Sauce Samouraï: “Why have you hidden this from me?”

When Kathryn and I were in Paris in 2013, we ate in several kebab shops. Although I had eaten in French kebab shops when I was younger, usually after or during long nights of drinking, Kathryn, for her part, was totally sober and immediately hooked nonetheless. Meat, potatoes, bread, salt, grease, and just enough lettuce, tomato, and onion — that’s called a complet, by the way — to allow you to convince yourself it’s semi-healthy. What’s not to love?

Something that had changed since my younger days was the variety of sauces available to put on the kebab. I had always let the cook put on whatever white sauce was popular at the time. As Kathryn and I placed our first kebab order together, a sauce in an orange squeeze bottle caught my eye. I asked the guy behind the counter what it was. He said what I thought was zamuri, which even as I’m typing it doesn’t look quite French. I remember his next words were ça pique! He was trying to tell me the sauce was spicy — literally, it stings! Over the years I’ve heard countless warnings throughout Europe about spicy food that wasn’t all that spicy, so I didn’t take his warning too seriously.

The cook — dare I say the chef? — squirted some of the sauce on the sandwich itself, and then squirted another couple tablespoons’ worth on our tray liner so we could dip our fries in it. Sweet, fatty, spicy … we loved it! In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we asked for sauce orange every time we ate at a kebab shop for the rest of the week. Kathryn leaned to me and asked, “Why have you hidden this from me my whole life?”

Actually, she didn’t say that at all, but it totally sounds like something she’d say.

Before heading back to the States, we decided to look for the sauce in a nearby supermarket. It turns out it’s called sauce samouraï, the second word being obviously a Japanese word transliterated into French, although I have my doubts the sauce has anything to do with Japan. We bought a small jar of it, but the roughly six ounces didn’t last very long.

Later in the year I tried making some sauce samouraï of my own, following recipes I found online. It’s essentially a mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and some kind of pepper — either cayenne or harissa, depending on the recipe. It was good, but it wasn’t quite the same.

This year, when we were back in France, this time in Montpellier, we of course found more kebab shops to enjoy. This time we got a little smarter and bought two larger plastic bottles before coming home. Unfortunately we lost a half-bottle during a camping trip when it wasn’t sealed properly in our cooler. The remainder has long since gone in our bellies.

Sauce samouraï, I salute you.

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