So Long, Huy Fong

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Huy Fong Garlic Chili Sauce has been a mainstay in my life for several years now, right along with my morning French Press coffee, both charter members of my potent morning routine.

Every breakfast, I liberally condiment each item on my plate: two eggs over easy, the bed of sautéed vegetables whereupon they rest, and half an avocado.

I was running dangerously low on the stuff and had planned to pick some up at the Dekalb Farmers Market on Monday. Instead of seeing shelves teeming with the garlic chili sauce and its shelfmate, Sriracha, I saw signs saying that they were out of stock.  When the Dekalb Farmers Market is out of an item, that’s serious business.

No problem. I could wait until it came back in stock. This is America, right, so surely, it would be back in stock.  I’d just go find it somewhere else.

I drove over to Publix and made a b-line for the Asian section where I had purchased it before. Nothing. Maybe they moved it. I checked the regular condiment aisle. No dice.

I ambled back over to the Asian aisle and tried practicing my retail magic trick: I stood in front of the shelf where the garlic chili sauce should be and would stand there until it materialized.

I focused everything I had on that shelf so I was shocked to see that not only was there no Garlic Chili sauce on the shelf, but the placard holding its shelf space had been removed.

Sweet Lort! What on earth was going on? This was serious.  My mind started racing. What if I couldn’t get my hands on the stuff? What was I going to do? That chili sauce, partnered with some fresh jalapeno slices every morning, were my daily insurance policy for high respiratory performance.

I wasn’t about to give up so easily. My third and final stop – sure to be triumphant – was to the FIRST ORIENTAL MARKET on E. Ponce de Leon. I did wonder if the Chinese proprietors knew that their market’s nomenclature was politically incorrect but that would be a conversation for another day.

I pushed my way through the front door with such force that the “a customer’s here” bell flew off and landed in a box on the floor filled with konji noodles.

I pulled out my phone and showed the clerk a photo of the garlic chili sauce.

“Do you have this?” I asked, locking my eyes on hers, holding my breath.

The lovely clerk smiled. “Oh, no. Nobody has that now.”

“Why? What’s going on?” I asked, trying to mask my mounting desperation.

“Something to do with a shortage of the chilis,” she smiled.

“What am I gonna do? I put that stuff on everything.”

Just then, her co-worker piped up with a suggestion for a Thai chili sauce and promptly walked me over to its shelf. “Thank you,” I said. “I’ll take it from here.” I stood there reading the label’s most-disappointing ingredients. The jar was full of soybean oil and monosodium glutamate. I set it back in its place on the shelf and headed for the door.

“MSG puts me in anaphalactic shock so I have to pass,” I chirped on my way out the door.

Back in my car, I sat still, silent. I needed to normalize my breathing and collect myself.

I went to Google and entered, “HUY FONG Garlic Chili sauce” and was chilled to the bone to discover that the manufacturer, Huy Fong, located in Irwindale, California, had had to halt production due to an inability to get its hands on the signature red jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico. Each year, Huy Fong goes through 50,000 tons of those chilis in order to create their three mainstay items: Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, Chili Garlic, and Sambal Oelek, at least one of which – if not all – are found on the dining tables of every Asian-based restaurant in the nation.

Huy Fong had sent out a letter to their wholesale customers explaining the reasons for the shortage. “…Weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers” and a “megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change” were the two main culprits. One of those culprits would’ve been sufficient.

So not only is my favorite condiment kaput but I am to blame for it?

This was a solid example of global warming turning local – and hitting below the belt. A friend mentioned recently that she had read an article stating that global warming might very well wipe out the wild salmon supply. My breathing ceased. Wild salmon is another staple in my weekly diet.

“But probably not in our lifetime,” she followed up. Oh! Okay, then. My breathing returned.

“You know,” she said, “I never thought about global warming before I heard about that salmon thing. I eat a lot of salmon. Isn’t it funny how I didn’t pay any attention until I became directly affected?”

Feeling defeated, I drove back home and went to tell my friend, Diane, about the garlic chili sauce shortage which might very well turn into a garlic chili sauce extinction. I sought comfort in the love of her beautiful dog, Angel – which Angel generously offered – yet I may have been petting her a tad too stridently.

Like any good friend, Diane wanted to make me feel better. “There’s a hot sauce that I use that I just love…” she started.

I cut her off, turning my palm towards her face in that old “talk to the hand” posture.

“Just hold on,” I said. “Wait. I don’t want to hear about any substitutions until I know for sure that I can’t get my hands on my stuff. I’ve been in relationship with that sauce for years. I’m pre-grieving.”

The situation felt so overwhelming that I had to go lie down on the sofa, where I soon fell into a sleep so deep that I felt as if I’d been sprinkled with poppy dust.

When I awakened,  I realized that I still had a couple more options before I surrendered to the 5th stage of grief: acceptance. Huy Fong supplies every Asian restaurant in the city of Atlanta and Atlanta is loaded with Asian-based cuisine. There’s got to be a supply of the stuff somewhere. I fancy myself going door-to-door asking and expecting the generous restaurateurs to take pity on me and give me a jar. Maybe even their last one.

I can also easily stop by some mom and pop Indian shops down the road. I’ll find out when “pop” is working by himself and go in and turn on the charm. If I decide to do that, though, I’m going to have to go to my car trunk and yank out all the low-cut tops that were on their way to Goodwill. Give them a “farewell tour” before I step fully into my caftan era.

News of the Huy Fong shortage has been featured on major news networks. The global warming that caused it should’ve been the top news of the day for the past 30 years, don’t you agree? But, hey, hindsight is 20/20, right?

To assuage the general public’s anxiety and need to know,  the good people at Huy Fong have made it known that they have “no estimation of when supply will increase.”

The writing is on the wall. And soon enough, I’ll have to accept it.

But I’m going to have to go through a proper grieving period first.

And that’s the right thing to do to honor a relationship that’s brought me so much consistent pleasure and fulfillment over so many years.

Penultimate

Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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