Step away from those generic, mass-produced sauces that leave you feeling underwhelmed. At Boat People Sauce, we’re all about the authentic experience, crafting nước chấm that would make (my) grandma beam with pride. 

My day kicks off with a cosy laptop session and a cup of coffee. I dive into the world of Boat People Sauce, ensuring all your queries are answered, stock is ordered, and shipping labels are prepared. Each batch is a labour of love, meticulously crafted to guarantee you the freshest ingredients and the most flavourful sauce. This was also a delivery day, so the doorbell rang just as I was about to get started with all of that. But nothing says quality craftsmanship like glass bottles that break as quickly as your average news year’s resolution.

It’s not all smooth sailing

Now, I must be extremely careful here because I am not slaying the company from which I bought the wholesale bottles, more so the deliveryman who decided to slingshot the box on my front porch in the early hours of the morning! We won’t be mentioning them either. Frustratingly, I couldn’t reject the delivery as they had scarpered back to their van before I’d even made it to the door. This made me realise that this would be my first major hurdle as a small business owner. A slight panic set in as a flood of orders came through the night before, and I was not prepared.

Eight broken bottles, four chipped bottles, and two missing. This was not a great start. Putting my lawyer hat on, I started documenting them and checking through all the boxes just in case I found another surprise. Luckily, nothing. 

As if this wasn’t bad enough, clean-up wasn’t all that fun either! My liability Spidey-sense activated because I knew I’d need photos and the broken glass to prove the damage. Before I could carry on making orders, I needed to write that dreaded complaint email, so it was back to the computer.

It’s ok to complain

Despite my background as a lawyer, I hate complaining or coming across as demanding. I am too polite to ask for a refund; growing up in Britain will do that to you! But this is my business, and I am also out of pocket, so a complaint email it is. Putting aside my British identity crisis, I started the email with your typical pleasantry and requested a refund of £12.40. So, I know it’s not much, but when you’re just starting out as a business, every penny really does count.  It was a Sunday, and I knew I wouldn’t get a response until Monday morning, so the wait began, but I still had orders to make in the meantime. 

Making orders

Thankfully, I still had enough to fulfil my orders! Once I knew what orders needed to be made up, it was time to get to work! That starts with cleaning the workspace and utensils and then sterilising all the glassware. There’s no industrial dishwasher here. We’re eco-conscious and try to use reusable and sustainable tools and glassware where we can. 

We make our sauces in batches, typically 100-200 bottles at a time. This is because our product mostly relies on fresh ingredients. While the bottles are sterilising, I check over the fresh ingredients; quality checking the product is an important step. Next up is preparing the ingredients, this requires a lot of measuring and a lot of chopping! While it’s a handmade product, we strive to ensure that quality is consistent across the batch. This means having a perfect ratio of ingredients to ensure that the flavour is consistent and cutting things to equal sizes. This takes a lot longer than you’d think! It might take me a day or two to whip up a batch, but good things come to those who wait.

Once the sauce is made, it’s bottling time. Picture this: me, surrounded by a mountain of bottles, carefully spooning out my family recipe like a slightly sweaty dragon. Every bottle then gets cleaned, has the labels applied, has the cap placed on, and is sealed to preserve the delicious sauce within. My kitchen might look like a bomb went off in a spice market after a particularly enthusiastic batch, but the batch is finished. Next up is cleaning!

Final steps

I can finally sit down once the kitchen looks like a functioning room again. To rest, you might think… but no, I need to pack up all the orders, print the shipping labels, and bag them up, ready to be delivered. Once everything is packed up, I typically walk to the drop-off point with some very heavy bags and return with a large stack of delivery receipts. The final task of the day is to log into the order system and add the tracking information for the customer to follow their delicious sauce from London to wherever they live. 

It’s a long day and hard work, but knowing that someone out there is using my sauce on their food and loving it? That’s the real reward. So, the next time you reach for a bottle of our nước chấm, remember: it’s not just a dipping sauce. It’s a spicy, flavourful labour of love, a testament to the power of haggling and eyeballing ingredients, and a one-woman mission to prove that good things come in small, sustainable, and slightly chaotic packages to bring Vietnamese flavours to everyone.

You may be wondering what happened with the bottle order debacle. Well, roll on Monday. Silence. Tuesday. Nothing. I began to worry that the company I purchased from was trying to scam me. At least it was only £12.40. However, there was a miracle as we finally got to Wednesday, and I received my response from their customer person apologising and refunding me for the broken and damaged items. 

The moral of the story is it’s ok to fight your corner for your own business, especially when you work so hard for it!