Clockwise from top left: Original Sticky Rice sauce, homemade ranch blend, Hidden Valley Ranch blend, ketchup-mayo blend

Sticky Rice DC has long teased me with its “world-famous secret tater tot sauce.” Not only was the recipe unknown, it was wildly popular. When I ask co-owner Jason Martin about the special tot sauce recipe he replies, “People freak out about it every night.” With the hungry hoards clamoring for the secret to the sauce, I thought that Martin would be more forthcoming with a hint of what’s in it. Unfortunately, the Sticky Rice camp is still keeping its mixture completely under wraps. Martin tells me only, “We pre-make it with secret sushi elves.” The tantalizing tot sauce taunted me with its top-secret exclusivity, so I set out to crack the code in my kitchen at home.

Being that Sticky Rice is an Asian restaurant selling classic American cafeteria fare like tater tots, I guessed that the sauce would also be a fusion of the two cuisines. The pale peachy colored sauce is creamy and tangy with a spicy flavor to boot. There are red and black specks floating around, possibly black pepper and paprika.

My initial guess was a ketchup-mayonnaise-Sriracha blend because: (a) the American staple, ketchup, is the classic tot condiment, (b) Sriracha is the typical spicy Asian condiment, and (c) mayonnaise would give it some creaminess. My own blend of these ingredients yielded a thick, deep-colored dipping sauce that tasted like zippy ketchup. Not only was the color off, I realized that there is absolutely no tomato flavor in the original.

Upon closer inspection of the original Sticky Rice sauce, I noticed that there are also tart and sour notes in the aftertaste. In my mind, these two flavors in a sauce suggest yogurt and buttermilk. Luckily, this pair of ingredients is found in another classic American sauce: ranch dressing. When I think of ranch, I immediately imagine dipping carrot sticks in Hidden Valley. I thought I struck gold as I drizzled Sriracha into the popular ranch dressing brand. Although the texture and taste came closer to Sticky Rice’s secret tot sauce than the first attempt, it was missing the hints of tartness. Since there was no yogurt in the store bought dressing, I whipped up a homemade version.

Mixing yogurt, buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard and spices, I came up with a ranch blend that had the push and pull of tart and sour. A couple squirts of Sriracha blended into the dressing yielded something remarkably similar to the coveted tot sauce. I instantly devoured the entire batch of tater tots in an effort to measure my success. Although my dipping sauce was deliciously savory and tangy, if I do say so myself, it was still missing something.

What was this elusive element? Perhaps only the “secret sushi elves” know. Guesses?

Feeling saucy? Email us about your favorite condiment at hungry@washingtoncitypaper.com

Photo by Samantha Le