Archive for June, 2009

A long plane ride

June 11, 2009

~Christine Chen, TR ’12

Interesting plane rides. From BWI to JFK, the lady who sat next to me said she got jittery on flights, so she had a bloody mary before getting on the plane. As you can guess, she was a little “loose” on the plane. She told me so many things about her life story. A few notable gems:
“Airport security detained me for two hours because of my cookies. They thought they had marijuana in them. You can test me. I’ve been clean for twenty years.”
“I’m a nudist.”
“You’re a doll! You’re such a sweetie pie!” 50 times over.
After offering me cookies, she offered cookies to another passenger two rows away by calling, “Hey Dad! Hey Dad! Hey Dad!” Then when he didn’t take them, she goes, “I’m offended by that. These cookies are the BOMB!”
I have to admit it made the 40-minute plane ride more interesting, but I feel terrible for the person who sits next to her on her 8-hour plane ride to LA.

JFK to BEI was far less entertaining.The far more interesting part was landing in Beijing. Health inspectors came onto the plane and took the temperature of everyone on it. They used a strange device; I wish I could’ve taken out my camera in time. They used some sort of pointer-laser-gun device and just pointed it at a person’s forehead to take his temperature. Anyways, there happened to be one passenger with an abnormal temperature about five rows ahead of me. Here’s a picture of extra-protected health inspectors dressed in a white toxic-waste-removal-sort-of-

outfit surrounding the “sick” passenger.



Asia America, Where have you gone?

June 11, 2009

I’m an American/ Toi la nguoi My.

June 8, 2009

It was strange. After September 11th, 2001, reporters and people started advising that sometimes, in other countries, it was best to keep the fact that you were an American hidden. As if saying “I’m an American” was something to be ashamed of. But I never quite understood this. I could never even fathom why proclaiming your United States citizenship would not protect you in a foreign land. I couldn’t understand it until today when I saw a friend’s shared story on my Facebook update.


Maybe it was because I grew up as an immigrant. Maybe it was the struggle my parents went through to “earn” U.S. citizenship. For some reason or another, I had always thought that because we had sacrificed so much to be living in America, America was surely worth that much and more. America will surely protect me wherever I go. If I was a journalist reporting in London, Vietnam, Spain, any where in the world…I would just have to say “I’m an American/Toi la ngoi My/ Soy de los estados unidos” and justice would be granted, fairness would be provided and my safety guaranteed (As long as I didn’t break the laws, right?)

The journalists who had been shot or the social workers who died because of suicide bombings all over the world didn’t faze me. I wasn’t oblivious to these things but they weren’t convictions,  jail time, or labor camp sentences. I didn’t think that any court of law could defy justice to an American Citizen. I never thought America would have to stand by, unable to do anything to save its people.

But the situation of these American journalists, of these American citizens, is quickly crushing my feeble-founded optimism. Back in March, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested by North Koreans near the China/North Korea border while on assignment to report on human trafficking. They’ve been held by North Korea since then for illegally entering North Korea and other crimes. Many in the U.S. and around the world claim their innocence and demand their release.


Santa Monica, Calif. A candlelight vigil for Laura Ling and Euna Lee at the Wokcano Cafe in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 3, 2009. The journalists, who work for Al Gore’s Current TV network, were reporting on human trafficking when they were detained March 17.(Photo: AP Photo/David Zentz)

Seoul, South Korea Laura Ling and Euna Lee received support from around the world as they are put on trial in North Korea. Protesters at a park in Seoul, South Korea shout slogans during a June 4, 2009, rally. The signs read, "Release Immediately American Journalists!" (Photo: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Seoul, South Korea Laura Ling and Euna Lee received support from around the world as they are put on trial in North Korea. Protesters at a park in Seoul, South Korea shout slogans during a June 4, 2009, rally. The signs read, "Release Immediately American Journalists!" (Photo: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

But nothing has worked. The longer  Euna Lee and Laura Ling stay imprisoned in North Korea and the more Hilary Clinton states that the charges on these Americans are “baseless”, the quicker I’ll realize that saying “I’m an American” won’t guarantee me anything. The more convinced I will be that saying “I’m an American” won’t protect me from injustice, from “baseless” accusations and false convictions.

So America, do something.

(Photo: AP Photo/David Zentz)

(Photo: AP Photo/David Zentz)

You are the hope of so many, the field of myriad opportunities, the shower of ideals. Demand justice for Laura and Euna. Act, so you can shine like the beacon that you are.


