Fish Sauce

Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)

Fish sauce is made with anchovies. The anchovies are fermented in salt water for months, then the liquid is fish sauce. That might not sound terribly appetising,  but if you want to make authentic Thai food, you must have it. Thai people like Tiparos brand which is cheap and easy to find at an Asian grocery store. Another easy to find brand is Squid (it doesn’t have any squid in it), which you can get if you cannot find the Tiparos brand.

The easiest-to-find brand is 3 Crabs, made by Viet Huong. However, it has additives in it (if you read the ingredients, there are more ingredients besides anchovies, salt, and water), and most Thai people don’t like it. However, I heard that it is good in Korean food.

What is Fish Sauce?

Fish Sauce, or “Nam Pla” in Thai, is one of the basic ingredients in Thai cooking. It has a rich translucent reddish-golden brown color and is used liberally in nearly all Thai dishes. It is often used as a marinade for fish and meat, as well as a condiment (usually mixed with fresh-cut chilies and lime juice) – you will usually see this “pet nam pla” sauce on tables in Thai restaurants.

In fact, Thai people add a little fish sauce to their meal in much the same way as Westerners  use salt and pepper.

What is Fish Sauce Made of?

Good fish sauces are made from a mixture of fish and salt that has been allowed to ferment for 1 year to 18 months. Anchovies are typically used, although some fish sauces are also made from other types of fish or squid. The basic ingredients of a good fish sauce are fish, water, and salt. Sugar may also be added but isn’t necessary.

Where Can I Buy Fish Sauce?

These days, most supermarkets sell fish sauce (look for it in their Asian section). There will be a good selection of fish sauces at nearly any decent Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai food store. Look for tall bottles with “Fish Sauce” and the ingredients displayed on the label (fish extract, salt, and water. The best brands are made in Thailand or Vietnam.

PictureThai people like the Tiparos brand which is cheap and easy to find at any local grocery store. Another easy to find brand is Squid.

Alternatively, look for the  3 Crabs brand, made by Viet Huong. Note that it may have other additives in it.

WARNING: Do not open fish sauce and sniff the bottle, it really does not smell good. Avoid spilling any or kitchen will smell terrible for a long time.

More About Thai Fish Sauce

Known as nam pla in Thai, this name literally translates into “fish water.” Thai fish sauce is amber in color, and is known for having a saltier and more pungent flavor than its Vietnamese counterpart. It’s typically produced using small ocean fish, namely anchovies, and salt and fermented over a period of time. But depending on the brand, it may also include sardines, mackerel, herring, or carp, as well as other ingredients like sugar or preservatives. Popular brands of Thai fish sauce include Golden Boy, MegaChef, and Squid.

More About Vietnamese Fish Sauce

Although still salty, nuoc mam, or Vietnamese fish sauce, has a lighter taste than its Thai counterpart. The best-quality nuoc mam is made with two ingredients: anchovies and salt. However, as with Thai fish sauce, this can vary between brands, and some may include other types of fish or additives, like sugar or preservatives.

The best Vietnamese fish sauce comes from Phu Quoc, an island off the southwest coast of Vietnam. The coastal waters are home to ca com, a variety of anchovy that makes for a delicately flavored, well-balanced fish sauce.