When I was a little girl, I liked to stay up late and it was not an uncommon sight around the Keller household to cruise into the kitchen at 11 p.m. and catch my dad standing there, with the fridge door open and spoon in hand, non-chalantly devouring a jar of raspberry preserves. In my family, we call this "mainlining a condiment" and over the years, the special affinity for them has proved hereditary: I discovered 12 kinds of mustard in my kitchen last time I moved and a container of chutney left with my sister overnight will never see the light of day.
I just love a farmer's market mason jar, a bottle of sauce with almost no English on it or a homemade concoction served on the side. For me, condiments can make or break the enjoyment of almost any meal and every once in a while there is an offering so delicious it stops me dead in my tracks:
Grand Mountain sriracha -- This is not your average rooster sauce.
The first time I had Grand Mountain was at my favorite Thai restaurant in Austin and to this day it's the only place I've seen it in the US wild (although I'm sure it exists elsewhere). It has a markedly different component of sweetness and complexity of flavor than other, more common srirachas. It's thinner and smoother in texture, with the chili paste completely mashed into a medium-thick liquid, and goes especially well on all things Asian. Sometimes I can't believe this amount of happiness only costs $5 and the giant bottle has become my go-to housewarming present for foodie friends.
Valentina Hot Sauce -- Served like Tabasco but so much more, I have enjoyed this on fish tacos and huevos rancheros at favorite local spots across the country. It's thicker and more satisfying than many hot sauces, with a solid amount of heat that also maintains mouthwatering flavor. The specs of black pepper, spot-on spice combo, and moderate blast of hot makes it tempting to drench the plate. Valentina is widely available (Walmart!) and a steal at less than $3 a bottle.
Honey truffle mustard -- This condiment speaks to the wonderful diversity of mustard and power of the supermarket sample. While cruising the aisle at Central Market, our destinies collided and I tried this rich concoction from Wine Country Kitchens on some form of pretzel. The decadent truffle flavor, combined with the sweetness of the honey, and spicy backdrop of the mustard base is a far cry from the good old ballpark varieties. In fact, it seems to be teetering on the edge of a new kind of sophisticated condiment all together and easily relegates a cracker to "merely a vehicle" status. It also goes super on sandwiches.
Dona sauce -- This salsa, found at Tacodeli in Austin, is a local treasure and coveted secret recipe. Sometimes referred to as "liquid gold", it is served in tiny to-go containers and it's not unusual to catch faithful patrons hording them in take-away bags. Details are scarce but based on reasonable intelligence I believe it's is a green combo of emulsified jalapenos, onion and canola oil. The result is an incredibly spicy, creamy and flavorful mix, which is not for the faint of heart. It goes beautifully on items way beyond the taco but unfortunately it's not available online, so put Tacodeli on the list for your next trip to Austin!
Kosmic Kombucha -- Ok, so this last one isn't really a condiment, but falls into the category of meal accessory so good you want to tell everyone you know about it.
The first handful of times I tried kombucha (an effervescent, fermented tea) it literally made me sick to my stomach. Both brands and flavors, and flavors within brands vary greatly; I can barely keep down GT's Original formula, for example, but their Gingerade has become a cravable staple my daily routine.
Enter Kosmic Kombucha, with an entire line of incredible flavors, homemade in Austin. They started selling them at my yoga studio about a year ago and since then, it has grown into 35 retail spaces and counting. It's best darn kombucha I've ever had, with thoughtful flavors like Black Magic (blackberries, raspberries, ginger and spirulina) and Purple Haze (grape juice, lime, cinnamon, lavender and clove), which are medium amounts of bubbly and not too sweet. With its emphatic fans and inventive varieties, I would not be surprised to see this available en masse all over the country a year or two from now.
Items like the above mean we've finally cracked the code on what to get my Dad for Hanukah, but the ways to enjoy them are endless. What are some exceptional condiments you can't live without?