Friday, September 17, 2010

8, La Botella

I'm not a big fan of ketchup. Nor catsup, in its peculiar alternate spelling, thank you Hunts weirdos. I do like kecap, the sweet Indonesian soy sauce from which ketchup gets its name. But ketchup, meh. It's okay on fries. But I loathe it on hamburgers, where it leeches away all the beefy flavor. And hot dogs? It transforms them into vile sugary meat lollipops. But what comes in a ketchup sized bottle, among other things, that I am totally obsessed with? Hot sauce.

Oh God I love hot sauce. Let's start with the rich orangey red garlicky goodness of Sriracha. Which turns out to be a not particularly traditional American melting pot sauce inspired by Asia but realized in Asia-America. Then there's Kutbil-Ik Mayan hot sauce from El Yucateco. An unlovely brown, made from unbelievably hot habanero peppers, it burns so good.

Tabasco sauce? It tastes like slightly tangy vinegar to me. Pleasant, but not even slightly hot. Trappy's Indi-Pep with its hint of Caribbean flavor? Getting closer. Matouk's sauces, rich with tropical fruits and habaneros? It even comes in ketchup-sized bottles; delicious.

At my Santeria Ita almost fourteen years ago, the life divination new initiates into the religion receive during the week-long initiation ceremony, I received a letter that said I should avoid red foods. The people around me gasped and I am thinking, I am so off the hook for ketchup! Chango himself, kabiosile, would prefer I stay away from it. At first I was somewhat concerned that my love of hot sauce would suffer from this proscription. Salsa verde to the rescue. Green hot sauce turns out to be richer in flavor and variety than I ever dreamed: Indonesian green hot sauce. Mexican green hot sauce. Homemade sauce of tomatillos, cilantro and serranos. And, thank you Caribbean, for yellow hot sauce. All that 'Badian hot sauce with scotch bonnets and mustard? Mmmmm.

My kitchen is full of hot sauces for cooking. My table is full of hot sauces for condiments. Returning from vacations my travel bags are full of hot sauce souvenirs. Heck there was an after-work social function today that happened to showcase Latin food in the neighborhood of my office and I bought a bottle of hot sauce there.

I don't think Gil Scott-Heron wrote his classic song "The Bottle" about hot sauce. "And don't you think it's a crime, when time after time, people in the bottle". Oh man, no crime when that bottle is full of hot sauce. That's the taste of life!


  1. so much to say!

    i also adore hot sauce! i put tabasco in my omelettes, for example.

    are you still not allowed to eat red foods or was that just for that week? what, if you don't mind me asking, is the reason behind that? i'm always interested in the prescriptive instructions that religions always seem to have. they fascinate me.

    i'll have to try some kutbil-ik. where doth one get it?

  2. I eat hot sauce on everything. Yummy on omelettes.
    Here in Brooklyn you can get El Yucateco hot sauces pretty readily; Kutbil Ik is the best. Perhaps their website has a store locator?

    The proscriptions I received in my ita are for life. In Santeria, these are acts of sacrifice made out of respect to the orishas. So it's not like Judaism where some food is considered bad or unclean. Just things that might be sacred to a divinity you might be asked to forswear. Some Santeros say that if you're direly sick you might try consciously eating something you've been told not to as a way of getting the Orisha's attention to help. Many santeros say that eating something they've been told not to actually makes them sick. I received a LOT of different proscriptions. Some of them I am very very careful not to break. Some of them I cheat now and again on. I try to avoid food dyed red or made un-naturally so, but I no longer avoid red tomatoes. But I never eat pumpkin (sacred to Ochun).

  3. hmmm. i've never much been the religious type, i must admit. but i can coexist just fine. that response just made me more interested though. is there a website or something that you feel has a good explanation for someone like me who knows nothing about Santeria (is that the right noun)? i like to read about different religions.

  4. I'm not sure what kind of Santeria websites are out there these days. In my early days in the religion online santeria seemed a little drama-filled: it's a completely decentralized religion and I found some people taking advantage of that to present themselves as online expert grand-poobahs, and that's not really appropriate since it's better experienced than read about.

    If you read all of my posts on it here you'll probably get a basic outline. The absolute best introductory book on the subject is Joseph Murphy's "Santeria: An African Religion in America."