The Legendary Lao Gan Ma
September 12, 2021 2:02 PM   Subscribe

 
Casting aside all politics and hagiographic legends...

Thank you, Tao Huabi. I love your sauces. They make me happy.
posted by notoriety public at 2:05 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Spicy Chili Crisp is an absolute staple in our house; we usually get it from Lucky Moose or Fu Yao but I think it's being carried by the large white people grocers too. And the price is not horrible.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:19 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


For the product side of things, see Chinese Cooking Demystified's Every Lao Gan Ma, explained video.
posted by zamboni at 2:27 PM on September 12 [16 favorites]


I prefer Lee Kum Kee's chili oil. It's hotter, and has more salt. Tastes just that bit more delicious, I think.
posted by pipeski at 2:39 PM on September 12


I've had the black bean chili, it's good crack.
posted by chavenet at 2:59 PM on September 12


Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp is very good on vanilla ice cream.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:43 PM on September 12 [8 favorites]


Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp is very good on vanilla ice cream.

That is... inspirational.
posted by notoriety public at 4:06 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Since chili oil is currently the de rigeur condiment in our household, some weeks back I picked up two things of it at the Asian market: one oddly arch-shaped bottle with sesame seeds floating in it and one bottle of Lao Gan Ma.

The weird curvy bottle was ferocious! Spicy, salty, with a wonderful undertaste of sesame. We found ourselves dipping everything in it in a (futile) attempt to find something that it didn't make better.

Lao Gan Ma, by contrast, was underwhelming. Not very spicy, tasted kind of burnt, needed to use a ton of it on everything to make it taste any better.

Reading all the glowing reviews here makes me wonder if I maybe did something wrong? Did I get an "off" bottle? Was I supposed to get another variety, the "good" variety?
posted by lorddimwit at 5:00 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


LGM is honestly pretty tame for the average Western sensibilities. In my own cooking I am a lot more forceful, but as bought condiments go, I think it is an excellent missionary. I think it's rather more possible that you're farther along the Path of Inspiration than most of the world might be. Be the light in the darkness!
posted by notoriety public at 5:14 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]


one oddly arch-shaped bottle with sesame seeds floating in it

Do you have a picture of it? It sounds great
posted by Dr. Twist at 5:25 PM on September 12


If you're concerned about the sulfites and additives in the Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp, Trader Joes has a good-tasting version of it made with olive oil and no sulfites. Here's my mini-review.

> Lao Gan Ma, by contrast, was underwhelming. Not very spicy, tasted kind of burnt, needed to use a ton of it on everything to make it taste any better.

I like spicy food, but I like not being punched in the face all the time too. Peppers have flavors besides capsiacin, and the point of some pepper sauces is the pepper flavor rather than the heat.
posted by ardgedee at 5:30 PM on September 12 [9 favorites]


XO sauce has entered the chat.
posted by Splunge at 5:34 PM on September 12 [11 favorites]


Reading all the glowing reviews here makes me wonder if I maybe did something wrong? Did I get an "off" bottle? Was I supposed to get another variety, the "good" variety?

Did you get chili oil or spicy chili crisp? The raving about Lao Gan Ma in recent years has mostly been about spicy chili crisp.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 5:37 PM on September 12


It’s all really good but my favorite is the variety marked “hot chili sauce”, which has cubes of dry-fried tofu and fermented turnip in with the peanuts and soybeans and chili oil. It seems to be harder to find, but it makes it an extra treat when I do score a jar.

It may be a result of the inevitable variation in industrial production, or it may be just in my head, but I firmly believe the jars of chili crisp my dad ordered from Amazon don’t taste as good as the ones I get at stores in New York Chinatown.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:19 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


This looks like the kind I liked, though I think I got a slightly different varietal (it didn't have the peanuts in it). The shape of the bottle is the same, though.

I think I remember the Lao Gan Ma billing itself as "chili crisp," but it also had peanuts in it, which seems to be the case for some of the different varieties? The peanuts kind of irritated me because we were mainly using it for drizzling (and who doesn't enjoy a nice chunky legume in your drizzle?) and dipping, but you kind of had to deliberately decide to pick out the peanuts and eat them, which felt weird.

Got a couple of additional types at the market yesterday--one more typical-looking chili oil and one intriguing "garlic chili oil" that isn't Chinese--it looks like it comes from Malaysia maybe? It might be only intended for cooking or something, but still I vow to put it on stuff and diligently document the results. For science, you understand.
posted by lorddimwit at 6:31 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]




One thing that occurred to me when I first tried it was that the spicy chili crisp did not have much salt in it. At first, I found this to be a curious omission, and regarded it as a downside. However, a couple of days later, it occurred to me that this is actually a great decision, because it means there is no upper limit to how much Laoganma spicy chili crisp you can add to… anything, really, before it gets too salty to be palatable.

