Why Fish Sauce Is Everyone's Obsession

Why Fish Sauce Is Everyone's Obsession

Umami is a term frequently used to describe fish sauce, one of the most common ingredients in Southeast Asian cuisine, and is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the taste sensation that is produced by several amino acids and nucleotides such as glutamate and aspartate and has a rich or meaty flavor characteristic of cheese, cooked meat, mushrooms, soy, and ripe tomatoes."

This condiment, which is made from fermented fish or krill, is a staple food for millions of people worldwide. According to Tiffany Pham, a representative for the Red Boat Fish Sauce firm via email, "Most Vietnamese meals need fish sauce because fish sauce is used as a salt alternative." Fish sauce is a fundamental component of many classic Vietnamese dishes, including pho, tht kho, and cm tm. However, fish sauce is as common in Thailand. One of the national meals of the nation and a staple at Thai eateries from Bangkok to London to New York City, Pad Thai almost always contains a sprinkle of fish sauce.

What Is Fish Sauce And Where Is It Originally From?

The exact origin of the first fish sauce is unknown and a subject of debate among historians, according to Melanie S. Byrd, a professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia and co-author of "Cooking Through History: A Worldwide Encyclopedia of Food with Menus and Recipes." Vietnam is frequently cited as one point of origin. Fish sauces and pastes were a part of ancient Chinese cooking. In Vietnam, it is referred as as nuoc mam, and it is prepared here with only anchovies and salt. According to legend, Ph Quc, a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand, produces the best.

Likewise, the use of fish sauce has a long history in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia. According to language, location, and unique ingredients and flavors, fish sauce comes in many varieties in different Southeast Asian nations, according to Byrd. Fish sauce, also known as nam pla in Thailand, is saltier than nuoc mam. It also contains anchovies, salt, and sometimes sugar, as well as sardines, mackerel, herring, or carp. According to Byrd, fish sauce is also frequently used in Korea and Japan, but it is mostly related to Southeast Asia's coastal regions.

Geography clarifies the situation. The coastline of mainland Vietnam is 2,025 kilometres long. Thailand's coastline is 1,956 miles long, and Indonesia's diverse coastlines total a staggering 50,300 miles of coastline. Additionally, there are numerous rivers, streams, and ponds in the area that are teaming with fish and crabs. Fishing is therefore a very significant industry throughout Southeast Asia.

How Is It Made?

Fish sauce can be produced using a variety of different sea critters, just like not all wines are produced using the same kind of grapes. The typical starting element for fish sauce is anchovies. However, as was already indicated, certain fish sauces may contain krill, herring, carp, or mackerel. Whatever fish is employed, the animals must first be salted before the magic can work. According to Byrd, the salted fish undergoes a fermentation process that causes microbes to break down the salt. Fish are typically salted, kept in barrels for a few months to a few years, and small fish like anchovies or krill are commonly included.

Red Boat Fish Sauce, according to Pham, ferments its sauce for nearly a year.
Red Boat specializes in fish sauce made on Vietnam's Phu Quc Island, according to Pham. Historical records indicate that people have been creating fish sauce on Phu Quc Island for over 200 years, earning it a reputation as the best fish sauce to come out of Vietnam.

How Does Fish Sauce Taste Like?

Despite the fact that you might not believe it, chances are excellent that you have consumed fish sauce. You've probably tried fish sauce if you've ever had, say, pad Thai or ph. Don't allow the unexpectedly strong smell of fish sauce turn you off. However, it doesn't taste overly fishy. It's a lot more complicated. It has umami flavors from the fish and salt, as well as earthy and mushroom flavors akin to soy sauce. But it has a sweet, almost caramel-like, finish. Fish sauce is a sophisticated condiment that tastes great when added to marinades, broths, stir-fried vegetables, and other Asian-inspired side dishes. Fish sauce can take the role of salt in many savory meals because when it is combined with other ingredients, the sauce mellows out and its umami flavor intensifies. Just keep in mind the nuoc mam and nam pla's two distinct flavor profiles, and that a little goes a long way.

Not only Asia but other continents also developed a taste for fermented fish-based sauces. According to Byrd, "As in ancient China, the Greeks and Romans also produced fish sauce, termed garos or garum, though it fell out of favor in the later Roman Empire in the west. Garum was once spread over bread, eggs, meats, and vegetables by the Romans. The Roman city of Pompeii was buried under a layer of burning ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 B.C.E. Six barrels that were formerly used to produce garum were left behind and were wonderfully maintained for thousands of years until they were discovered in 2009 by researchers.

These objects' chemical hints and antiquated written recipes that have persisted until the present day provide important information on how garum was manufactured. According to Byrd, the procedure required salting the internal organs of small fish like sprats, anchovies, or mullets and letting the concoction macerate or ferment for several months in the sun. The addition of herbs and other additives was common. According to Byrd, "many food historians argue that the Greco-Roman garum was comparable to nuoc mam, a common Vietnamese condiment today. The condiment's ongoing appeal is not a mystery to Pham. She claims that the meal's secret ingredient, fish sauce, will make everyone ask for the recipe. It adds a savory, umami accent and enriches the flavor of your dish.