Chinese dishes usually come to mind when one craves that classic sweet and sour taste. Most restaurants that specialize in the cuisine have sweet and sour fish, pork, chicken, and other variations on their menus. But did you know that this crowd-pleasing sauce also features prominently in dishes from all over the world?
The flavor combination is so powerful that everyone wants to make it their own! Learn about the many forms it takes, from the Philippines' agre dulce to the syrupy French gastrique. Your global sweet and sour sauce journey starts here.
1. Agre Dulce, The Philippines
Locally, the sauce is known as agre dulce. It sounds fancy, but it's easy to make! Start by mixing cornstarch with water, salt, sugar, and a tangy ingredient, like tomato or banana ketchup. For more depth of flavor, replace the salt with a Knorr Chicken Cube. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until thick. Make sure it’s smooth and lump-free before serving! Enjoy as a dip for Filipino fiesta favorites like lumpiang shanghai and fried chicken.
2. Nước Chấm, Vietnam
In Vietnam, you'll find nước chấm, the general term for dipping sauces or condiments. There are many different versions, but the basic recipe consists of water, sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce. It’s used heavily throughout the cuisine. Other twists on the sauce include garlic, chili, or both! It's often served alongside fresh spring rolls, drizzled over crispy pork, or used as dressing for vermicelli noodle salads.
3. Prik Nam Pla, Thailand
The Thai version is prik nam pla. It's similar to nước chấm in its runny consistency and use of fish sauce for the base. Thai chilies, brown sugar, lime juice, shallots, and garlic round out its traditional ingredients list. This sauce is notable for its perfect balance of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy flavors, which enhances every dish. It’s so good, you can eat it with just rice and any meat.
4. Kurozu Ankake, Japan
The Japanese have a sauce called kurozu ankake, named after its main ingredient: kurozu, a type of black vinegar. Meanwhile, ankake translates to “thick, sweet sauce,” which tells you what you can expect from this luscious concoction. It’s readily available in Japanese supermarkets, but you can also make it from scratch at home if you're feeling crafty.
Whisk together sugar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, sake, water, cornstarch, and the kurozu. Mix until the sugar fully dissolves and you see no clumps. Use it to coat stir-fried meats, veggies, tofu, and more!
5. Tangsuyuk, Korea
Tangsuyuk is a dish that evolved from the táng cù ròu (sweet and sour pork) of China. While it was first brought to the country by Chinese immigrants, it was later adapted to suit the Korean palate. The sauce is a mixture of water, pineapple juice, sugar, soy sauce, and apple cider vinegar, thickened with a potato or cornstarch slurry.
Bite-sized pieces of double-fried pork or beef are tossed in the sauce to make tangsuyuk. It’s commonly enjoyed with other Korean comfort food like jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles) and jjampong (spicy seafood noodle soup) with pickled radish on the side.
6. Gastrique, France
Not only are sweet-sour sauces found in Asia, but you'll also spot them around Europe. The French have gastrique, an equal mixture of caramelized sugar or honey and vinegar reduced into a slightly thick, syrupy consistency. Gastrique sauces pack a flavor punch. You can have them with savory proteins like fish and steak or even drizzled over desserts!
7. Agrodolce, Italy
Italy has agrodolce. The name combines two Italian words: agro for sour and dolce for sweet. Traditionally, you can make it with reduced honey or sugar, vinegar, pine nuts, and any mixture of dried fruits and vegetables. The resulting sauce differs depending on the vinegar and fruits used in a recipe. Use it as a condiment for grilled vegetables or a glaze for meats. You can also spread it on bread to make sandwiches.
So, the next time you're craving that finger-lickin' sweet and sour flavor, branch out from your usual Chinese takeout. There are lots of other dishes worth trying across different cuisines!