Introduction: Spicy Saigon Chili Oil

About: Cooking is what sparks joy and creativity in my life. Food is my passion and my way of sharing my culture with you. I love eating, cooking, and learning about your culture through food.

A hot chili oil recipe originated from my mom’s kitchen.

Why the name? This Chili oil is a taste of my home and culture. Every bite takes me back to my childhood years living in Saigon, where I enjoyed eating a bowl of knock noodles.

Just like how the American kids look forward to the ice cream truck music, I looked forward to hearing “knock, knock noodle here.” Every day, Knock noodle lady walked down the street carrying two wooden baskets. One basket was full of noodles, vegetables, and condiments and the other basket full of delicious hot broth. As she walked down the street, she would knock on this wooden object and call out “knock, knock noodle here. Anyone wants knock noodles.” To this day, I have yet to taste another bowl of noodles that was as good as her.

This chili oil recipe is one of my secret sauce to make every noodle dishes taste infinitely better. It is my husband's favorite and per his requests, my only wife's duty is to make sure we never ran out of this chili oil.


  • 1/2 cups Dried Chili Flakes (Used Dried Thai Chili Flakes if you dare)
  • 12 oz (~1.5 cups) Canola Oil
  • 1 Garlic head
  • 2 shallots or 1/2 white onion (Are you prepare to cry?)
  • 1/2 cup Lemongrass, minced
  • 1 tsp Fish sauce (can also use soy sauce)
  • Pinch of Sugar (optional)
  • Pinch of Salt

Full disclosure, this is not my mom’s original recipe as I have tweaked to remove the shrimp paste, my mom’s key secret ingredient. If you dare and don’t mind having shrimp paste smell in your house, add a pinch of shrimp paste at the end after you turn off the heat. As for me, shrimp paste does not exist in my kitchen pantry. :)

Step 1: Prepare Ingredients

Mince the garlic and chop the onion. The garlic pieces don’t have to be uniform and superfine. The goal is to get tiny bits of crunchy garlic in your chili oil. If you are using onion instead of shallot, make sure to chop it into tiny pieces, not too big of a chunk or it will take longer to fry.

Step 2: Infusing the Oil

Add the prepared garlic/onion and oil into a pot. Choose a pot that is twice the depth of your oil level. Trust me, you would not want the oil to overboil out onto your stove. As for the oil, I used a 12 oz mason jar to measure out the amount of oil I needed. This batch makes the perfect amount of chili oil for a 12oz mason jar.

Turn the stove to medium-low and watch it boil away. This process will infuse the oil with garlic and onion flavor and make them crispy. The oil will boil up, but don’t freak out, unless you are using too small of a pot. Once the onion and garlic are fried, the boiling will die down.

Step 3: Almost There!

When the garlic and onion start to float and turn sightly golden, carefully add in the minced lemongrass. If you are using frozen minced lemongrass like me, add just a bit at a time and stir to prevent splashing and oil boiling over. This caution step is just to make sure nothing happens in case there is water in the frozen minced lemongrass. Remember water and oil are NOT best friends.

Continue cooking until you can smell the lemongrass aroma, approximately ~5 minutes or until everything turns from slightly golden to golden. Add the dried chili flakes and cook for about 2 more minutes.

Step 4: Adding the Finishing Touch

Turn off the heat and seasoned it with fish sauce/soy sauce, salt, and sugar. Dip a piece of bread in and taste test it. The chili oil should taste garlicky and spicy with a slight saltiness. Remember, this chili oil is just a condiment, so don’t make it too salty. Its sole purpose is to add spice to your life, LOL.

Wait for it to cool down and pour it into a jar. Store it in the fridge until it ran out. If you ever run out of the oil part, but still have chili left, just add more canola oil to the jar and continue eating it until everything is out and then make another batch.

Step 5: Tips and Tricks

Use Mortar Pestle to mince the garlic

I hate the smell of garlic on my finger so I discovered this technique a while back. Remove all the cloves and pound it with the pestle to remove the outer skin. Then continue pounding until the garlic cloves become tiny pieces.

What if I am vegan?

If you are vegan, substitute fish sauce with vegan fish sauce. Yes! Vegan fish sauce does exist and I have found them at Whole Food (in my family we called it Whole Paycheck, LOL) and Dinosaur Sandwich.

Can’t find minced lemongrass…
Minced lemongrass can be found at any Asian store in the freezer section. If you can’t find it, make your own by using lemongrass stalk, which can be found at most stores in the vegetable idle. Here is an awesome video on how to prep it.

Can I use fresh chili?

Yes, just turn fresh chili into dried chili flakes. Dry all of your harvested chilies and then grind it to make chili flakes. As for using fresh chili directly, I have never tried that because my chili tree never produces enough chili for me, so let me know if you do. You can also just use red pepper flakes as well.

Substitute for Canola Oil

Any unflavored oil will do the trick.

Spicy Challenge

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Spicy Challenge