Every kitchen is full of mystery. Every cupboard has fossilised relics of recipes past. Every fridge has a top shelf - a black hole-like space of big jars, small jars, and a jar of piccalilli that seems to exist within its own dimension of space and time. Mayo is emptied, dijon is scraped, but piccalilli is forever. Condiments are at the heart of kitchen mystery. They’re both the question and the answer. They’re the difference between a fine sandwich and a fantastic one, a bad sauce and a bizarrely good one. Aside from the classics, I don’t really know when I’ll need my condiments. But the only way of finding out is by being completely, overly, and utterly stocked up.
CRISPY CHILLI OIL
This is gonna sound bad, but hear me out. Chilli crisp is addictive. Chilli crisp is constant. And the only thing I can compare it to is that time of teenage sexual awakening when you discover self-pleasure and, well, yeah. The point is: once you start with crispy chilli oil you can’t stop. Lao Gan Ma is the go-to, with its crunchy peanuts and the explosive umami black bean variety. This is by far and away the most present and popular condiment in my kitchen. It features everywhere. Fried rice ft. crispy chilli oil? Duh. Beans on toast ft. crispy chilli oil? Absolutely. Spag bol ft. crispy chilli oil? You bet. You can get it in any East Asian supermarket, or you can try some restaurant varieties like Tonkotsu’s or Lucky & Joy’s.
I’m the kind of person who claims to live by next to no rules whilst fastidiously and strictly maintaining an opaque set of arbitrary rules that I (and therefore everyone) should abide by. One of these rules is The Triangle Of Mayos ©. The TOM pertains to the rule that every fridge should have, at all times, three mayonnaises.
- Mayo #1: Your base mayo. Your Hellmann’s. Your mayo that’s always there, waiting to be spread, mixed, or ferally dipped into in the early hours of the morning.
- Mayo #2: Your mayo’s mayo. For this, I opt for Kewpie. The Japanese mayo that gets to the heart of what mayo is - delicious OTT eggy stuff you want to use as moisturiser - and times’ it by a million. You can find it everywhere these days.
- Mayo #3: Your alternative mayo. Garlic is my preference. Aioli is made with garlic cloves and good quality olive oil. I recommend you make it yourself if you really want a ‘is that smell me?’ moment. Either way, homemade or shop bought, it should be as pongy as humanely possible. Patty & Bun also sell their smoky one.
Proper mustard should make your eyes water and your nose run. It should make you close your eyes and think of England. It should be Colman’s. What English mustard lacks in versatility versus, say, its wholegrain or dijon Grey Poupon counterparts, it makes up for in unforgiving tangy heat. It tastes like a barrow boy has dropped a molotov cocktail on your tongue. Back in the pre-watered-down days, Beigel Bake would smear it onto their salt beef beigels via a wooden spoon that sat, all day, in a CostCo-sized vat of vibrant yellow fire. I’d walk outside, take a bite, and realise that I was once again gently crying in public. Only this time with people. Into beigels. It was great. Buy it in a jar, or even better as a powder for rubs and seasonings too.
MSG is a seasoning just like any other, except for one big difference. It’s better. It’s hard to explain what MSG does without sounding a little wishy-washy or philosophical about a naturally occurring substance called monosodium glutamate. Basically, it can make some food taste amazing. I like to think of it as a flavour enhancer. In the same way that anchovies or mushrooms or Marmite can add a real umami-umph to things. All of which is to say: get a bag of Ajinomoto in and use liberally.
Everyone has their favourite hot sauce and Crystal is mine. Crystal makes me think of buffalo wings and crunching bones and a life-or-death-like need for a stack of napkins and two wet wipes. It isn’t the hottest of hot sauces. It’s more vinegar-y than anything. But that’s why I have a whole load in my fridge to choose from. There’s Valentina - which is a little fruitier, there’s Encona’s scotch bonnet sauce - which is straight fire, and there are random ones like Snackbar’s yuzu hot sauce - which I got when they were crowdfunding and definitely need to refill. Unlike most condiments, hot sauce is about choice rather than favouritism.
AND HERE ARE SOME I'VE GOT LINED UP
Ginger & Spring Onion Sauce - Nasi Economy Rice: This is the kind of thing that I can imagine using in all sorts, before eventually spooning direct from the jar into my mouth.
Coffee Sriracha - Cataylst Coffee: Sriracha is a staple in most households these days, but one made using coffee beans is not. Catalyst is the place to get it.
Coconut Kaya Jam - Mei Mei: I have a taste for sugar and a taste for toast, so this kaya coconut jam is very appealing. It’s based on Hainanese kaya and it’s made with fresh pandan leaves and a load of caramel.