What is The Fish Sauce Used In Asian Cooking?

What is Fish Sauce?

If you are ever cooked any kind of Thai or Vietnamese food, there is a good chance that your recipe called for you to use some fish sauce. This is because fish sauce is a very important condiment for Thai and Vietnamese foods.

The Fish sauce condiment is produced by soaking small ocean fish in sea salt for a period of about two years. The fermented fishy liquid then comes out and is bottled into the condiment known as Fish Sauce. This fish sauce is a staple condiment for many parts of East and Southeast Asia.

Though many parts of the world use fish sauce as a condiment or as part of their food seasoning, the way fish sauce is made is basically about the same throughout the world.

What is Fish Sauce?

The fish sauce condiment that most dishes in east and southeast Asia use is made by soaking small ocean fish in sea salt for about two years. This allows the fish to become fermented and a liquid will come out of the fishy mixture that is bottled as fish sauce.

Most of the fish used today for fish sauce manufacturing are fish with strong flavors like anchovies, shrimp, mackerel, and other small ocean fish. The reason they use this fish is they want the fish sauce to be flavorful.

The fish or the shellfish are mixed with a salt concentration of approximately 2 parts fish and 1 part salt. Over time the salt will extract water from the fishes flesh and this in turn creates the savory fish sauce.

This entire process of extracting the water from the fish takes about 2 years. The fish and salt are placed in a large sealed container. Once it has been in these barrels or containers the fermented mixture is taken out of the barrell or containers and then bottled into fish sauce.

Vietnamese Fish sauce with red chili
Vietnamese Fish sauce with red chili

Salt, Fish and Fish Sauce

The most important aspects of the fish sauce are the two main ingredients which are fish and salt. These two make up almost the entire fish sauce.

The Fish Used In Fish Sauce

One of the most important ingredients in fish sauce is the fish. Ocean fish that has a lot of flavors as anchovies are usually preferred by many manufacturers. But for the quality of the sauce, the fish must be fresh, clean, and all about the same size.

The best quality fish sauce will usually use just one kind of fish. Some makers mix the fish, but the higher quality makers will use just one kind of fish. About 30 to 40 tons of fish will yield about 10,000 liters of bottled fish sauce.

The Salt

Natural sea salt is the best choice for any kind of fish sauce production. The reason is this because this is a natural salt.

In Vietnam, if you ever drive along the coast between the resort town of Nha Trang and Quy Nhon, you will see along the coast some salt flats where salt is being processed. This is also the area where a lot of fish sauce is made as the makers are near the ocean and they can also obtain the fresh sea salt to make the fish sauce.

The Process

The fish sauce while fermenting should be stirred each day. In about 6 months’ time, the fish has started to break down and the liquid is rising up to the surface. The solid fish will start to sink to the bottom of the container, while the liquid and salt crystals will then come to the top surface.

Fish sauce made in a place like Vietnam or Thailand, will not press the liquid out of the fish, but instead they will use a method to have the sauce be strained or the salt mixture to go naturally out of the sauce.

In part of the process the fish sauce will also be exposed to the sun. The reason is because the sun will help to evaporate some of the water and leave behind a very pure and concentrated fish sauce.

Some companies will try to cut corners by adding things into the fish sauce as water or other addictives, but the really pure fish sauce is made from just fish and sea salt.

What Fish Sauce is Called in Different Countries.

Fish sauce is a lot more common than what many may realize, especially in the east and southeast Asia. Even though the tastes of each of these may not all be the same, all of these countries have some version of fish sauce that they use in their traditional cooking or diet.

CountryName of Fish Sauce
Myanmar Ngan Bya Yay
CambodiaTeuk Trei
LaosNam Pa
Philippines Patis
Thailand Nam Pla
VietnamNuoc Mam
China Yulu
JapanGyosho
Korea Eojang, Aekjeot, Eoganjang
Indonesia Terasi
(semi-solid fish sauce paste)
ItalyColatura di Alici
Names of Fish Sauce in Various Countries.

Worcestershire sauce is from England and used in English cooking uses part fish sauce as it has fermented anchovies as part of its ingredients. In Ancient Greece, Phoenicia Roman, Carthage, and Byzantium they used a fermented fish sauce as a condiment in their cuisine.

The original western ketchup was a savory fish sauce that did not have sugar or tomatoes, but was more like the fish sauce used in Asia today.

Conclusion

When you are cooking Vietnamese, Thai, or other Asian foods you will more than likely discover that the recipe will not call for much salt but will instead use fish sauce. This is because fish sauce is a staple condiment in most of their recipes and cooking.

You can discover some of our authentic Thai recipes by clicking here and our authentic Vietnamese recipes by clicking here.

Related Questions

What Is The Philosophy of Vietnamese Cuisine?

Vietnamese food uses the five elements philosophy known as wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These 5 elements touch our sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. They also take into account the color and flavor combinations of Vietnamese food.

You can discover more by reading our blog The Philosophy of Vietnamese Cuisine by clicking here.

Why is Thai Food So Spicy?

Thai food is spicy as it is actually a combination of a few kinds of cuisines as Indian, Chinese, and Portuguese. The Indians brought curry to Thailand. The Chinese taught the Thais how to cook using a wok, and the Portuguese traded in a lot of fruits and vegetables including the red chili.

You can discover more by reading our blog Why is Thai Food So Spicy? A Bit of History by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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