There’s Nothing Punk Rock About Sriracha Anymore
When I was fourteen, leaving campus for lunch was probably the most punk rock thing you could do. Cafeteria food was furnished by the government – it was conformist – and on top of that, it was for poor kids who ate subsidized lunch. If you wanted to go against the grain, you ignored the seniors-only dictum about open lunch, you grabbed your buds, and you snuck the hell out of there after fourth period.
It was that year I discovered a little Pho restaurant near the high school. I knew nothing about it. My friends and I just wandered past the place and I distinctly remember pronouncing Pho incorrectly as I cooly suggested we try it out. The second we stepped inside, it was a total culture shock. My friend Skyler was quick to point out, “What is that awful smell? It’s like garbage and feet! This place sucks!”
Ostensibly, he wasn’t wrong. The odor was overwhelming, the walls were adorned with horrid floral papering, and the man behind the counter looked like he spent his entire life carrying sex tourists around in a rickshaw. The only ornamentation in the place was a eery golden cat, perched next to the register, waving its metronomic arm in syncopated tandem with a rather loud wall clock. It was depressing. I was in love.
My friends wanted to leave, but I wanted to be brave. I craved new experiences, and at the time, nothing could be more exciting to me than the prospect of trying something new. Hell, I haven’t changed at all, I’m just running out of things to try. Whatever that odor was, wherever that odd Oriental man’s hands had been, I wanted to know it as something I had experienced, not just something I was tangentially familiar with. I wanted to taste Pho. I wanted to expand my horizons. Punk rock is about taking chances and saying fuck it.
We sat, dropped our book bags and took turns pointing and giggling at the menu – a tome of Vietnamese characters accompanied by anglicized approximations of their pronunciation.
“Wait… ‘Fuck Do’? Are you serious?”
“Look at this one. Tranny Soup! Haha, that’s the one you want, Dave. You fucking homo!”
“Your order, please,” interrupted the old man.
Three bowls of Pho each, and as we waited, I inspected the condiments on the table. Anyone familiar with Pho knows what I found – an unmarked bottle of Hoisin sauce and Sriracha – both completely alien to a couple of young punks just trying to stick it to the man.
“Yo, this legitimately looks like shit. Like literally feces,” said Skyler as he squirted some of the Hoisin sauce onto the table. We laughed as he tossed it aside and picked up the Sriracha.
“I bet this is ridic hot. Chinese people fuck with super-hot shit. I dare you to try some,” he barked, angling the green nipple of the bottle towards me like the barrel of a gun. That was all he had to say.
I’ll admit now I was a little intimidated. It did look as if it was extraordinarily hot. The deep red coloring, the foreign text. Hell, it could have been poison, but I wasn’t about to let my friends think I was a pussy. What would Henry Rollins do? He’d eat that hot sauce. So, hell-bent on asserting my individualism, I ate that hot sauce.
That day sparked a love affair between Sriracha and I. It was my go-to. My secret weapon. For the next ten years, any time I happened to try out a new food truck or when there was a Groupon for a restaurant, I’d loudly announce my request for Sriracha.
“Excuse me do you have Sriracha? Is tabasco all you have? You don’t have Sriracha?” I have to say, it was almost more satisfying when they didn’t have it.
“Oh, Sriracha? It’s a hot sauce I like,” I’d explain to people looking over, wondering why I was yelling across the restaurant. They can’t tell me to be quiet, I’m a paying customer. Isn’t that what you want, capitalism? Customers?
My parents would drag me to sit-down establishments with them. Corporate shit-holes like Ruth’s Chris, or that awful Cheesecake place my cunty step-mother likes. My preference for a hot sauce I know they didn’t carry let me preemptively damage the brand in everyone’s head before we could even sit down.
“I bet they don’t even have Sriracha,” I’d say. “Fuck this gay place.”
Sriracha was the very definition of counter culture. The low key branding and the lack of an ergonomic design made it utilitarian and honest. The completely transparent bottle showed you what you were getting instead of just telling you. It was substance, it was real, and it was something I could definitely identify with as a teen.
But that’s all changed. Sriracha is everywhere now, and for a lot of people that identified with its punk rock mentality, we’re left feeling disillusioned, anomic, and frankly, angry. We were here when it was exclusively a Pho condiment. It wasn’t supposed to be a universal hot sauce. It wasn’t some Bob Seger, Billy Ray Cyrus bullshit tabasco of our dads’ generation. You can request it as a topping on breakfast tacos now. What the fuck happened to Sriracha?
Blame it on hipsters, blame it on corporate appropriation of the sub-culture, hell, you could even blame it on us. Maybe we got older and lost our edge, maybe our metaphysical hot sauce expired and our aggressive elements separated like vinegar and oil, the last bits of whatever fight we had left settled like sediment at the bottom of an old bottle of hot sauce. Blame it on whatever you need to, but the fact remains: Sriracha just aint punk rock anymore.