Our 10 best condiments and the most beloved condiment brands to buy include everything from Hellmans mayonnaise for European dishes and Kewpie mayo for Asian to Lao Gan Ma’s spicy chili crisp and the original Sriracha sauces from Thailand, Koh Loy Si Racha Sauce and Si Racha Phanich, both of which are fantastic on noodles and in soups.
Condiments just make everything taste better. Whether it’s a tomato sauce or mustard, a hot sauce or chilli paste, a little dab or splash at the end of making a dish, or a bowl of something on the table to dip into, we can’t live without our top 10 condiments.
Having just moved apartments (for the second time during the pandemic) we had another opportunity to really take stock of what we keep in our pantry and fridge. Some condiments we use nearly every day, when we’re not recipe testing dishes for our Cambodian cookbook and culinary history, such as mayonnaise. Other condiments we use for very specific dishes, such as chilli oil on our favourite special fried rice.
Inspired by our stock-take to share our 10 best condiments list, I realised that just stating ‘mayonnaise’ sells mayonnaise a bit short. We love Hellmann’s creamy mayonnaise for more European style dishes, but when it comes to Asian dishes requiring mayo, only one brand will do – Kewpie mayonnaise. Therefore, we’ve added our favourite condiment brands, many of which happen to be the most popular condiment brands to buy – and make fantastic Christmas stocking stuffers.
So here’s a list of our top 10 condiments that we can’t live without. We’d love to hear what your favourite condiment brands are.
Our 10 Best Condiments and Most Beloved Condiment Brands to Buy
Mayonnaise tops our 10 best condiments list and we love the stuff so much we’re suspicious of anyone who doesn’t have a bottle of mayonnaise in their fridge – and we don’t care what kind of diet they’re on, everyone has a cheat day. So the rule is that anything Asian gets Kewpie mayonnaise because it is sweeter and stronger than American-style mayonnaise due to only using egg yolks and the presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG), unless it’s the United States version. It’s perfect for karaage or Japanese Fried Chicken. For Australian food and European cuisines, it’s Hellmann’s creamy mayonnaise that we go for. Give me a roast chicken sandwich with Hellmann’s and some quality salt and pepper and I’m happy. It’s also an essential ingredient on our tuna melts.
The rise in popularity of Sriracha sauce has been incredible over the last ten years and we get it, which is why this Thai hot sauce is on our 10 best condiments. While we understand why the Huy Fong brand (with the famous rooster on the bottle) is popular in the USA, it is baffling in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. One new hotel here in Cambodia opened an Asian restaurant and every table had a bottle on it, imported from the USA. Insane when the actual town of Sri Racha or Si Racha is a six hour drive from Siem Reap – if we could cross the border into Thailand right now. The original Sriracha sauces are Koh Loy Si Racha Sauce and Si Racha Phanich, which started in 1935. They taste very different to the Huy Fong brand. They’re more balanced and are spicy, tangy, sweet, a tad sour, and little garlicky. If you think I’m annoyed about the popularity of Huy Fong Sriracha, don’t get me started on sriracha mayo.
Yes, we know XO Sauce has a crazy sticker price, but once you’ve savoured a good XO sauce it’s easy to become an XO addict. Dried scallops, dried shrimp, shrimp roe, and Chinese dried ham might seem odd to some, however, to me it’s the Asian equivalent of white Italian truffles. Why? Because it’s a special occasion whenever you get to use it, and you only use as much as you can afford. While it gets used on all kinds of noodle dishes, lobster, and other luxurious seafood, as well as fried rice, to me it really shines with congee – the same way white truffle goes fantastically with an Italian risotto. We’ve been rationing a couple of jars of XO Sauce brought over to us from a friend who passed through Hong Kong airport last year. A generous gift at US$50 each. You can see why we’re rationing the stuff!
As a kid growing up in suburban Brisbane in Australia in the early 1970s, there was nearly always bread, butter and tomato sauce (or ketchup) on the table for dinner, regardless of what my mother was cooking. For some meals, the tomato sauce didn’t get opened, but it was a testament to how strong our attachment to this condiment was that it was there. While it’s one of our top 10 condiments, we are not about to pour tomato sauce over a roast or a steak, however, we can’t tuck into Australian meat pies and sausage rolls without tomato sauce and Heinz tomato ketchup has long been our go-to. Whenever we can’t find it here in Siem Reap and have to buy other brands, we always regret it. If only we could get our hands on that recipe.
