Annals of Orchids

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My favorite brand of chili and garlic sauce is 蘭記 (Cantonese: laan⁴ gei³, Mandarin: lan² ji⁴). It's good on just about everything, or straight out of the jar. I've eaten it since I was a child, but I've never figured out the name of the company. It means "annals of orchids" or "annals of elegance". This is not an obvious name to chose for a company that makes sauces. It isn't a family name or the name of a place that I have ever heard of, nor is it descriptive of the product. If it is a literary reference, it isn't one with which either I or my Chinese friends are familiar.

I'm hoping that one of our erudite readers can tell me where the name 蘭記 comes from. Does anybody know?

Update: As a commenter pointed out, I somehow wrote the wrong character in my original post. The second character is 記, Cantonese gei³, Mandarin ji⁴, not 紀, Cantonese gei², Mandarin ji⁴. My mind is really going, or at any rate my Unicode lookup and eyesight.


  1. Saqib Ali said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

    hmmm. I am more interested in finding out where you buy this sauce….. :-)

  2. john riemann soong said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 1:57 pm

    "It's good on just about everything, or straight out of the jar. "

    I can't contribute anything to your request either, but it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who does this. :-)

    (Well, we all know of people who eat peanut butter out of the jar, but until now I have not known people who eat chili paste out of the jar.)

  3. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

    紀 also means "ledger" as in a book of accounts kept by a merchant. "[family name] ledger" is a reasonably common pattern for Chinese business names, at least among Cantonese speakers; examples from Chicago's Chinatowns include 漢紀 (rather unfortunately romanised "Hon Kee", a barbecue restaurant) and 東紀 (again, "Dong Kee" isn't the most elegant business name in English).

    Since 蘭 is one of the hundred most common Chinese surnames, my guess would be that the business which originally manufactured this sauce (and for all I know still does) was founded by someone with the family name Lan.

  4. 28481k said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

    One second, are you sure it is 蘭紀 rather than 蘭記? 蘭紀 simply looks wrong to this Chinese speaker, besides I couldn't google for that term as a sauce provider. 記 in this case is not an annal nor a ledger, but rather takes an extended meaning to be an identifier, like 's of "Barker's" for example.

  5. Bill Poser said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 10:38 pm


    You're right, it is 記, not 紀 I don't know how I could have made such a mistake. How embarrassing. Anyhow, you and Daniel von Brighoff have found the explanation, I think. I'm so used to 記 with the meaning of "record, annal" that I missed the "business of family X" meaning.

    Actually, I don't know if the "identifier" usage is actually an extension of the "record" meaning or if it is a distinct morpheme written out of convenience with the same character.

    saqib ali,

    Buying this sauce has actually become a problem for me. When I first came to live in Prince George, it wasn't available, though curiously some of the other sauces made by the same company were. I got the proprietor of the now defunct Jet Lin Noodle Company to order some for me. He liked it and decided to stock it. Around the time I left Prince George to live in Philadelphia for a while, the owners of Jet Lin Noodle Company retired and closed their store. In Philadelphia, the stores in Chinatown stock it. Here in Prince George, the Chinese Store not only doesn't have it, they say it isn't available from their distributors. I hunted for it on the net, but was not successful in finding a mail-order supplier, so I have to pick it up when I visit a city that has it. I got my current supply in Boston. You want to pack it carefully – this is not something you want to try to get out of your clothes.

  6. Bill Poser said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 10:49 pm

    I should add that the jar says "made in China" and indicates that it comes from Suzhou, but does not give an address.

  7. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 15, 2008 @ 11:19 pm

    I share your embarrassment, Bill. In my haste, I didn't even notice that you used a different character than the one I was expecting. I simply cut-and-paste it from your post instead of entring it directly (I'm terribly lazy that way) and so unwittingly reproduced the error. Cold comfort for the both of us, I suppose, that 記 and 紀 are etymologically identical. (Distinct written forms first emerge only in the small seal script.)

    Thanks for the correction, 28481k.

  8. MMcM said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 12:18 am

    Uhm, isn't this Lan Chi brand? It's all over Chinatown (Boston) with English labels, too. And fairly easy to find on the web (search for "lan-chi chili garlic"). They have a minimal website at, which does agree that they're in Suzhou.

