So hot right now: A guide to cult condiments

Annabel Smith
A squiggle of French's mustard on a classic hotdog.
A squiggle of French's mustard on a classic hotdog. Photo: Tanya Lake

No hip foodie joint would be caught dead without a cult condiment on its retro tabletops. Here's a guide to some of the most popular sauces going round.

Sriracha sauce

The green-capped, cockerel-stamped red bottle is so hot right now – found atop the tables at Melbourne's Chin Chin, Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney and plenty of places in between. There's even a documentary exploring the condiment's origins, and a Sriracha Festival was held in Los Angeles last year.

Sriracha is a pulpy, pungent mix of fresh jalapeno chillis, garlic, vinegar, sugar and salt, and it goes with everything. David Tran, 68, a Vietnamese immigrant and the sauce's shy founder, is tight-lipped about the condiment's growth (an estimated 20 million bottles are produced each year) and famously doesn't advertise. The sauce's Australian distributor revealed that demand for the sauce increased by 30 per cent last year. With mountains of merchandise including "I put Sriracha on my Sriracha" T-shirts, recipe books and rooster-adorned high heels, Sriracha hot sauce is the undisputed king of cult condiments.

Sriracha bottles lined up at  Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney.
Sriracha bottles lined up at Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney. Photo: Quentin Jones

How to use it

Small Victories chef Alric Hansen suggests Sriracha converts use the sauce "liberally, with anything". The Melbourne cafe goes through about five bottles a week, serving the sauce with signature BBQ pork belly and Korean BBQ wagyu sandwiches – and customers request it with their eggs. Hansen first encountered Sriracha about 10 years ago when it was still "very underground" and finds it has been consistent. "I like how acidic it is; I'm a big fan of vinegar," Hansen says.

French's classic yellow mustard.
French's classic yellow mustard. 

French's Classic Yellow Mustard

This inoffensive mustard, in a curvaceous, primary yellow squeeze bottle, is an American diner classic and often used for that signature squiggle on a hotdog. Melbourne's Huxtaburger uses French's on its burgers, which have gained a cult following of their own. After training in the United States, Huxtaburger's Daniel Wilson chose French's because "[it's] that classic American mustard" for burgers, bready pretzels and hotdogs.

How to use it

Looking beyond burgers, Wilson suggests adding the mild mustard to coleslaw. "Because it is slightly sweeter, you could put it through a slaw because it's piquant without being too spicy like a Dijon," he says. "It's a good one for kids."


Kewpie mayonnaise

With its cute Kewpie doll-adorned sheath, this Japanese mayonnaise packs a umami punch. The creamy mayonnaise uses egg yolks rather than whole eggs, which adds a distinctive richness. This is balanced by vinegar and a savoury boost from MSG, hence a squirt from the squeezy, pliable bottle is an addictive addition to many a meal. Plus, who can resist a mayonnaise with its own mascot?

How to use it

Kewpie mayonnaise has its own mascot.
Kewpie mayonnaise has its own mascot. Photo: Richard Cornish

"I really like Kewpie with any kind of seafood, especially fried fish fingers, soft shell crab – it works so well with fried seafood," Hansen says.

Canberra's Mocan and Green Grout does just that, pairing soft shell crab with Sriracha and Kewpie in a cult condiment double punch.

Tongue-tingling Tabasco.
Tongue-tingling Tabasco. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Tabasco sauce

Sriracha may be in the hot-sauce limelight but Tabasco still reigns. The world's most popular hot sauce was established in 1868 on Avery Island, Louisiana. The Victorian-era sauce was first distributed in old cologne bottles, and the small glass vessels remain recognisable. Advertisements circa 1899 proclaimed that Tabasco "should be on every well-appointed table" and the bottles still grace many in cafes, bars, diners and restaurants.

Tabasco sauce is made from aged red tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. One look at the online store and the sauce's cult status is cemented – with Tabasco-spiked chocolate, jerky, jelly beans and ice-cream available.

How to use it

Add a twist to classic aioli.
Add a twist to classic aioli. Photo: Marina Oliphant

James Metcalfe, head chef at Sydney's The Bourbon, is a big fan of Tabasco. "I like putting it on top of pizza. I also like having it on ribs. I generally put it on a lot of stuff – spaghetti bolognese works well, steak – but pizza's my favourite," Metcalfe says.

At his New Orleans-inspired restaurant, Metcalfe makes his own version of the hot sauce, poaching long red chillies with a touch of chilli powder to create a "luminous orange" drop that's "not as fierce" as traditional Tabasco. This previously off-menu hot sauce will soon grace The Bourbon's table caddies. Metcalfe can't go past the original Tabasco for cocktails, insisting that a dash (or few) gives a Bloody Mary its essential kick.

Secret recipe: HP sauce.
Secret recipe: HP sauce. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Aioli with a twist

Originally a provincial garlic mayonnaise, chefs are experimenting with flavoured aiolis to complement dishes. Naomi Lowry, head chef at Sydney's Tappo Osteria, is a prolific aioli maker, trialling saffron, squid ink, orange and lemon, apple and fennel, and porcini variations on the garlicky classic. A recent creation, a coddled egg aioli, beefed up the egg factor and incorporated six-minute eggs, with the still-runny yolk subtly colouring the mayonnaise.

Tips and how to use it

Lowry's tip for anyone experimenting at home is to incorporate a few drops of boiling water at the end of the emulsion. This helps to prevent the mixture from splitting. Don't be afraid to get creative. The strangest aioli Lowry has tasted was a vanilla aioli paired with licorice-poached salmon at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck.

Lowry says aioli is a versatile sauce and is great for "snacky, dipping foods". She uses it to cut through fried foods like arancini, and says it's popular because "I just think people, they like something to dip".

HP Sauce

This sticky brown breakfast favourite is popping up on British-leaning cafe menus. Matt Forbes makes his own version at Melbourne's Cobb Lane, having grown up with the sauce in England. "It's like a family jug, you know. It's been with me my whole life," Forbes says.

Developed by a grocer, HP has been a British favourite since 1903. The original recipe remains a closely guarded secret, and ingredients include tamarind, malt and spirit vinegars, tomatoes, dates and secret spices. Fruity, BBQ, honey and spicy variations are available, with 28 million bottles consumed each year.

HP stands for Houses of Parliament and the classic label features a baby blue scene of the buildings.

How to use it

Forbes uses HP liberally: "I love it with fish and chips, anything; sandwiches; it's all breakfast-orientated really – with a sausage sandwich it's fantastic, or mixed into scrambled eggs."

Make your own brown sauce using Matt Wilkinson's recipe – the perfect addition to a bacon "butty" sandwich.

Sauce sourcing: Many of these condiments are stocked at major supermarkets. Kewpie mayonnaise and Huy Fong Foods Sriracha are available from Asian grocers.