At some point in my childhood a Sriracha bottle began living in my family’s refrigerator – red sauce with a rooster and a string of incomprehensible letters on the front, and a green cap that was always slightly gummy. As a kid I found that it was too spicy for my taste, but my mom told me that some day I’d love it and that has proven to be true.
In his documentary, simply titled, “Sriracha: A Documentary Film,” filmmaker Griffin Hammond shows the fervor of fans of Sriracha and explains how the product became so immensely popular in the United States. The film begins with the California jalapeno harvest and introduces the love that so many have for the sauce. Later, Hammond travels to Thailand and delves into its true origins and the assorted versions in the Asian market.
Hammond makes it possible for viewers to see and hear from creator and owner David Tran for the first time, a true feat because Tran eschews fame in the way that most entrepreneurs seek it. This is easily the best and most interesting aspect of the film. Hammond skillfully portrays the compelling and wonderfully refreshing story of a business owner who is so humble in his approach that (at least prior to the release of this documentary) none of his fans even knew what he looked like. In an era where the term “CEO” carries with it a host of negative connotations, Tran is likeable for his humility and his dedication to his product.
Sriracha, within the twin worlds of home cooking and professional cooking, is literally iconic. The bottle itself and its famous rooster have become indelibly woven in to the culinary culture of America. It shows up everywhere and can be seen on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and even as a Halloween costume. For a product with literally no advertising budget, its reach and subsequent fame is nothing short of remarkable. However, Sriracha is also iconic in the figurative sense. In many ways the story of this simple product is a perfect representation of the American Dream — the bolded, uppercase, larger-than-life idea that someone can leave his home country with virtually nothing, emigrate to the United States, and build a life of success for himself and his family.
This is the reason that for any fan of Sriracha this film is an absolute must-see. In the end, filmmaker Griffin Hammond is like every other person who loves Sriracha, a fan devoted to his favorite product, and this is revealed in every scene of the film. “Sriaracha: A Documentary Film” is a love note, and quite a nicely produced one at that. It’s also an interesting introduction to a company that is currently fighting tooth and nail against a cease-and-desist order. This legal injunction has temporarily shut down production at the Irwindale, CA plant, which is featured heavily in the film, as a result of allegations that noxious fumes are affecting the nearby residential community. This created a Sriracha buying panic among the general public for fear that supplies may run short.
America has grown to love Sriracha. For many it is an absolutely essential condiment, like salt and pepper on a dining room table, a humble product with what can only be described as a beautiful, unlikely story. In relating the story, Griffin Hammond takes us on an entertaining journey. While the film is short, clocking in at a little over a half hour, it’s lighthearted with a surprising amount of warmth. With a cost of admission of only five dollars, “Sriracha” is hard to say no to, and that’s fine, because you shouldn’t. Say yes, pay the five bucks, and fall even more in love than you were before.