  9. ron lee said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 1:19 am

    I hope this helps you find a source for the sauce…

    Markets here in San Francisco carry the Lan Chi brand ( The Chinese printing is hidden on the other side of the jars. Lan Chi Enterprises Co, Ltd, is in Taipei, so that must be why it's Lan Chi and not Lan Ji.

    From the Lan Chi contact page (

    Thank you for your interest in Lan Chi® sauces.

    We are currently establishing distribution networks throughout North America.

    For information and ordering inquiries please contact us by email at:

  10. Nathan Myers said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 2:48 am

    > "It's good … straight out of the jar. "

    My kids call hot sauce "owie juice", and are unendingly delighted to watch me eat it straight, usually via a drop on my finger tip.

    Pepper sauce is "hot" in English, "piquant/picante" (sharp) in some romance languages. It's "pedas" in Indonesian/Malay, distinguished from "panas" (hot), but I don't know the association. Most of the world first experienced capsaicin less than 500 years ago, but took it up immediately, so each language had to adapt quickly. English did rather poorly, both in naming the plant and naming the experience of eating it. I don't know of languages where the root word associates directly to pain, as in "owie juice". It would be odd if indeed that is as rare as it seems.

    Can anybody enlighten about the associations of Malay "pedas"? How does Nahuatl treat the experience? Are there languages where the sauce's conventional name might translate literally as "owie juice"?

  11. A-gu said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 6:46 am

    The phrase is older than the company name. There's a bookstore in Taiwan that has been operating since at least the Japanese colonial period that has the same name. There is a Qing dynasty book with the following title and author:《藝蘭記》清 刘文淇编著 . And books with similar titles from at least the Tang. See the Song Dynasty era 《蘭譜》.

    So this shows the phrase has quite some history. My guess is that the use in the company name is to imply the hot sauce is also very 香 (fragrant), a key factor in any good hot sauce.

    Perhaps the sauce in some way attests to the orchid's fragrant scent.

  12. Cameron Majidi said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

    On metaphors for spiciness: it's interesting that in Persian spicy food is "tond", i.e. fast, speedy. The "heat" and "sharpness" metaphors of European languages make sense. Speed seems like an unusual choice of methaphor for the action of spice on the taste buds.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

    The JI4 of LAN2JI4 (Wade-Giles LAN2-CHI4) simply means "brand," so LAN2JI4 may be conventionally rendered into English as "Orchid Brand." Aside from the condiment manufacturer in Taiwan, there is also the venerable bookstore there with the same name mentioned by A-gu in the previous comment, and I've also come across a car radio maker and other companies with the identical brand name. It's a natural for a Chinese company because of the evocative nature of the LAN2 flower. Here's the definition for LAN2 from my trusty old Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary: "The epidendrum. Used figuratively in the sense of fragrant, elegant, refined, numerous, etc."

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    Cameron: Capsaicin acts not on the taste buds, but directly on the pain nerves. "Heat", "sharpness", and "speed" are all metaphors; one might even say euphemisms. Nobody warns you about a sauce by saying "watch out, it's excruciating" or "it's full of torment".

  15. john riemann soong said,

    June 17, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

    Are they different pain nerves?

    Because they don't feel like euphemisms to me. The aftereffect feels as though your mouth has run a marathon, and that exhausting-yet-somehow-pleasing effect you feel in your legs finds itself in your mouth. Which is why "fast/speed" makes sorta sense, I suppose.

  16. MMcM said,

    June 17, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

    Does Malay use "pedas" to refer to the acrid spiciness of black pepper and long pepper as well as chili pepper? Because these would have been known before the discovery of the New World. If I am not mistaken, the word "chabai", which originally referred to long pepper, now "chabai jawa", was repurposed to refer mostly to chili peppers, with "chabai pedas" in particular some kind of hot pepper. Peperine works like capsaicin, activating pain receptors directly, just less so. These receptors are for high heat, so the 'hot' association is also natural.

  17. Dawne said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

    I highly doubt 蘭記 has anything to do with 藝蘭記. I think Daniel von Brighoff was right when he said the 記 in 蘭記 means "ledger", and the 記 in 藝蘭記 means "annals." A lot of businesses in Hong Kong are named [proper name] (not necessarily family name) + 記, such as restaurants or hardware stores etc.

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