There’s one condiment you’re sure to find on my dinner table: Lee Kum Kee’s Chinese-style hot sauce.
In fact, it’s not just one but two sauces you’ll notice sitting next to our bowls and dishes. One is the extra-spicy fragrant hot sauce, heavy with chili oil and the pungent smell of chili, and the other a milder garlic chili sauce perfect for noodles and hot pot.
At any given meal, you’ll see my husband add dabs of hot sauce to his rice or soup or even noodles. You’ll also hear him utter a delighted “mmmmmm” every time the peppery flavors dance across his tongue. After all, he once confessed that while he could happily go without meat, the same couldn’t be said for hot sauce.
Meanwhile, he’s married to me, a woman who can’t even remember the last time she tasted anything remotely spicy. A woman who was forced to quit even the mildest peppers last year after having her appendix removed. It’s been over a year since that surgery, but I still haven’t found the courage to test my stomach with hot sauce. Not yet. I eye my husband’s favorite condiments with a mixture of curiosity and fear, and for now prefer to have only garlic, ginger, sea salt and soy sauce as my flavorings of choice.
But I’m happy with this arrangement. I’m grateful that my husband’s deepest longings for spicy food are satisfied with these two simple condiments. I’m glad that what could have been a great disagreement about what to eat has now become a moot point, thanks to the presence of two small bottles courtesy of Lee Kum Kee.
Jun was born with a penchant for hot peppers. My husband grew up in a region of Zhejiang known for its more fiery flavors. Milder than Sichuan and Hunan, his hometown dishes up a delicious “fragrant and spicy” regional cuisine. That meant home cooking where nearly every dish – save a few greens and picked vegetables – had a touch of fire, sometimes stronger than you might expect. In fact, his family loved hot peppers so much that his father would even dab his favorite hot sauce into his rice during meals.
(Little did I know, when I first witnessed his father doing this, I would one day watch my husband do the very same thing.)
Meanwhile, I was raised on an average white middle-class diet of American staples – from spaghetti to hamburgers to fried chicken. Though we flirted with hot peppers from time to time, they were mostly absent from our meals. Dinner didn’t need them to be dinner. And some of us, notably my grandmother, wanted nothing to do with them. For her, even some varieties of black pepper were too spicy.
Who would have thought I’d now have hot sauce on my dinner table?
An American friend of mine once wondered if my husband wasn’t “ruining” dinner by putting hot sauce on every single dish. She argued that the hot sauce overpowered the more subtle flavors in every meal. I’m sure she would have thought it sacrilege if I had mentioned to her that Jun even loved hot sauce with his spaghetti.
But I say, who are we to judge his dining preferences? So what if he puts hot sauce on everything at the table? It brings him an immeasurable sense of happiness, and it doesn’t impact my meal in any way. It also means no arguments about whether or not to add hot peppers to the meal.
I’d like to think that our mutual respect regarding cravings has enhanced our marriage in so many ways. It’s how we, a vegan and a guy who has called himself “80 percent vegan” (but still loves his pork and beef and fish), have managed to happily dine together for so many years.
Which is why I’m certain my husband won’t object when I suggest buying a little vegan cheese to satisfy my own deepest cravings – cravings he will never understand either.
I figure we’re even now. 😉