Houston Restaurant Family Steps in to Alleviate Sriracha Shortage With Own Brand
The Kim Sơn Restaurant family is hoping to fill the void left by the Huy Fong Foods’ sriracha sauce shortage with their locally made Mama La’s Sriracha. The sauce is released as part of the Mama La’s Kitchen brand, Kim Sơn’s sister company located at 4802 Gulf Freeway, and is now available in restaurants and retailers across the Houston area and beyond.
Mama La’s Kitchen is named after Kim Su Tran La, who founded Kim Sơn with her husband Son Minh La (Kim Sơn combines their names and translates to ‘Golden Mountain’). Their original restaurant was located in Vinh Long but was shut down during the Fall of Saigon. The couple immigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. to escape the Communist regime and pursue the American dream along with their seven children in 1980, around the same time that Huy Fong’s David Tran arrived in the States. ‘Mama La’ arrived with a wealth of Vietnamese recipes and cooking experience passed down to her by her mother-in-law which led to the opening of the first stateside Kim Sơn in the heart of Houston’s Downtown Chinatown in 1982.
Tao Minh La, COO and youngest son of the Kim Sơn family, says that they greatly expanded the Mama La’s Kitchen business during the pandemic as “the restaurants were shut down for such a long time, [the] business pivoted quickly into to-go, delivery and retail.” The Mama La’s frozen food line includes Imperial Egg Rolls in multiple varieties, Mama La’s Kitchen Broth Concentrates — available in Beef, Spicy Beef, Chicken and Bún bò Huế flavors — and The Bowl Project, which currently comes in Chicken Curry Bowl and Beef Phở Bowl. The frozen dishes are available in over 60 retail locations in 12 states including 99 Ranch Market, H Mart and Central Market. Later this year, it will start selling its award-winning vegan broth (only available to restaurants until then) and a Wonton Noodle Bowl.
The company is also a food supplier for a vast network of restaurants across the country. It develops custom recipes, scales up proprietary recipes and procures often difficult-to-source specialty foods and ingredients in its 80,000 sq ft warehouse near the University of Houston. Restaurants interested in working with Mama La’s should email Tao directly.
Mama La’s Sriracha began retail distribution this summer after more than a year of in-house research and development, and restaurant-only sales. Like the ubiquitous Huy Fong rooster sauce, the bright, spicy, garlicky condiment that has cult-like status, Mama La’s starts with a blend of ripe, red jalapeños from Mexico and California. Vibrantly piquant red Thai chilies are added, then all the peppers are cooked in distilled vinegar and blended into a paste along with salt, sugar, garlic, acetic acid and proprietary seasonings to enhance and round out the flavor profile. Xanthan gum is added as a thickener and finally, the common food preservatives and anti-browning agents sodium bisulfite and potassium sorbate are added. The sauce is available in 17-ounce plastic bottles with a regular retail price of around $5.99.
Fans of the Huy Fong product might be skeptical about whether or not Mama La’s take on the flavorful chili sauce is just as good. I think it is. Mama La’s is a bit tangier and has a smoother texture — more in line with traditional Thai sriracha. It has a mild heat and displays sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors making it incredibly versatile. An easy way to try it before you buy your own bottle is by dining at any of the Kim Sơn restaurants, where it is also available for sale. You can also find it in other local restaurants such as Phat Eatery, Luloo’s Day & Night, Nam Eatery, Pho Dien and Pho Saigon.
On the retail grocer side, the product is available in Asian markets like Hong Kong Food Market, Tan Binh Market and Viet Hoa International Foods. The company hopes larger retailers such as Central Market, H-E-B and Kroger will soon follow suit.
If you need another excuse to get out and try some Mama La’s Sriracha, Kim Sơn and Mama La’s are sponsors of the upcoming Viet Cultural Fest on Saturday, September 16 at NRG Center. The family-friendly event will showcase cultural entertainment, traditional games and delicious Vietnamese food. Presale tickets are available now for $10 ($15 at the door).
Mario-Sebastian Berry is a wine and spirits vendor who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. Currently, he represents Blanco, Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s associate editor and social media manager.