4 zhong3 yu2 rou4 mian4 jiao3 shi2 liao4 dou1 mei3 wei4 ke3 kou3 qie3 jiu3 cang2 qi4 wei4 bu4 bian4 pin3 zhi4 dan1 bao3
pure no color added, Sriracha hot pepper sauce, uses a special kind of big red fresh ones, made using fresh peppers refined by fragrant garlic; use together with every kind of fish / meat / noodles / dumplings / every delicious food stuff; keeps its flavor for a long time; quality guaranteed.
As is the Vietnamese (with a translation much improved from mine thanks to herr.ziffer and his father — see comments).
Tương ớt Sriracha thơm cay đặc biệt, chỉ cần thêm một ít vào mì, phở, hay các loại thịt, quí vị sè hài lòng vơi bữa ăn thật ngon miệng.
Siracha pepper sauce is especially fragrant and hot; one only needs to taste a little on wheat noodles, soup, or any kind of meat, distinguished customer, in order to be gratified by a meal that is truly delicious (to the mouth).
Vietnamese and Chinese speakers aren't expected to put it on American food and no Asian dishes are given in the European language translations.

Their Chili Garlic Sauce is Tương Ớt Tỏi Việt-Nam or 越南蒜蓉辣椒酱 M:  yue4nan2 suan4 jung4 la4jiao1 jiang4 C:  yut6naam4 syun3 rong2 lat6jiu1 zoeng3 'Vietnamese garlic mash hot pepper sauce'. Tỏi is 'garlic', which will probably be the topic for another post.

Huy Fong products are available in the regular supermarket around here. A quick check on the shelves in markets in Chinatown finds a couple of Sriracha sauces from Thailand, both made in Chonburi, the province that Sriracha is in. Flying Goose Brand Nhãn Con Ngỗng Bay 標商鵝飛 M: biao1 shang1 e2 fei1 is packaged similarly (this might not be an accident). It actually says น้ำพริก ศรีราชา náam prík sĕe raa-chaa on it. Flying Goose comes in several flavors; the one I happened to see was “Super Sour” Chua Cay 特級酸 M: te4 ji2 suan1. But it does have MSG (E621) in it. Shark Brand is in a big glass bottle with a colorful label featuring ripe chilis in the middle and a shark in the corner. The label is all in English, except for the metal cap on the top, which says, “Pure Chili Sauce” ซอสพริกล้วน sôt prík lúan and โกศล-อัมพา Kosol-Ampa, the name of the company. And the safety seal which says 辣中 M: la1 zhong1 'medium hot', “Medium” and เผ็ดกลาง pèt glaang. And very fine print beneath a حلال ḥalāl logo, which I believe says สนง.คณะกรรมการกลางอิสลามแห่งประเทศไทย sŏr-nor-ngor ká-ná gam gaan glaang ìt-sà-sà-laam hàeng bprà-têt tai 'Office of The Central Islamic Committee Of Thailand'. Thai Sriracha is a little too sweet for me. So I'm mostly sticking with Rooster Sauce.


herr.ziffer said...

Here's an attempted translation of the Vietnamese:

Siracha pepper sauce is especially fragrant and hot; one only needs to taste a little on wheat noodles, soup, or any kind of meat, distinguished customer, in order to be gratified by a meal that is truly delicious (to the mouth).

herr.ziffer said...

Here is the parsing for that translation, thanks to my father:

1. tuong ot: pepper sauce
2. thom cay: fragrant and 'hot' (post-positioned adjective)
3. dac biet: special (especially) (post-positioned adverb)
4. chi: just, only
5. can: need (there's an implied pronoun, so 'one only needs')
6. them: taste
7. mot it: one little (a little, a little bit)
8. vao mi, pho: on (wheat) noodles or 'pho' (that's wheat too, isn't it? or is pho rice noodles?) (vao is a preposition)
9: hay cac loai thit: or all sorts of meat (meat of any kind) (hay is a conjunction)
10. qui vi: 'honored personage' (honorific address, fulfilling the earlier implied pronoun)
11. se: will (future particle) (be)
12. hai long: satisfied
13. voi: with (preposition)
14. bua an: a meal
15. that: true (truly)
16. ngon mieng: delicious to the mouth

herr.ziffer said...

Again, my father, who had a small career a few years back translating Vietnamese:

"Expressions tend to be two syllables, as thom cay, dac biet, qui vi, hai long, bua an, ngon mieng; in particular, the mieng is superfluous (although there is an infrequently used expression 'delicious to the eyes'), but it wouldn't feel right not to attach some additional syllable to balance the expression - that's the poetry of the language.... "

MMcM said...

Thanks! To you and your father. I've substituted in your translation.

Bob said...

Hi, if you need it, here is a nice talking chinese dictionary.

Owen said...

In case you want to look at the Los Angeles Magazine article from 4/01, it's no longer on Geocities. Of course, Google is the repository for all information...

Miss Sara Bara said...

This is great info... I'm wondering what the logo translates to, including the (Chinese?) writing at the bottom of the logo, just above both the Chinese and English "Huy Fong Foods Inc.")

Is it just "Tuong Ot Sriracha" written in Chinese?

MMcM said...

Miss Sara Bara, see the paragraph in the post starting, "In Chinese, ..." It says, as you suspected, more or less the same thing.

i a n Sumrall said...