From ‘poor man’s salt’ to kitchen perennial, China’s spicy sauce has always blazed its own trail

“Seeing Americans enjoy Sichuan spicy sauce so much, I feel proud, and also curious,” Mr. Fang, in his late 30s, told the Beijing Evening News when McDonalds’ “Special Szechuan Sauce” finally landed in China this April.

But after tasting the infamous dip, which saw thousands of Americans lining up and brawling in front of the fast food chain the previous year, Fang was baffled: “It’s not spicy at all, but overly sweet.” He was far from alone. Online comments, especially from Sichuan locals, repeated the sentiment. “It’s like hot pot soup with brown sugar, a taste you can’t quite describe,” wrote one netizen.

McDonalds’ sauce was “Szechuan” in name only, as Chinese customers discovered to their disappointment. Moreover, its initial popularity had nothing to do with Chinese flavors “conquering the world,” as patriots like Fang hoped. Rather, the craze was instigated by an episode of the popular adult sci-fi animation Rick and Morty, in which a time-traveling character expresses nostalgia for a limited-edition sauce offered by McDonalds in 1998, to promote Disney’s Mulan.

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Hot and Saucy is a story from our issue, “Modern Family.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Liu Jue

Liu Jue is the co-managing editor of The World of Chinese Magazine. She has a Master of Arts in Communication from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Minzu University. She has been working for TWOC since 2012. She is interested in covering history, traditional culture, and Chinese language.

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