The best condiments start with a homemade recipe, and the devoted and addicted sauce-makers who receive so much acclaim from friends and family that dare to dream, what if? Such is the case with Marie Sharp out of the small Central American country of Belize. Combining grapefruit or orange with local habanero peppers has created spicy greatness. One Belizan joked it could be the country’s biggest export. I brought 14 (!) bottles of Marie Sharps back with me from Belize, which says all you need to know. Beautiful country, beautiful hot sauce.
Sweet Chili for Chicken
It is sold in various brand incarnates, but usually described as sweet chili for chicken. Syrupy with subtle garlic undertones, poultry isn’t the only beneficiary of this Southeast Asian staple. Perfect on sandwiches, or for a sweet-spicy kick in a stir-fry. Like most hot sauces, it also adds a compatible kick to mayo for a makeshift dipping sauce.
Kecap Manis ABC Sauce
I know a tiny authentic Indonesian eatery that makes the crispiest veggie spring rolls, served with a thick, dark sauce for dipping. Since discovering it was ABC Sauce, widely available, a bottle has never been far away from my kitchen. This dark soy sauce has been sweetened with palm sugar, giving it the texture of molasses. I use it to sugar up just about any dish, always adding it to my secret BBQ marinade, and a dribble on the side for spring rolls or chicken wings.
Mama Africas / Nandos / Mrs. Balls
Call me biased (I was born and raised in South Africa), or call me a knowing insider. These sauces are now available worldwide and for good reason. Mama Africas, which began in a small suburban house, is a thick chili relish of varying heat, and is to a cheese or meat sandwich what air is to our lungs. Nandos African birds eye peri-peri sauces come in dozens of delicious guises. Their cooking sauces, most notably the Sweet Apricot or Roasted Red Pepper, make casseroles all they can be. Finally, Mrs. Balls hot or peach chutney is my must-have condiment, as a dip, sauce, or cheese accessory.
Tabasco / Auntie Annies
Yes, I know there are hundreds of hot sauces available from the US, many with names like “Brain Damage” or “Assblaster”. It’s about flavour, not about heat. I travel with Tabasco because it’s small, the bottle doesn’t break, and I’ve grown so accustomed to its distinctive taste I can literally drink it neat. Unbelievably, I grew up in a house with very little spice, but my mom always sprinkled Tabasco on her famous potato salads, a drop or two in her curries. Today I empty half a bottle in my Bloody Mary, almost like comfort food. One more sauce deserves a mention: Auntie Annie’s Goddess Dressing, a tehina-like salad dressing that truly is a blessing.
Sriracha Rooster Sauce
Rooster sauce, far more pronounceable than Huy Fong Sriracha, is a common condiment throughout North America. It’s originally from Thailand but produced wherever it is sold. The “rooster” sauce you know is produced in the United States and used commonly on buffalo wings, even on hot popcorn. With its bright red colouring, it’s not my go-to sauce, but it does have an acceptable heat and consistency for sandwiches, not to mention its best asset – the no-mess easy to squeeze bottle.
It would be simple to describe Pickapeppa as a steak sauce, an HP or Worcester substitute. Condiment connoisseurs know the fruity flavours run much deeper in this brown sauce, brushed with the faint heat of scotch bonnet pepper that lingers on the tongue. Jamaica is famous for its jerk sauce – a sweet and spicy marinade that turns nondescript meat, chicken, veggies and fish into supermodels. Pickapeppa is not a jerk sauce, but the complexity of its ingredients perfectly captures that sweet and spicy world of the Caribbean.
I was over at a Japanese friend’s house, and she steamed up some gyoza and dribbled a little bulldog over it. Another brown, fruity sauce, Bulldog is somewhat sweeter than Pickapeppa, thicker than HP, and used quite a lot in Japanese restaurants. Try as a dip for edamame, or another special ingredient in your homemade BBQ sauces or stews.
Sisters Secret Fragrant Chili
Canada’s entry into the condiment sweepstakes satisfies all my cravings - homemade recipe, healthy ingredients, unique taste, and plenty of heat. The real secret here is how brilliantly Fragrant Chili integrates into your cooking, cranking up the umame factor with a base of soy sauce and the texture of crushed cashews. Hip Vancouver restaurants swear by it, melting it over baked brie or spicing up aioli for yam fries. Sisters Secret is currently only available in Western Canada, but history has shown that exceptional condiments get spread around the world, through word (and taste) of mouth.
When Robin Esrock is not filming his show Word Travels for OLN, he loses himself in the condiment aisles of local supermarkets.