In retail, there’s Amazon. In Asian condiments, there’s Lee Kum Kee. This maker of good-but-not-great sauces and relishes has been gobbling up shelf space in Oriental markets to the detriment of smaller brands, notably Lan Chi.
Lan Chi used to have a dozen facings at my nearest local source, Asian Supermarket in Albany. Today they’re gone. The greatest loss is Lan Chi Chili Paste with Garlic, a complex and multifaceted product (in addition to potent amount of roasted chili and funky garlic, it also contains fermented black beans) that’s the perfect foil to a Chinese lunch or a dim sum platter. I’m not alone in this preference; ask any knowledgeable chef which Chinese chili sauce they prefer and they’ll say Lan Chi.
When my backup supply finally ran out, I assumed I’d be able to pick up a jar on a trip to San Francisco Chinatown. But no luck in half a dozen establishments. I began to wonder what had happened and of course consulted Facebook, where Lan Chi Foods had last posted in 2012: “Life is good…sleeping in the hammock enjoying #slumvillage, #macallen18 and a full moon!” A couple of people responded to the post by asking where the Chili Garlic Paste had gone, but there were no replies. One guesses the business has passed to a new generation where preserving the brand is not the highest priority.
I did find a few online sources, fortunately, and placed a successful order at Kim’s Asian Market. The shipping was a flat $6.99 so I was able to bring the per-jar cost down by ordering multiples. (If you’re in a hurry, this source will sell it to you via Amazon Prime, but you’ll pay.) I advise you to do the same. A jar lasts me about 3 years, so divide your life expectancy by that number and purchase accordingly before this manna goes away for good.