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Sri Racha Sauce: a Thai Symbol of the Global Economy?
Often one of the first foods that newcomers to Thailand will try is sriracha sauce. Surprisingly, this spicy, tangy condiment named after the coastal town in Chonburi province is as much an example of the modern global economy as any new-fangled smartphone app.
Over the years the sauce has become a favourite across Southeast Asia, used for seafood and just about anything else in Thailand; noodles and spring rolls in Vietnam. However its story took on an unexpectedly global twist when David Tran, who grew his own chillies, made and sold the sauce in his native village, just outside Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) fled his war-torn country in 1979.
On arriving in the US, he started a business selling his sauce from the back of a van in Los Angeles and it has since become a massive hit around the world, particularly in the US. He called his company Huy Fong foods, after the freighter ship that transported Tran from Vietnam. The sriracha sauce’s packaging shows phrases in Vietnamese, Chinese, French, English, and Spanish giving Americans the impression that it is an exotic imported product. Yet in reality, Tran has actually kept the product local – he has used the same independent California firm to supply red jalape?o peppers for over 25 years and bottles the resulting condiment in the same state.
A similar story occurred in the UK in the 1990s. At the time, Carlsberg beer dominated British Indian restaurants. Cambridge law graduate and qualified chartered accountant Karan Bilimoria decided to take the Danish giants on, to introduce a beer that would be more complementary to British Indian food. Although initially brewing and importing the beer from India to the UK, it became much simpler and cost-effective to brew in Britain. So, a beer with Hindi script on its label was conceived for, and eventually brewed in, Great Britain.
In 2012 alone, Huy Fong Foods sold 20 million bottles of its sriracha sauce and is now not only a staple sauce across America, but around the world. If you go to the Vietnamese quarter of Paris, for example, it would be unusual not to find the Huy Fong variety on a restaurant table or supermarket shelf.
Tran’s company is currently expanding into a new factory and is about to become the subject of a 30-minute documentary thanks to independent film-maker Griffin Hammond. Hammond has been eating the sauce for several years and recently launched a campaign to raise a USD 5,000 budget to be able to make the picture.
The film-maker reached his target in eight hours and with just a few days left until the funding closes, he has around USD 18,000 worth of pledges. This means that he will now be able to travel to Sri Racha to discover the origins of the sauce. He has achieved and surpassed his target using the technique of crowd-sourcing – whereby a person or company raises money from wherever in the world through an internet-based community.
The donation is often treated as an investment, giving the donator certain privileges or even a share in the business, depending on the size of the pledge. Hammond offered rewards from free tickets to preview screenings, to executive producer accreditation on the Kickstarter website. He plans to complete the documentary by September to meet 2014 film festival deadlines.
It just goes to show how a humble Thai sauce can demonstrate many facets of the global economy.
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