The Best Asian Chilli Sauces To Try In 2021
A new generation of Hongkongers are creating chilli sauces with distinctively Asian identities. The Tatler team grabs a glass of cold milk and sweats it out with eight of them
From Koon Yick to Yu Kwen Yick to Tso Hin Kee, Hong Kong’s most popular chilli sauces have rich histories and appear on tables throughout the city: whether daubed on dumplings, swirled into soups, used in meat marinades or splashed onto rice or noodles, spice forms a backdrop to local food culture.
Now, a new generation of producers is looking to the past for traditional techniques while forging into the future with inventive ingredients, complex flavours and slick branding. Here are some of the best new sauces on the scene.
Flagrant Hot Sauce
Created by three friends who tested out their prototypes on friends and customers while working at Yardbird, Flagrant Hot Sauce uses yuzu kosho, a Japanese paste of yuzu zest and fermented chilies, as well as koji, a kind of rice used to make sake, and soy sauce, from a family-owned brewery in Hyogo. Co-founder Kiyoshi Hoshimi-Caines recommends pairing it with yakitori, fried chicken, oysters, burgers and pizza.
The verdict: The heat was rated as mild yet sharp and tangy with a steady, enduring burn. Tatler’s tasting team unanimously agreed its zing and thinner viscosity made it a great match with fast food.
Available at Yardbird and Sake Central, or online at Fiyah! Heat Store
In just five years, Adam Cliff and Bella Kong’s Thai noodle restaurant Samsen has earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand and cemented itself as a jewel in Hong Kong’s dining crown. Samsen’s punchy sauces enable diners to take a little of the magic home.
Toasted Chilli Vinegar
The verdict: As well as in-your-face acidity, this vinegar uses the toasting treatment to add depth and intrigue. A favourite of the founders of Fiyah! Heat Store, this would bring the best out of fish cakes, chicken, Thai salads, dumplings or fried rice.
Fried Chilli & Thai Garlic Oil
The verdict: Smoky, umami and garlicky were how this oily concoction was described by the team, who noted that its ratio of oil to solids was spot on and that its heat is fairly gentle. Goes with? “Everything—maybe even vanilla ice cream,” said one taster.
The Chilli Lab
Unctuous and fiery, with a balance between chilli, oil and garlic, The Chilli Lab sauce is made to complement Asian comfort foods. Its simple ingredient list belies the level of attention that has gone into the recipe, which was passed down to maker Coba Cheng through three generations of his family.
The verdict: This is the hottest sauce in the line-up, but the burn is layered with garlic and sour notes that give it a satisfying flavour. Be warned, however: a little goes a long way. Asian food was the clear pairing choice, especially noodles, dumplings and soups. It would also make an excellent marinade.
Buy online at thechillilab.hk
See also: The Best Thai Restaurants In Hong Kong
Such is the success of Fat Chad’s—the self-proclaimed “boozy bodega” in Sai Ying Pun—that the sandwich shop launched its own range of sauces, condiments, pickles and dressings in January. Of the 18 flavours available, two are spicy: serrano green mango and fermented black lime. Taran Chadha, a chef and Fat Chad’s co-founder, says that the red sauce, the hotter of the two, is the best-seller and goes well with meat, barbecues, on Mexican food or in a bloody mary, while the green is more of a dip or finishing sauce for a curry and pairs best with seafood and vegetables.
Serrano Green Mango
The verdict: This was the team’s favourite sauce in the line-up. Tasters described it as juicy and sweet but with a sharp tang; akin to salsa or pickled relishes found in South Asian food. The heat is mild. It goes well with sandwiches, eggs, tacos, nachos or as a marinade for meat.
Fermented Black Lime
The verdict: Zesty, fermented notes shone through a creeping heat. Grilled meat and vegetables, fish tacos, chicken skewers and Nepalese momos would all be excellent pairings for this crowd-pleaser.
Buy from Fat Chad’s
Mad Jelly Co
From its kitsch packaging to thoughtful flavour combinations, Mad Jelly Co is a small producer that packs a punch. The city’s first crowd-funded chilli brand nearly tripled its Kickstarter goal in January, making Killer Berry and Hot Dancing Shrimp sauces a reality before the first batch speedily sold out. Mad Jelly’s co-founders Chloe Ho Ching-ching and Tao Yuen-ting set out to make sauces that ticked health boxes: both are keto-friendly and use “superfood” ingredients, such as longans, goji berries and extra-virgin olive oil.
Hot Dancing Shrimp
The verdict: Tasters liked both of Mad Jelly Co’s sauces equally. This one was praised for its “big hit” of Sichuan peppercorns, coriander notes, shrimp flavour and numbing fruitiness. This would be a solid condiment for Asian food, such as seafood fried rice, a hot pot dipping sauce or a big plate of noodles.
The verdict: The fragrant, herbal bouquet fascinated tasters, who couldn’t seem to agree on what it would match with: one said more western foods like roast lamb or chicken, others considered it better-matched with cold wu dong noodles or deep-fried Southeast Asian snacks. The flavour of dried berries and herbs pair with a manageable heat in a more traditional Chinese chilli oil base.
Buy from madjelly.co