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What's that sauce in your takeout bag? Here's your guide to beloved condiments from around the world

  • 4 min to read
What's that sauce in your takeout bag? Here's your guide to beloved condiments from around the world

When faced with the litany of condiments at any international market, initial fascination can easily give way to utter helplessness. What’s in these mysterious jars and bottles? How do I use them? Would I even like them? To answer that last question, it’s up to you to find out – that’s the fun part. As for the what and how of the matter, here are some of my favorite condiments from around the world and how I recommend using them.

1. Wonderful Condiments from Around the World

The world of condiments is vast, but here are some standouts that can be paired with anything from takeout dishes to homemade meals.

Ajvar XO AamKa crash course

BALKANS

Ajvar: A thick, rich blend of roasted red peppers and eggplant, ajvar has a body that won’t quit. Its surprising brightness amplifies anything it touches, from grilled meats to poultry to fish, and it can even be used as the base for pasta sauce.

CHINA

XO Sauce: A combination of dried shrimp, dried scallops and Jinhua ham makes this hallowed condiment luxurious (and expensive). The umami blend is primarily used over fried rice and noodles, along with meat, tofu and vegetable dishes.

INDIA

Aam ka achaar: There’s a lot to love about all Indian pickles and chutneys, but mango pickle is special. The tangy mix of green mango and savory spices adds a satisfying hit of flavor to everything from rice to yogurt.

Col Furi Filfel crash course

ITALY

Colatura di Alici: Italy has fish sauce too – and it’s aged. Imagine anchovy fillets and salt layered in wooden barrels and set aside in a temperature-controlled environment to ferment for a very long time. The result is a completely different flavor profile than the Asian classic. Use it in pasta or splash it over meats and vegetables for unmistakable depth.

JAPAN

Furikake: A dry condiment, furikake is the everything bagel seasoning of Japan. Composed of bits of dried fish, sesame seed and chopped seaweed, it’s sprinkled on top of cooked rice, vegetables and fish – although, I will admit that I’ve eaten it straight out of my hand. Furikake comes in several varieties, including bonito, salmon, shiso and wasabi.

LIBYA/ISRAEL

Filfel Chuma: Spicy, with more spice to spare, this thick pepper sauce features heaps of garlic and fruity undertones. It’s aggressive but not overpowering, adding a pleasant kick to yogurt, lentils, rice or fish.

Salsa Toyo Chimi crash course

MEXICO

Salsa de cacahuate y chile de árbol: Made with peanuts, chiles, onion, herbs and spices, this smooth peanut salsa works wonders on top of meats, fish and all manner of tacos.

PHILIPPINES

Toyomansi: Packing a roundhouse punch from calamansi juice, toyomansi is a step-up from standard soy sauce but just as versatile. Mix it with shallots, garlic and chile to create an outstanding dipping sauce for grilled meats.

SOUTH AMERICA

Chimichurri: Half marinade, half sauce, chimichurri looks like pesto, but it’s airier with bright green flavor from fresh parsley, oregano, chile and garlic. These ingredients swim in a generous dose of red wine vinegar, creating the perfect condiment for grilled meats and fish.

Nam Picca Remo crash course

THAILAND

Nam Phrik: Nam phrik is an umbrella term for a family of delicious Thai condiments. A layer of fish paste, shallots, garlic, lime and chile works as a base for regional variations, which include galangal, green mango, lemongrass and tamarind, to name a few. This is a must-have for Thai cuisine – use it to add life to more subtle dishes.

U.K.

Piccalilli: A descendent of Indian mixed vegetable pickle, piccalilli is a beloved relish in the U.K. Think of it as mustard’s chunky cousin. Bright yellow and typically strewn with cauliflower, cucumbers, green beans and pearl onions in a sweet-tart mustard-like sauce, it shines on cured meats, cheeses and meat pies.

U.S.

Remoulade: What I define as France by way of New Orleans, remoulade is a briny mayonnaise brimming with capers, anchovies, cornichons and a generous helping of herbs for balance. Use it with seafood and seafood-based dishes (think crab cakes), cold meats, cheeses and fried foods.

2. How To Use Your Leftover Condiments

We’ve all seen it: shelf upon shelf of partially used condiments, forgotten or abandoned until they ultimately tip and leak all over the refrigerator. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The internet has a wealth of recipes that call for these condiments, but here are a few tips to get you started.

Besides working beautifully on almost any grilled meat, poultry or fish, fresh herb-based condiments are perfect simply slathered on bread. Cool down condiments that pack significant heat such as z’hug (a hot sauce originating in Yemeni cuisine) by blending them with creamy condiments such as crema, Kewpie Mayonnaise and labneh to use as a sandwich spread, dip or drizzle.

Chunky preserved or fermented condiments such as Indian achaars and preserved lemon are powerhouses on their own, but they reveal their superpower when added to unexpected dishes. Toss roasted Brussels sprouts with aam ka achaar or throw preserved lemon in with roasted chicken and olives. These condiments also make good dressings, as they boost both flavor and texture.

Use paste-style or thicker liquid condiments as the base for dipping sauces, glazes and sauces for any number of noodle dishes. Ajvar adds life to classic tomato sauce while Kewpie Mayonnaise makes grilled cheese extra crispy due to its higher egg-yolk ration – just two out of countless examples.

Play with the flavor profiles of thinner liquid condiments by adding fresh or dried chiles, sesame oil or scallions, among other ingredients. They make terrific marinades for meats, fish and vegetables, or mix them with thicker condiments to give them more body for hot or cold noodle dishes, vegetables and dressings.

Dry condiments serve a different purpose than liquid condiments, but they’re just as versatile – and delicious. Furikake, for instance, is as sensational on top of a bagel and cream cheese as it is on rice. Za’atar is the perfect companion for tomato toast, and gunpowder regularly finds its way into winter stews and roasted chicken in my house because everyone loves it.

3. Piccalilli

Homemade versions of piccalilli just taste better than store-bought. Here, we get to use two condiments from across the pond – malt vinegar and Colman’s mustard powder – to make another. If you’re not a fan of heat, simply adjust the ratio of English mustard powder to regular mustard powder.

Homemade versions of piccalilli just taste better than store-bought.