At high-end Chinese restaurants around Vancouver, foodies and picky diners always request a special, spicy condiment to go with their dim...

At high-end Chinese restaurants around Vancouver, foodies and picky diners always request a special, spicy condiment to go with their dim sum and appetizers. But you likely have never heard of this hot sauce.

Waiters won’t tell you about it.

You won’t find it on most menus.

It’s like going to In-N-Out Burger and ordering “Animal Style,” or Jamba Juice and ordering “Rainbow Gummie” — off-the-menu, insider lexicon.

The spicy-and-sweet table condiment is XO sauce, oil simmered with some combination of chili, dried onions, garlic, dried scallops, dried shrimps and cured ham. The dipping sauce is usually eaten with dim sum, especially shrimp dumplings, though XO fans swear it’s like bacon — everything tastes good with it.

Many high-end restaurants reserve XO for its “VIPs” or businessmen and regular customers (read: best tippers), but those restaurants might also serve you XO for free if you request it. But the restaurants that make the best XO usually charge customers, since the condiment is time-consuming and expensive to make.

Vancouver’s Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant makes the best XO, a nice balance of spicy and sweet, with high-grade dried scallops and Virginia ham that add layers of flavors. The sauce costs $3 for about two tablespoons.

Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant, in Richmond, will serve you a hybrid XO — dried shrimp, oil infused with spices and chili paste — for free if you request the condiment. Its real deal, though, made with secret spices, will cost $3, and that’s only if you request “the special XO.”

— Tan Vinh