Mystery Chinese dim sum sauce
April 3, 2006 12:42 PM   Subscribe

What Chinese black sauce is this?

I am in love with this dim sum sauce. It's a thick sauce browner than soy sauce, with a degree of paste-like consistency. It's sweet. They call it "seafood sauce" at Jin Fong here in NYC. It's hard to get dim sum places in NYC to give it to me, so I've been trying to find it in stores, trying to find out exactly what this sauce is. I bought a bottle of "char siu" which is not it, it's not oyster sayce or turnip cake sauce (too salty and and too smooth). Last time I was at Jin Fong I had a guy write it down for me in Chinese but I've misplaced the card, and anyway it may got by different names, I need more information from anyone who knows Chinese food or Happy Chef in Chicago.

I first had it at my beloved Happy Chef, where they automatically bring it to the table in a dish half filled with sambal and half with this black sauce (yum). Living in NYC now I get it at Jin Fong, however not without a fight. They give me an easier time now, but at first the cart women would go ask someone else to make sure for me that that is really what I want, or that it is ok to give it to me. Now I just get looks like I'm odd. At Happy Chef it was given automatically, at Jin Fong I have to struggle to get it. When I ask for it at Vegetarian Dim Sum House it's just futile.

It can't be anything too hard since it was a normal table sauce at Happy Chef. I don't want to buy bottle after bottle of black Chinese sauce, so help me, please.
posted by scazza to Food & Drink (23 answers total)
maybe hoisin sauce ?
posted by dawdle at 12:45 PM on April 3, 2006

Is it Hoisin sauce?
posted by subtle-t at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2006

Best answer: it is literally seafood sauce, but cantonese phonetically you might try hoisin sauce
posted by juv3nal at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2006

posted by juv3nal at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2006

Upon hitting preview, what everyone else said.
posted by phoenixc at 12:48 PM on April 3, 2006

(This may be too easy of an answer, but) Could it be hoisin sauce? I have a bottle of it at home. Even though one of those links say it is reddish-brownish, my bottle looks pretty black. It is thick and sweet, I use it when I stir-fry.
posted by rmless at 12:51 PM on April 3, 2006

(Also known as Plum Sauce.)
posted by ereshkigal45 at 12:52 PM on April 3, 2006

My vote goes to Hoisin as well.

But if that's not it, XO sauce has been the rage in Hong Kong for years. I don't recall it being particularly sweet, but it's definitely a seafood sauce.
posted by JudgeBork at 12:53 PM on April 3, 2006

Could it be X/O sauce? It's both made with and often served with seafood, and is certainly dark.
posted by hoboynow at 12:54 PM on April 3, 2006

It's not XO Sauce. XO sauce is not paste-like and is mildly spicy and not particularly sweet.

They call it "seafood sauce" at Jin Fong here in NYC.

"literally seafood sauce" - from the wikipedia page on hoisin sauce.
posted by juv3nal at 1:00 PM on April 3, 2006

It may also have been tianmian jiang, which many places often substitute hoisin for.
posted by subtle-t at 1:03 PM on April 3, 2006

Best answer: The words Hoi-sin literally means sea food. "Sea" - hoi, "sin" - "fresh."

If you want to get it yourself, my grannie's been using Lee-Kum-Kee Hoisin sauce for ages.

Some restaurants add a bit of MSG, sugar, soy, and cornstarch, then cook it a little before storing to give it more oomph. Could be why it tastes a bit sweeter.
posted by Sallysings at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2006

char siu is generally BBQ pork. i.e., char siu bau (bbq pork buns). you can glaze pork ribs with it and oven-ize them.

hoisin is great with freshly-made spring rolls, too, if you get tired of dim sum.
posted by kcm at 1:26 PM on April 3, 2006

It's also the usual sauce with moo shu, so maybe you can just ask for "moo shu sauce".
posted by nicwolff at 1:29 PM on April 3, 2006

mu shu is an American creation you'll only find at places with bottled hoisin if not something else entirely, in my opinion.
posted by kcm at 1:32 PM on April 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your prompt and reinforced answers. Looks like hoisin it is. I will have to try it. I actually thought that hoisin was too specific or common or whatever and didn't even consider it in my choice of bottles.

Wow, this is incredible the number of people who have repeated exactly what the people above them have said, not just the name of the sauce but entire phrases. What a reflection of how askme has changed.

Yay! I'm so glad my search has ended! I'm bringing a bottle of my own to Vegetarian Dim Sum House! Woooooeeee!
posted by scazza at 1:40 PM on April 3, 2006

Response by poster: Oh yea, and I'll have no problem finding it, thank you, as I discovered when I moved here, that NYC is absolutely ingredient mecca. Take my pick I will of Chinatown, Pearl River, Kalyustan's (salivate), or wait, I think my neighborhood store has it. It will be my new ketchup (or bbq sauce as it would be since that is the love of my life) right next to the kecap manis and tamarind chutney. Mmm sweet brown sauces.
posted by scazza at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2006

Response by poster: Oh does anyone have any idea why the cart mistresses at Jin Fong give me such a hard time about it?
posted by scazza at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2006

posted by kcm at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2006

derr.. 你是鬼佬.
posted by kcm at 1:59 PM on April 3, 2006

Oh does anyone have any idea why the cart mistresses at Jin Fong give me such a hard time about it?

Just a guess, but it's typically a condiment that is only given with specific dishes.
An analogy might be asking for wasabi at a Japanese restaurant when not ordering any sushi or sashimi.
Sure, they have it and push come to shove they'll give it to you, but they're probably thinking "crazy gwailo philistine" or something like that.

Also the carts typically only have the condiments for the particular dishes on that cart, so even if you were to ask for something generic like soy sauce you may have similar trouble because they're loathe to relay the message to someone else who actually gets you the sauce (because doing so takes time away from them selling cart-product). You might have better luck if you find a free-floating waiter.
posted by juv3nal at 2:16 PM on April 3, 2006

A slight derail...I found out a few months ago that Hoisin sauce doesn't really contain any really mysterious ingredients and is pretty easy to make yourself. If the store-bought kinds are lacking some way (too sweet, not spicy enough, etc.) then google up some recipes and try making your own.

If you do any (American-style) Chinese cooking you probably already have most of the ingredients.
posted by sevenless at 4:43 PM on April 3, 2006

Aside: hoisin is also the 'tuong an pho' or 'pho sauce' that you get with pho noodle soup in Vietnamese restaurants.
posted by gimonca at 6:56 PM on April 3, 2006

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