Fish Sauce: All You Need to Know
Few condiments are as distinctive as fish sauce.
Emblematic of Thai cuisine as a whole, fish sauce combines many eclectic tastes into a multilayered whole that’s makes for a memorable experience. With such complex flavours, it makes sense, then, that it would be found in many different Thai dishes.
Fish sauce, as the name suggests, is made by fermenting fish. Small fish like anchovies are packed into barrels, covered with salt, and left to sit, with the fermentation lasting anywhere from a few months to a few years. This produces a potent liquid that’s briny, umami-heavy (i.e., savory), and, as you’d expect, fishy.
There are many varieties of fish sauce found throughout the world, though especially in East and Southeast Asia. Thai varieties are used in cooking as well as a condiment afterwards. Indeed, fish sauce is itself an ingredient in the common Thai condiment prik nam pla, a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, and chopped bird’s eye chilies (with garlic sometimes thrown in for good measure).
If you’re not sure whether fish sauce is fit for your palate, if you think its robust flavours and pungent aromatics might be out of your league, fear not. A little goes a long way, and is a common ingredient in many Thai dishes, from pad thai to green curry. Rather than overpowering a meal, it blends with the many other ingredients for distinctive experiences.
For those in search of a vegetarian alternative, soy sauce – made from fermented soybeans – makes for an appropriate stand-in.
Whether you’re new to Thai food or hungry for an old favorite, fish sauce will likely be one of the most important ingredients in your meal.