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Spice Up Your Super Bowl With Sriracha Sauce

Bonny Wolf is author of Talking with My Mouth Full and editor of NPR's Kitchen Window.

Millions of pounds of chicken wings will be eaten at Super Bowl parties across the country Sunday. A lot of them probably will be made with a spicy sauce that threatens to push ketchup off the shelf: Sriracha.

You've seen it — that clear plastic squeeze bottle with the burnt-orange chili-garlic sauce. It's the one with a rooster on the front and that bright green cap. There are other brands, but this is the one people usually mean when they talk about Sriracha.

Sriracha sauce first appeared 30 years ago in Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S., where diners would squirt a little into their pho, Vietnam's popular noodle soup.

Slowly — but very steadily — it moved into the mainstream. Now you don't have to go to an Asian market to find Sriracha. Just pick up a bottle at Walmart or Safeway. It's becoming a staple condiment in American homes, right next to the mustard and mayo.

Ketchup used to be the condiment of choice for Americans. Ronald Reagan wanted to classify it as a vegetable. Richard Nixon used to pour it on cottage cheese. Now many eaters substitute Sriracha for ketchup.

I've heard of Sriracha being put in oatmeal and used in Rice Krispies Treats. I've had it on scrambled eggs and sprinkled on popcorn — both of which I highly recommend. And I'm sure you remember the episode of Top Chef when Casey made Sriracha ice cream.

If you need inspiration, there's now The Sriracha Cookbook, with recipes for Sriracha and Spam fried rice, deviled eggs and, of course, chicken wings.

"There are those of us who love Sriracha, and then there are those of us who need Sriracha," author Randy Clemens says.

You can get your Sriracha fix at restaurants, too, from fancy New York hot spots to Applebee's.

The entrepreneur behind Sriracha is David Tran, who is ethnically Chinese but was born in Vietnam and now lives in California. Sriracha is actually a port town in Thailand known for its chili sauce. Still with me?

Tran came to the U.S. on a boat called Huy Fong, now the name of his company. The rooster on the bottle is his Chinese zodiac sign, and some people call it "rooster sauce." Sales continue to grow, according to the company.

I asked devotees, "Why this sauce?" To summarize their response, it's heat with flavor — perfect for chicken wings.

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Bonny Wolf
NPR commentator Bonny Wolf grew up in Minnesota and has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in New Jersey and Texas. She taught journalism at Texas A&M University where she encouraged her student, Lyle Lovett, to give up music and get a real job. Wolf gives better advice about cooking and eating, and contributes her monthly food essay to NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday. She is also a contributing editor to "Kitchen Window," NPR's Web-only, weekly food column.