Saturday morning had not been kind to me so far. I woke up with a terrible hangover, to find that the friend that was supposed to be sleeping over was nowhere in sight. My roommates soon told me that while I had made myself comfortable in bed and knocked out, they had stayed up taking care of my increasingly sick (read: too much vodka) friend. They were not happy.
Now, an hour's drive later across Los Angeles, me and two other Spoonies are in Irwindale (essentially the middle of nowhere), waiting in line at the gates of Huy Fong Foods—the huge 650,000 sq. ft Sriracha factory. A hint of spice hangs in the air as we walk in, which does an amazing job of teasing out my hangover and picking me up.
Shipping and Idols
Huy Fong Foods made the sensible decision to introduce the more boring segment first, so as we walk into the factory, we are given a handy-dandy tour brochure and are faced by a room full of boxes of packaged Sriracha bottles, ready to be shipped all around the world (but mainly to Canada).
The monotony of this room is diluted by cheeky photos of the founder David Tran wearing a few shirts that will hopefully make my Christmas stockings.
A Waterfall of Jalapenos
The main ingredient in Sriracha is red jalapeños that are trucked in fresh daily. The chili grinding season only lasts about four months out of the year, and we realized that ours was the last group of the year that would be allowed to visit this facility until next September's open house. Woop-dee-dee.
To deal with the massive amounts brought in everyday, 30-40 trucks each unload 21 tons of chillies into a huge metal basin. A literal waterfall of chillies. These chillies are then gently rolled onto hopper of a conveyor belt.
Let's Make Sauce
The conveyor belt feeds the jalapeños into machines that wash and then grind them to pulp. Workers add salt, vinegar and other spices to create the chili base for the three main sauces produced: Sriracha, Chili Garlic, and Sambal Oelek. The sauce is then fed into giant 55 gallon blue barrels for storage.
Bottle on Bottles on Bottles
The next part of the facility makes the famous green topped bottles we all know and adds the sauce to them. Huy Fong makes all their plastic bottles in house rather than buying them from elsewhere which is pretty darn cool.
There's something mesmerizing about this: the bottles inflating, machines labeling them, filling them up, screwing on the green caps, sending them through a heat induction sealer that seals the bottle, and then laser coding each bottle with a production code and a best-before date. It really does make me feel like robots will take over the world.
These bottles are then boxed and organized based on where they will be shipped to by automatic case erectors.
Walking out of the factory, we are hit by the bright California sun and handed a bunch of Sriracha-flavored food, including popcorn, chips, ice cream and a turnover. My stomach welcomed all of it.
Then we got in line for the Rooster Room gift shop, which even as someone who does not like gifts shops, I highly recommend. There's every sort of merchandise available from onesies, pillows, cheeky shirts ("Cock Sauce—handle carefully"), pajamas, to shot glasses and Sriracha-flavored ketchup and mustard. Oh, and boxers too. But those you can't see. Everything was so affordable that we had to go wild and none of us walked out empty-handed.
So the next time, you want to visit Los Angeles and you want something new and novel to do, take a flight out here in September and let the spicy smells of Huy Fong Foods soothe your hangover from the night before. It's completely worth it.