¡Ask a Comida Critic! Part Two: Acceptable Mexican Hot Sauces
Missed the first edition of this column? You'll have to scour the Wayback Machine for it because it's...gone (I did answer your question, though, JB!). Since no one else has asked me a food question, I hereby steal an exchange between Orange County Register foodie Niyaz Pirani and I over Facebook a couple of weeks back, an exchange I can't find anymore. But it went a bit like this, and I'll expand on it:
Niyaz revealed he had just gotten into the world of Mexican hot sauces, and wondered if it was a sin that he liked Cholula so much. I responded that the bigger sin was that he--of Pakistani descent--had only recently started liking the hot stuff, given that Pakistani cuisine has some of the most potent curries on earth, simultaneously unctuous and spicy so that dishes such as beef nihari coat your intestinal tract for hours. Plus? Those amazing Pakis eat raw slices of ginger as nibbles before the feast. They make us Mexicans seem as big of chile wusses as the Germans.
I digress. Acceptable Mexican hot sauces? Cholula is definitely one of them. But there are others, and each suit a need.
I actuallycovered a version of this question years ago
, when I put Tapatío and Sriracha to the taste test and found each had its particular charms. Think of Cholula as a less-vinegry type of Tapatío, with a bit more heat, and thus perfect for most any Mexi meal or soup. But I also don't think Cholula is so much better than Tapatío that it justifies its two-bucks-and-change price for a regular bottle, a price higher than the cost of a big bottle of Tapatío.
The original Cholula--that is, the loyal opposition to the Tapatío juggernaut--is Valentina, which is more flavorful than the other two but less spicy. The true wab joints will feature Valentina--actually, the true wab joints will offer their own homemade salsas and dismiss hot sauces as a gabacho conspiracy, but I digress again. I prefer Valentina to go with ceviche, or on bacon-wrapped hot dogs, as its citrus aftertaste blends well with heartiness.
But, Niyaz: I say screw all of the above. They're from Jalisco, and Jalisco deserves the same scorn we Americans heap on Texans. Stay local, and go with Gringo Bandito. Or go for the rey of them all--El Yucateco, derived from habaneros and possessors of scary neon colors probably created with dangerous color dyes, but who cares. This hot sauce reflects the taste of the Yucatán, found locally only at Conde Cakes, and the stuff burns. Its molasses-like texture means it won't work on most meals--honestly, Yucateco on tacos might trick your mind into thinking you're eating a crepe if it wasn't for the fact that your tongue was welcoming a newly created crater. El Yucateco works best on Mexican seafood, specifically on ceviches, so you can appreciate the duality of life: ice-cold and hell-hot.
Got a spicy question about comida? Ask the Comida Critic at GArellano@ocweekly.com, or leave a comment below!
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.