ONCE UPON a time, a poor widow in China opened a noodle shop. The noodles were good, but the spicy, crunchy sauce she put on them was even better. Soo
ONCE UPON a time, a poor widow in China opened a noodle shop. The noodles were good, but the spicy, crunchy sauce she put on them was even better. Soon, people came from far and wide to buy it (while rivals tried their best to copy it). The enterprising widow, Tao Huabi, decided to open a factory to bottle her magic sauce. It became the best-selling chile-sauce brand in China and made Ms. Tao a billionaire.
This is the true story of chile crisp, a chile oil boosted by crunchy chiles, fermented soybeans, garlic and, okay, MSG. The “it” condiment of the pandemic, this vigorous booster of taste and texture is a gift to fatigued cooks struggling to find joy in the kitchen. Unlike so many game-changing Asian ingredients that Westerners “discover,” this one is actually relatively new. Ms. Tao launched her Lao Gan Ma, or “Godmother,” brand in 1997. It is now available worldwide.
Noodles, dumplings and stir-fries are obvious and very good uses for this sauce. But the chile-crisp-mad internet has inspired all manner of mashups. Chile crisp on broccoli, pineapple and even vanilla ice cream are all guaranteed to garner likes.
Where to Buy
Amazon offers Lao Gan Ma for $7 per 7.4-ounce jar. Fly By Jing offers an MSG-free 6-ounce jar for $15 (flybyjing.com). And celeb chef David Chang’s version, called Chili Crunch, is $10 per 5.3-ounce jar (shop.momofuku.com).
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