Tag Archives: sauce

Family Recipe

“My dad taught me this recipe, it’s not even an ethnic recipe, just a family recipe for this cool dipping sauce.  You combine paprika and garlic powder and a little water and then this other ingredient I’m forgetting, but it makes for this really good, kind of dry sauce that goes really well on a hamburger or something.  My dad said he picked it up from a diner he worked at, so I guess that means this recipe went from some unimportant condiment at a diner to a staple ingredient at all our family’s meals, which is pretty cool.  But I’m not sure he’s telling the truth about picking up the recipe from a diner, I feel like that doesn’t make enough sense for it to be true, because I’ve worked in restaurants before and no such recipe exchanging has happened around me, but nonetheless, now that sauce recipe is a staple of our family.”


This origin story of a family recipe is super cool because it subverts two common tropes of family recipes: that they are long traditions passed down from the ancestors of the family, and that they are secrets.  Not only did this family recipe start in a diner that the father of the informant just happened to work at of all places, but the informant clearly has no regard for who hears the ingredients, and they are listed very clearly above.  Still, the recipe has quickly managed to become an important part of the family, so it makes me think that maybe this is the beginning of what will become a long family tradition with this family.

Korean Pajeon Sauce

Information about the Informant

My informant is from a Vietnamese family. She’s currently an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington. In her spare time, she loves to knit and cook, primarily baked goods, but also some “Asian” recipes that she learned from her family. This is a recipe for a Korean sauce for “pajeons,” which is a type of pancake-like dish with green onions as a primary ingredient (for the pancakes, not the sauce).


“To make the sauce for the Korean Pa jeon, I do–let’s estimate it to 3 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon of chili garlic sauce, roasted sesame seeds, and 1 tablespoon of the–just the lemon ponzu sauce.”

Collector: “And you just mix it all together?”

“Yeah. And I think that’s it.”


One of the things my informant shares with her mother is their mutual love of cooking. This is a recipe passed down to the informant from her mother, and is interesting because it clearly not “authentically” Korean. There is the obvious “inauthenticity” of a Korean recipe being passed down through a family of non-Korean though East Asian extraction, but in a closer examination of the ingredients that my informant gave me, one in particular stands out as unusual. Worchestershire sauce is definitely not of Korean, let alone, Asian origin, an ingredient that is strongly associated with the European continent. There is also the ingredient chili garlic sauce, with chili being a plant that is native to the Americas and which only spread after Columbus’s voyage. This raises questions, as is often the case, of what is authentic cultural food? Is the use of the chili pepper acceptable as the plant spread in the 16th century, but Worchestershire sauce is not because it has stronger ties to a non-Asian culture? This is a recipe that my informant and her mother have been using for years, but it’s clear that some elements did not come from some grand chain of passing-down all the way from the ancient Koreans.

Nước Mắm

Information about the Informant

My informant is from a Vietnamese family. She’s currently an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington. In her spare time, she loves to knit and cook, primarily baked goods, but also some “Asian” recipes that she learned from her family. This is a recipe for a Vietnamese fish sauce that her mother taught her and which she has memorized, that she recited for me while I was visiting her with another high school friend of ours.


“For the uh, mixed-out fish sauce. I don’t know what it’s called in English. Anyways, it is one part fish sauce, two parts warm water, two parts sugar, and two parts vinegar or mixture of vinegar and lime juice or something. Vinegar doesn’t taste as good, but it doesn’t go bad as quickly. Optional sliced ginger and optional chili garlic sauce.”


My informant, as stated above, enjoys cooking with her mother, and, as her family is Vietnamese, this is a recipe that may have been passed down through her family. One questionable (questionable as in whether or not this recipe is “authentic”) item is the chili garlic sauce. While undoubtedly, Vietnam could have encountered the chili plant (which originated in the Americas but quickly spread around the globe after Columbus’s voyage) centuries ago, when discussing the question of whether or not a dish is authentically ethnic, people are usually uncomfortable with the idea that an ingredient was imported into the country that the dish supposedly originated in. It is mitigated here by her stating that the chili garlic sauce is optional, but does raise an interesting question (as ethnic food recipes often do) of what do we call authentic and how do we define authenticity?

Enchilada Sauce

“So, the enchilada recipe started with my grandma. She concocted this, beautiful enchilada sauce, and then she passed it down to my mom, and she made some alterations… and in my opinion, it’s the best. And then now, it’s my term to make the sauce, and I guess I add my own twist to it. But, um… what’s in the sauce: you have your… um, red peppers. The dried ones, they’re long, I don’t even know what they are, I just know how they look. They’re long and dried up and they have tons of seeds and you take the seeds out and you boil them… so they get plump, you know? And then you boil them with garlic… you take most of [the seeds] out so it’s not too spicy. So you throw that in there with garlic, and tomatoes, and onions… that’s all cooked. Together. And then you throw that all in there [a blender], and then you add sugar, and water, and… the secret, is the chocolate. It’s a special kind of chocolate, it’s the Abuelita chocolate, and you cut a chunk off and you throw it in there. And that’s the sauce and it’s the most amazing thing I have tasted in my life.”

She described how her mom tweaks the recipe.

“She, um, she… no, my grandma makes it way more savory, mom makes it sweeter and spicier. So, like, you get those extremes, the sweet and the spicy. My grandma is just more a less like… I feel like that one’s more like… like, smooth? You know what I mean? Like, it’s mellow. But it’s savory, you can taste the garlic, she puts a little more garlic in it. But, umm… and she makes it a little runnier. My mom makes it real thick. That’s the difference between the two of them. My mom adds more chocolate too because I like chocolate [laughs]. But you don’t taste chocolate at all.”


The informant felt that the recipe is very important to her because it was her culture (the recipe itself  as well as Mexican food generally was her culture and her family). She explained that everything is regional in Mexico, so no one used the exact recipe that her mother and grandmother used. She said that her mother’s sisters and great-aunt all used similar recipes that were derived from the same ingredients, but that they were all completely different, and that she hoped, with experimentation, her version of the recipe would please her future family.

The sauce recipe, as well as all other foods prepared by her family, are made with ingredients that are measured by eye. The performance of this recipe, is thus, always subject to change (more change than the written recipe) because it is made for specific reasons and specific people (for example, the informant’s mother adds extra chocolate for her daughter because she prefers it). The sharing and modification of recipes present in the performance of this recipe is central to most cultures now, and is indicative of the fusion of different cultural foods because it is a representation of changes made to older forms.