So back in August, while enjoying dinner one night, I found something to be amiss. Not only was the dish I made missing something (I think we were eating this), but I felt that deep down inside, I was too. A brief but convincing pang of homesickness rang through me. It did not take long for me to understand what the problem was; I hadn't had my favorite condiment, fried chili oil, since we'd moved and this was a problem. It dawned on me then that chili oil may very well be my security blanket of the condiment world. Perhaps alongside some Duke's mayonnaise, fried chili oil makes my fridge feel like home. That night I Googled 'Asian grocery stores in Berlin' and among the many options found a store called Go Asia that looked promising. The next day, with the warmth of fried chili oil on my mind, I set off on my bicycle, riding through a neighborhood I seldom visit, Moabit, to a transit center flanked by a strip mall. Walking inside Go Asia, I immediately felt at home as it followed the familiar and enchanting format of most Asian groceries I've been to; rows and rows of interesting things in jars, towers of tins filled with cookies, stacks of loose teas sold by the kilo, enormous bags of rice, bizarre frozen seafood, a variety of different brands of shrimp-flavored chips, plenty of Pocky and Pocky-knock-offs, all the dried mushrooms you've never heard of, and so many different kinds of chili pastes, powders, oils, and sauces.
I bought three different kinds of chili condiments and had to restrain myself from buying a fourth. Sesame oil, mirin, rice vinegar, jaggery, black vinegar, turmeric, rice flour, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and some adorable baby bok choy also somehow managed to find their way into my shopping cart.
But the most important thing I bought that day was this: Lao Gan Ma Crispy Chili Oil. This, my friends, is my condiment compass, my security blanket-turned-spicy-sauce, my fiery foundation. I've learned many, many things since moving to Berlin seven months ago, not the least of which is that it would appear I take great comfort in consuming this Chinese crispy chili oil. That red ooze coupled with the picture of the not-so-camera-ready lady really puts a smile on my face. This is the stuff. Also, it looks as though I am not the only one with loves Lao Gan Ma and her chili oil.
It should be noted that the container I bought was the normal-not-insane-person-sized jar at 250 grams, not the 700-gram-monster pictured above, which one from the US could imagine is basically the Costco version. But now it is almost November and our household has consumed all but the last few flecks of the jar. This is most certainly due to the fact that this stuff is delicious served with practically everything edible (which is most certainly due to the fact that it contains MSG). We eat it with almost every meal; eggs, meat, grilled veggies, ice cream, whatever. Ok, maybe not ice cream but I would not be surprised if that tasted good (UPDATE: apparently it does!?). I've scheduled another Go Asia date with myself again for later this week. Soy sauce is on the list this time, along with sesame seeds and probably more adorable baby bok choy because I'm only human. And then back in our apartment, I will bask in the glory of my spoils by snuggling up with my favorite—albeit unphotogenic—lady, Lao Gan Ma, and feel a little less far away from home.