June 6, 2009

srirachaAlthough I didn’t learn how to pronounce it until I came to Yale (compliments to Yale’s cultural education) –you can find a botttle of this stuff in my family’s cupboard at all times in Des Moines, Iowa.  For the last 10 years.  We couldn’t quite afford to go without this Hot sauce that has Americanized my mom’s famously unbeatable Pho recipe.

sriracha & pho

See? A Bowl of Pho would be missing the perfect taste, the perfect color, the perfect garnish– if it didn’t have Sriracha

Yalies should identify with Pho well, the Yale Vietnamese Student Association (ViSA) has done a great job in making Pho-culture known to every Yalie. What am I talking about? visapho2visa pho1

pho nigh3

If you haven’t made it out to aViSA Pho Night — Don’t miss out this fall!

But back to Sriracha! Find out where it came from in this recently featured New York Times article:

A Chili Saunce to Crow About

May 20, 2009



Sriracha, compliments of NY Times AFTER-HOURS calls to Huy Fong Foods, here in the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, are intercepted by an answering machine. One recent day, 14 messages were blinking when Donna Lam, the operations manager, hit “play.”

A woman told of smearing Huy Fong’s flagship product, Tuong Ot Sriracha (Sriracha Chili Sauce), on multigrain snack chips. A man proclaimed the purée of fresh red jalapeños, garlic powder, sugar, salt and vinegar to be “the bomb,” and thanked Ms. Lam’s employers for “much joy and pleasure.”

Another caller, hampered by a slight slur, botched the pronunciation of the product name before asking whether discount pricing might be available. Finally, he blurted, “I love rooster sauce!” (A strutting rooster, gleaming white against a backdrop of the bright red sauce, dominates Huy Fong’s trademark green-capped clear plastic squeeze bottles.)

“I guess it goes with alcohol,” deadpanned Ms. Lam, who, like David Tran, the 64-year-old founder of Huy Fong and creator of its sauce, is both proud of the product’s popularity and flummoxed by fans’ devotion.

The lure of Asian authenticity is part of the appeal. Some American consumers believe sriracha (properly pronounced SIR-rotch-ah) to be a Thai sauce. Others think it is Vietnamese. The truth is that sriracha, as manufactured by Huy Fong Foods, may be best understood as an American sauce, a polyglot purée with roots in different places and peoples.

It’s become a sleeve trick for chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

At the restaurant Perry St., in New York City, Mr. Vongerichten’s rice-cracker-crusted tuna with citrus sauce has always relied on the sweet, garlicky heat of sriracha. More recently, he has honed additional uses. “The other night, I used some of the green-cap stuff with asparagus,” Mr. Vongerichten said. “It’s well balanced, perfect in a hollandaise.”

In Houston, at the restaurant Reef, Bryan Caswell, a veteran of Mr. Vongerichten’s kitchens, stirs sriracha into the egg wash he uses to batter fried foods, from crab cakes to oysters to onion rings. “It’s not heavily fermented, it’s not acidic,” said Mr. Caswell, who has won a devoted following for the sriracha rémoulade he often serves with such fried dishes. “It burns your body, not your tongue.”

Sriracha has proved relevant beyond the epicurean realm. Wal-Mart sells the stuff. So do mom-and-pop stores, from Bristol, Tenn., to Bisbee, Ariz.

Sriracha is a key ingredient in street food: The two Kogi trucks that travel the streets of Los Angeles, vending kimchi-garnished tacos to the young, hip and hungry, provide customers with just one condiment, Huy Fong sriracha.

Recently, Huy Fong’s sriracha found its place in the suburbs. Applebee’s has begun serving fried shrimp with a mix of mayonnaise and Huy Fong sriracha. They followed P. F. Chang’s, another national chain, which began using it in 2000, and now features battered and fried green beans with a sriracha-spiked dipping sauce, as well as a refined riff on what both Applebee’s and P. F. Chang’s call dynamite shrimp.

For Mr. Tran, of Chinese heritage but born in Vietnam, neither sriracha-spiked hollandaise nor sriracha-topped tacos with kimchi translate easily.

“I made this sauce for the Asian community,” Mr. Tran said one recent afternoon, seated at headquarters, near a rooster-shaped crystal sculpture.

“I knew, after the Vietnamese resettled here, that they would want their hot sauce for their pho,” a beef broth and noodle soup that is a de facto national dish of Vietnam. “But I wanted something that I could sell to more than just the Vietnamese,” he continued.

