BowlCut’s Sauces Remind Me of the Chinese Dishes I Grew Up Eating
Char siu pork and sweet soy sauce over plain white rice was my go-to lunch after attending Saturday school every weekend between my middle and high school years in New York City’s Chinatown. After a morning of classes, there was nothing more satisfying than the sweet, savory, and salty combo — it was definitely the only thing I looked forward to on those weekends.
It’s a fairly humble and popular dish that you’d find in many Chinese restaurants, especially the fast-casual ones with racks of barbecue pork and whole chickens hanging in the windows. But now that I live out in the suburbs where Chinese restaurants are few and far between, let alone ones with poultry window displays, it’s a nostalgic luxury that I ask my parents to bring every time they visit.
That’s not to say I haven’t tried recreating my favorite childhood dishes at home, though. Open my refrigerator and you’ll find a stash of Lee Kum Kee sauces (hoisin, oyster, black bean garlic, and different kinds of soy), bottles of Sriracha, and, more recently, jars of char siu BBQ sauce and chili crisp from BowlCut.
The AAPI-owned condiment brand first caught my eye last spring — the name “BowlCut” stood out among my inbox and brought back memories (both good and bad) of my own history with the bowl-cut hairstyle, courtesy of my parents. Once I tried the three debut sauces — Char Siu BBQ, Chili Crisp, and Spicy Chili Crisp — I was immediately brought back to my childhood. A little drizzle of the sweet and smoky char siu sauce over white rice and soy sauce, dunking pan-fried dumplings into a pinch bowl overflowing with the vibrant chili crisp (regular or spicy, depending on my mood) — one taste and I’m back on Mott Street after Saturday school.
BowlCut was founded in spring 2022 by Crystal Ung, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant restaurant owner in San Diego, as a response to the increased violence toward the AAPI community and her father’s high blood pressure. The result? Small-batch sauces inspired by the ones she helped make in her family’s restaurant that fully lean into the Asian-ness of growing up both Asian and American and, in the case of the two chili crisps, also are made with less sodium per serving compared to other brands. The debut sauces are available à la carte, in pre-made bundles with one-time and subscription orders, or in combo packs that you can curate yourself.
As a child of a Chinese restaurant line cook, my background is slightly different than Ung’s, but I can still appreciate how the sauces are an extension of her unique food experiences of growing up Asian in America. Even if you’re not the kid of a Chinese restaurant owner or cook, you’ll likely have your own connection to Chinese food — and that’s the whole point behind BowlCut. I may be too old to attend Saturday school, but every time I eat char siu with white rice, I’m not reminded of weekends spent in a drafty building, but rather lunch dates with my mom after class, buying groceries in the open-air fruit and veg stalls that line the streets of Chinatown, and popping into the restaurant where my dad worked to say hi.
BowlCut’s sauces are a conduit to nostalgia — and a delicious one at that.
Buy: BowlCut 2-Pack Combo, $20 (originally $25)