Rewriting history

A selection of much-coveted mild Sriracha sauces at Hattakamamakarn

This was a long, long time ago, but there used to be a band called The Lover Speaks. I first heard them on the radio in the short few years when my tiny town had an alternative radio station, and my musical taste has been frozen in the year 1987 ever since. When I went to boarding school in Pittsburgh, I “borrowed” a cassette tape of The Lover Speaks’ first (and only?) album and conveniently forgot to ever return it. Naturally, I lost it after moving to Thailand because karma does happen, even if it happens slowly.

Even though, for whatever reason, the band The Lover Speaks faded away, Annie Lennox eventually covered my favorite The Lover Speaks song, “No More I Love Yous”. But imagine my chagrin when no one I talked to remembered the original version, and did not know of Annie Lennox’s song as a cover. Even though it was not Annie Lennox’s fault, it made me annoyed towards her, to the point that I don’t like hearing her version which inevitably pops up on something like “Murder at the End of the World” and takes me right out of the story. It is not an Annie Lennox original! There was someone who thought of it first!

So, when not one but several people I talked to — people I thought of as intelligent and informed people, even — said to me (confidently and to my face!) that Sriracha sauce was an invention by David Tran, the Vietnamese-American who started Huy Fong Foods, I was once again perturbed, chagrined like a Taylor Swift fan during the Matt Healy era. Sriracha sauce is Thai! It is named after a Thai town! David Tran got the name when he came to Thailand before going to the U.S.! There is a reason why he did not name it Vietnam Sauce!

But maybe they can be excused, since (unlike The Lover Speaks’ existence), the origin story of Sriracha itself is pretty murky. Adam Gottschalk of @otr.offtherails does a great deep dive on the Sriracha story featuring my favorite Sriracha sauce maker and probable creator of the original formula, Lakud Suwanprasop of Gold Medals Sriracha sauce. The bottles, which are still filled with small-batch Sriracha made from hand-picked and fermented goat peppers in Khun Lakud’s backyard, are sold from a store marked as Hattakamamakarn on Google Maps, on Fueng Nakorn road next to Wat Ratchabophit. The story of how his family, who used to all sleep together on the second floor of this tiny shophouse, ended up in Bangkok is very ably covered here. But if you are too lazy to click onto the link, basically different branches of the family ended up being involved with different companies that all — rather correctly, it turns out — consider themselves the original.

But Gold Medals is still hand-made, by Khun Lakud who is at least 80 years old. On my last visit to the shop, the tiny space was filled with people waiting for Khun Lakud as he painstakingly wetted the backs of a couple of Sriracha sauce labels, putting them onto the glass bottles by hand. A woman, hands in her lap, waited patiently in a chair next to him as a fan whirred back and forth between them. At least three other people were standing, waiting for what they hoped would be their turn to watch Khun Lakud as he fixed labels on their own bottles with the kind of silent concentration that a dog has when you are training him with a Milk-Bone. I felt lucky when Khun Lakud called me to sit in the special chair next, and I made my order, a manageable two bottles of anything he had (extra spicy was what was left, 60 baht for two).

It turns out they had all called before and ordered 10-20 bottles from him beforehand. As I inwardly freaked out about there not being any bottles left for me, a younger Thai girl who I assumed was a descendent came out of the back room and looked shocked to see everyone. “You ordered before?” she said to one person who told her she’d ordered 10. “Did you talk to him?” she said, pointing to Khun Lakud as he continued with the labels. “Because he’s likely forgotten.”

“There are no bottles reserved in back?” the customer asked. This was met with a no. “There aren’t even 20 bottles!” she said. It was a free-for-all. What were they going to do, arm wrestle for the remaining bottles?

I felt bad for them as I paid and left the shophouse. I didn’t dare to gloat until I reached home.

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