“After I came to America, after I came to Los Angeles, I remember seeing Heinz 57 ketchup and thinking: ‘The 1984 Olympics are coming. How about I come up with a Tran 84, something I can sell to everyone?’ ”

What Mr. Tran developed in Los Angeles in the early 1980s was his own take on a traditional Asian chili sauce. In Sriracha, a town in Chonburi Province, Thailand, where homemade chili pastes are favored, natives do not recognize Mr. Tran’s purée as their own.

Multicultural appeal was engineered into the product: the ingredient list on the back of the bottle is written in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French and Spanish. And serving suggestions include pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers and, for French speakers, pâtés.

“I know it’s not a Thai sriracha,” Mr. Tran said. “It’s my sriracha.”

Like many immigrants of his generation, David Tran’s journey from Vietnam to America was epic. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Mr. Tran’s travel, and the travel of his family members, was fueled by chili sauces.

From 1975 onward, Mr. Tran made sauces from peppers grown by his older brother on a farm just beyond Long Binh, a village north of what was then Saigon. The most popular was an oil-based sauce, perfumed by galangal, a pungent relative of ginger. (Mr. Tran intended it as a dip for beef plucked from bowls of pho, it was more popular as a sauce for roasted dog.)

Though he never devised a formal name for his products, Mr. Tran decorated each cap with a rooster, his astrological sign. Production was family focused. Mr. Tran ground the peppers. His father-in-law washed the sauce containers, reusing Gerber baby food jars obtained from American servicemen. His brother-in-law filled the jars with sauce. Itinerant jobbers bought the sauces from Mr. Tran, and sold them to shops and other informal restaurants.

By 1979, many of the Tran family’s friends were leaving Vietnam. “I had enough money saved to buy our way out,” he said.

To limit potential losses, Mr. Tran split the family into four groups: One group went to Indonesia, another to Hong Kong. A third went to Malaysia, and a fourth to the Philippines.

David Tran traveled on a freighter, the Huy Fong. Everyone ended up in United Nations refugee camps, before the family finally began to regroup.

“I was in Boston,” Mr. Tran recalled. “My brother-in-law was in Los Angeles. When we talked on the phone, I asked him, ‘Do they have red peppers in Los Angeles?’ He said yes. And we left.”

“I landed the first week of January in 1980,” he added. “By February, I was making sauce.”

Mr. Tran did not anticipate the popularity of his take on sriracha. He believed the sauce to be good. He took pride in the augers and other apparatuses he designed for the plant. He liked to tell people that all he did was grind peppers, add garlic and bottle it.

He figured that immigrants of Vietnamese ancestry would stock his sriracha at pho shops. He hoped that the occasional American consumer might squirt it on hot dogs and hamburgers.

He could never have expected what he found, one recent afternoon, as he trolled the Internet in search of what fans of his sauce have wrought.

Mr. Tran scanned pictures of 20-something women in homemade Halloween costumes designed to resemble the Huy Fong bottle. He navigated to one of two sriracha Facebook pages, the larger of which has more than 120,000 fans.

He retrieved a favorite picture, of Travis Mason, a 36-year-old coffee salesman from Portland, Ore., who commissioned a tattoo of the Huy Fong logo on his left calf. “I’m always interested in what they do,” Mr. Tran said, his voice filled with genuine wonderment.

Over the last decade, a number of imitators have entered the sriracha category. A recent visit to grocery stores in the San Gabriel Valley, near the Huy Fong headquarters, yielded Cock brand sriracha from Thailand, Shark brand from China, Phoenix brand from Vietnam and Unicorn brand, also from Vietnam.

Each brand included its namesake animal at the center of the bottle. Some copied Huy Fong’s signature script. Others employed similar green caps.

The competition has proved no great hindrance to Huy Fong sales. In 1996, the company expanded, adding processing and storage capacity to meet demand. More than 10 million bottles of sriracha now roll off the Rosemead line each year. With the purchase of a nearby warehouse, the company has begun storing its peppers where Wham-O once manufactured those icons of pop culture, Frisbees and Hula-Hoops.

Demand has continued to build. Fleming’s steakhouses now glaze their lobster en fuego entrees with a mix of sriracha and soy sauce. Roly Poly, another national chain, has begun spiking its cashew chicken wraps with squirts of Huy Fong sriracha.

At Good Stuff Eatery, a burger restaurant in Washington, the owner, Evangelos Mendelsohn, uses a condiment blend of mayonnaise, Huy Fong sriracha and condensed milk.

The Tran family has taken it all in stride. “We’re happy to see these chefs use our sriracha,” said Huy Fong’s president, William Tran, the 33-year-old son of its founder. “But we still sell 80 percent of our product to Asian companies, for distribution through Asian channels. That’s the market we know. That’s the market we want to serve.”