Also I have started to explore the other entries in the Laoganma product family available at my local Chinese grocer, which is… many. This stuff's great.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:09 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Separately, I cannot strongly enough urge each and every one of you out there: try making your own crunchy chunky chili oil! You basically just cook aromatics and crunchy guys in a fragrant oil like sesame oil or olive oil, at low temperatures, for a while, until the oil picks up the flavors. It's so easy and delicious.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:13 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Lao Gan Ma, by contrast, was underwhelming.

Yeah, it's not hot or even warm. You add it by the tablespoon(s) to individual servings.

Good on salads!
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:22 PM on September 12


You basically just cook aromatics and crunchy guys in a fragrant oil like sesame oil or olive oil

Doesn't sesame oil lose its flavours if you cook with it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:20 PM on September 12


based on all the sesame-oil-based chili oils I've had over the years in Japan: seemingly not enough to matter! The idea here is that you are very slowly cooking it over low heat, not bringing it to the smoke point or whatever.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:22 PM on September 12


Here's CCD's Sichuan Chili Oil recipe. I've done it several times now and it's always killer and does take awhile, but for the next batch I'm going to use their recommended roasted rape seed oil. This year I also grew Chao tian jiao (Facing Heaven) chilis so it should be interesting to see the difference those things make.

The rape seed oil and other hard-to-find Sichuan ingredients can now be purchased at MaLa Market who CCD works with to source ingredients for their recipes.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:46 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


Hey, speaking of chili oil, has anyone found something with the flavor of Din Tai Fung's chili oil? It is quite different from Lao Gan Ma and other chili oils I've tried, and I'm wondering if that exact flavor has a specific name I should be looking for in the aisles at 99 Ranch. (yes, I know you can buy it directly from DTF at an extortionate price)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:32 PM on September 12


Bo Ky on Bayard in Manhattan has a very good house chili oil too, it's a little hotter which is nice but the big draw for me is the pieces of dried shrimp and conpoy that give it a deeper flavor. Try it out (with their beef brisket wide noodle) if you get the chance y'all!
posted by coolname at 3:58 AM on September 13


Doesn't sesame oil lose its flavours if you cook with it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:20 PM on September 12 [+] [!]


No; sesame oil tends to be relatively expensive and has a low smoke-point, though, so it's typically used more as a finishing oil than as a stir-frying oil.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:00 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Hey, speaking of chili oil, has anyone found something with the flavor of Din Tai Fung's chili oil?

I have been on a similar quest for the DTF sauce, since I live in Northern VA and nowhere near a proper DTF shop. The closest I've gotten so far is Blank Slate's Sichuan Chili Oil, mixed with a bit of black vinegar (the way I mix it in-restaurant before housing like forty Xiaolongbao).
posted by FatherDagon at 7:01 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I find the TJ variety kinda weird actually - I can taste that it's olive oil and it doesn't seem to blend quite right.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:47 AM on September 13


Hello FatherDagon and greetings from across the Potomac. Where are you enjoying XLB from?
posted by now i'm piste at 9:52 AM on September 13


Yeah LGM 'spicy chili crisp' is what I feed my toddler and his 70yo white grand parents. It's fine stuff, but it's not even the best LGM chili oil sauce product, not to mention their semi-rival Lee Kum Kee and the various boutique stuffs with no English on the bottle other than the import sticker.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:24 AM on September 13


Chili Sauce Billionaire

I would like to be one of these.

This reminds me of how explosively salsa macha grew in popularity during the pandemic in San Francisco. For a while there, every restaurant and chef in town seemed to be making a weekly batch of it for sale in small jars. This condiment that had previously been kind of ignored in a little (questionably) open-all-day jar was suddenly thrust into homes and dinnerplates as an easy luxury to spice up the monotony of beans and rice that became a routine (in my little house, at least). It wasn't long before I started reading up on how to make it myself and, whaddya know, it was a lot of fun to make and so tasty! I'll always have a couple jars kicking around in my fridge, and I think everyone will get a batch made for their housewarming, birthday, wedding, divorce, etc.