Mexican Hot Sauce
As lovers of Mexican food, our 10 best condiments had to include a quality Mexican hot sauce. While Valentina Salsa Picante, made in Guadalajara, is the Mexican sauce you’ll mostly spot on restaurant tables in Mexico – and with a sweetness and tang to it, it packs a punch without overwhelming other flavours – we love the Cholula Original. We discovered it a decade ago when we were renting a casita in San Miguel de Allende – it’s produced in Chapala in neighbouring Jalisco state, from piquin and arbol chilli peppers – and found that its medium heat made it perfect for dousing on anything from Mexican grilled corn, grilled corn salad and corn in a cup (elote en vaso), to Mexican breakfast eggs, such as huevos con chorizo, and Tex-Mex favourites such as quesadillas and nachos. We also like the Cholula Green Pepper Hot Sauce at lot. Made from jalapeño and poblano chilli peppers, it’s fantastic with spicy fried chicken. Another favourite green hot sauce is El Yucateco, made from habañero peppers, which packs a bigger punch.
Lao Gan Ma
I don’t remember how we first came across this amazing chilli condiment but Lara loves the stuff so much she eats spoonfuls of it from the jar and would put this at the top of her 10 best condiments list. Since we began using Lao Gan Ma we’ve noticed its growing popularity around the world and deservedly so. More dense and more textured than your average chilli sauce – it’s labelled ‘spicy chili crisp’ on the jar – Lao Gan Ma originated in Guizhou province in China, where families would make their own blend at home – and they are not afraid of fiery heat! A street-side vendor, Tao Hua Bi, was making liangfen – mung bean starch jelly – with a chilli topping. Eventually she found her chilli sauce was so popular she went into making it full-time in 1996 and Lao Gan Ma was born. We use it in everything from Chinese dumplings to Southeast Asian noodle soups.
There are many different types of chilli oil – but if we were to choose one for our 10 best condiments list it would be Sichuan-style chilli oil. While I prefer to make one of my own homemade Sichuan red chilli oils – I make one with a lot of the chillies left in the jar and another chilli oil that’s been strained – I do like this La-Yu Chili Oil which we use a lot. It gets generously doused on everything from Dan Dan Noodles to Sichuan style wantons. We also use it to jazz up my favourite instant noodles, Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun.
This fantastic North African chilli paste, Harissa, is another of our 10 best condiments and one that’s used as both an ingredient and a condiment. We first tried it in Morocco many years ago and have been addicted to the stuff ever since. The smoked dried peppers they use in the paste are amazing and it’s our favourite condiment for everything from Merguez sausages, the spicy lamb sausages from the Maghreb, to this North African breakfast dish, chakchouka. We also use it as an ingredient in a red pepper sauce that I make with smoked capsicums to go with Merguez sausages, couscous, capsicums and eggplants.
Mustard is another of our 10 best condiments and for me mustard is the best condiment for leftover meat dishes. Give me some leftover côte de bœuf, some rocket (arugula) and some fresh sourdough bread spread with mustard and I’m in heaven. But which type of mustard and which brand? Hands-down, the French Maille brand does the best mustards. We keep a jar of both the Dijon Traditional Mustard and the ‘Old Style’ Whole Grain Mustard in the fridge. For homemade burgers and hot dogs we do keep some tangy French’s Classic Yellow Mustard in the fridge as well.
Ajvar is a condiment that we find many people outside Eastern Europe don’t know. We first tried ajvar on our year-long 2010 grand tour of the world that launched Grantourismo, when we spent two weeks in Kotor, Montenegro and it’s been one of our top 10 condiments ever since. Nicknamed ‘Serbian salsa’, ajvar has a consistency like tomato paste, and generally contains four main ingredients: red peppers, eggplant, chilli, and garlic. There are many variants of ajvar, with varying heat levels, and the addition of more tomatoes or carrots, and some without eggplant. It’s very versatile, too. You can serve it as a condiment in a dish on the table, make a pasta sauce out of it, and use it as a dip. We used a very hot ajvar and a local sausage, njeguski kobasica, and made delicious scrambled eggs.
So what are your 10 best condiments and beloved condiment brands you can’t do without? Let us know if the comments below or on social media.