Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fish Sauce Reigns Supreme

[caption id="attachment_1012" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Nuoc cham. Source: Flickr. (c)www.worththewisk.com"][/caption]

From deep fried, salad, or steamed food to noodles, fish sauce dip is often used as an inspired accompaniment. You are sure to use nước chàm (nước mắm) very often while in Vietnam – it’s like salt for the Europeans or Americans, it basically goes with anything.

This essential ingredient for the Vietnamese cuisine is in fact a condiment made of fish that has fermented. It can be either used during the cooking process or as a dip for pork, shrimp, chicken or fish. Nước chàm means fish sauce dip, while nước mắm means raw fish sauce that is used for cooking.
Some fish sauces (extracts) are made from raw fish, others from dried fish; some from only a single species, others from whatever is dredged up in the net, including some shellfish; some from whole fish, others from only the blood or viscera. Some fish sauces contain only fish and salt, others add a variety of herbs and spices. Fish sauce that has been only briefly fermented has a pronounced fishy taste, while extended fermentation reduces this and gives the product a nuttier, cheesier flavor. (source: Wikipedia)

[caption id="attachment_1013" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Nuoc mam. Source: Flickr. (c) Eva Funderburgh."][/caption]

The most appreciated variety of fish sauce used in the Vietnamese cuisine is said to come from Phu Quoc and is made of anchovies, herring, or sardines. Fish scraps are placed in earthen jars, layered with salt, and weighted to draw out the moisture from the fish. When the liquid has dripped off the fermented fish, it is collected from the bottom of the barrels in which it is made, then poured back into the top of the barrel. The fermentation process may take as long as 6 months. At the end, solid parts are strained out.

[caption id="attachment_1014" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Making fish sauce. Source: Flickr. (c) poida.smith"][/caption]

You may think its fragrant odor would spoil everything, but it seems the fish smell disappears when combined with other ingredients. Well, I think the same about garlic in my kitchen :).


1. When you buy fish sauce, check the label first - the nhi signifies a high quality sauce (it is from the first extraction, much like extra-virgin olive oil).

2. There is also a non-liquid version of fish paste, called mam ruoc.

3. Look for the light amber colored fish sauce.

4. Fish sauce can be kept at room temperature.

[caption id="attachment_1015" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Fish sauce barrels. Source: Flickr. (c) s tsui."][/caption]


  1. daaaa, la tine in bucatarie predomina aroma de usturoi !!!!! care-ti deschide o pofta de mancareeeee !!

  2. Saigon ExperienceJune 15, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    haaaa!!! ai invatat sa folosesti Google Translate :D

  3. eeeeeeeeei, stiu engleza din copilarie !!!!!