Long live spicy crunchy things.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:03 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


always uncanny watching how non-Chinese people talk about the stuff you've always had in your pantry. "weird" bottles, "underwhelming", etc, love the word choices here

Asian-American TikTok is often filled with videos of APIDA folks putting mustard in bread pudding or something and being like 'hm not sure why doesn't this work, white people really eat funny things!!!' and y'all are doing a great job embodying the subjects of that satire. imagine googling about chili oil and learning how it's typically used before just dumping it onto everything and making a decision based on that lol

la jiao you is more just a straight up-and-down oil than it is a 'chili sauce' or whatever Western stand-in is being evoked here. it can be spicy but it doesn't have to be. we always used it kind of like a condiment on plain noodles (which the laoganma PR piece talks about), mantou, jiaozi, etc. it works esp well on anything with rice flour - the very mild 'ricey' taste and sweetness of steamed rice things pairs really nicely with the fatty, savoriness of the oil. there's usually a very light but flavorful aftertaste to it if you know how to taste for it but the taste of the thing will be overpowered by just about any other kind of sauce that's being used if you're using it in cooking. well, unless you know how to cook with it and know what it pairs well with

woks of life has a good intro on it: https://thewoksoflife.com/what-is-chili-oil/

and why y'all are buying the knock-off being made by a Western retail chain instead of buying a Chinese oil used in Chinese cooking from Chinese companies and people is beyond me
posted by paimapi at 3:19 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


RE: salsa macha,
I definitely see the parallel between this stuff and chili crisp. However, I had a brief salsa macha obsession after bringing a jar of La Coman Danta back from Mexico City, but after only a few weeks I sort of bounced off it and don't really care for it any more. Too oily i guess? I can't explain it. On the other hand I could eat LGM chili crisp forever.

I don't really get the "put it on everything" comments though. It's a very opinionated sauce, useful more for the earthy funk than the heat. If I don't have the right fresh ingredients for the bass notes in a dish, LGM will substitute.

For me the real "it goes with everything" sauce is sambal oelek. Just a real neutral chilis as the primary flavor sauce. Not too hot, but definitely adds heat.

Now I'm hungry...




sambal oelek
posted by cirrostratus at 2:10 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Chili crisp is something I just can't keep in the house. I put it on eggs. I put it on ice cream. I put it on toast. I eat it with a spoon. Each teensy jar has about a bajillion calories and I go through one in a week, if I'm exerting some measure of self control. If there was a chili crisp anonymous I would join. I recently bought a small jar of the store brand stuff that my local supermarket chain produces and it's sitting in the back of my pantry, staring at me. Here's hoping I can get the better of it this time 'round.
posted by lemur at 5:13 AM on September 14


>and why y'all are buying the knock-off being made by a Western retail chain instead of buying a Chinese oil used in Chinese cooking from Chinese companies and people is beyond me

While in this case the Chinese brand tastes better to me than the Trader Joe's version, it shouldn't be surprising that something tweaked to my palate might sometimes be tastier to me than an authentic version.
posted by Easy problem of consciousness at 7:33 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Hello FatherDagon and greetings from across the Potomac. Where are you enjoying XLB from

The best I've found in my approximate neighborhood is Tasty Dumpling in Falls Church, altho Bob's Shanghai in Rockville MD is not too far from where I work and also great stuff. Still, there's something about DTF that kicks the soup dumplings up to a whole 'nother level...
posted by FatherDagon at 10:32 AM on September 14


woks of life has a good intro on it:

Woks of Life is one of the sites whose description of it as containing garlic is what prompted me to write the AskMe referenced earlier. To wit:
2. LAO GAN MA SPICY CHILI CRISP:
This is probably the most popular Lao Gan Ma product outside of China. It combines chilies and fermented soybeans with garlic and onions. The sauce does have an irresistibly “crisp” texture.
And I still don't know whether it has garlic in some regions but not others, or if everyone whose review/explainer says there's garlic is just mistaken.
posted by hades at 11:30 AM on September 14


And I still don't know whether it has garlic in some regions but not others, or if everyone whose review/explainer says there's garlic is just mistaken.

there are multiple variations of Lao Gan Ma. the chili crisp version that I have in my fridge rn has onion in the ingredients list but not garlic and it doesn't taste a bit like it has garlic in it which... makes sense. should also note that their website doesn't mention garlic at all so 🤷. either way, the way Woks of Life describes it, as being used generally as a condiment or in Sichuan cooking, is what I've experienced

it shouldn't be surprising that something tweaked to my palate might sometimes be tastier to me than an authentic version.

sure, and that makes sense, but roasting people who eat and financially support Western-owned enterprises that capitalize on non-Western dishes is fun, great, and also ethical :)
posted by paimapi at 1:21 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


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