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Oct 24, 2006 12:20 AM

Fish Sauce- what am I not getting?

There really isn't too much out there that I can't eat, but I just can't seem to aquire a taste for fish sauce. I do use in quite often in home cooking as a "secret ingredient" and it's great. Where I seem to have trouble is when I go to Asian restaurants (Thai, Vietnamese, Korean etc.) and it is served as a condiment. Depending upon where I go, I have seen variants as well, sweet fish sauce, "home made" fish sauce (from what I read about fish sauce production, it seems unlikely someone would undertake that at home).

So my question to you good hounds is am I doing something wrong in how I use it at these restaurants? I'll put some in my Pho or sometimes dip items in it. Fish sauce just seems to so widely embraced across so many Asian cultures, I feel I must be missing something or doing something wrong.


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  1. I've only used it as an ingredient, not as a condiment.

    I would say the bottom line is, ketchup is widely accepted as a condiment. Yet some people can't stand it. It's the same thing isn't it??


    1. Well, there's fish sauce that everyone buys, and then there's fish sauce sauce, which is the original fish sauce mixed with sugar, lime juice, chilis, etc. So maybe the "homemade fish sauce" you've seen is fish sauce sauce. Confusing, I know.

      As for not getting it, I agree with Davwud. Not everything's for everyone. My friend's roommate runs from the kitchen every time he smells her cooking with it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Pei

        I read somewhere that the dipping fish sauce that Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S. serve with things like cha gio & barbecue meats is often cut with 7-Up.

      2. I'm also cool with it as a cooked ingredient, but as a raw condiment. But that's OK; a condiment is, pretty much by definition, optional. My local Thai places offer sugar (yeah, like in a shaker for coffee) to use on your noodles, too; can't say i've ever used it.

        BTW, in my book, the way FS smells WHILE cooking is a WHOLE different story. I can't even repeat in this polite mixed company some of the descriptions I've heard, and with which i agreed. . .


        1. aren't there different kinds with different "strengths"?

          I don't like the filipino version of patis, which is a very strong fish sauce but I do like the versions in Thai and Vietnamese food.....

          1 Reply
          1. re: Xericx

            Yes, viet is generally stronger than thai and phillipino even stronger. There are also different quality levels. I like three crab, three shrimp and squid brands (the first 2 viet, the last thai). There are also differences between ones with only anchovy, salt and water (which are milder and lighter) and those which add sugar and hyrolized wheat protein to make it richer, more complex (three crab is the latter, the others the former).

            The fish sauce sauce mentioned is probably nouc cham. I have seen it unlabelled and I have seen it as nouc cham, or as "table-sauce", or as "viet sauce" or as "special sauce". I have not seen it labelled as fish suce though.

            I cook lots, and lots of SE Asian food. I love cooking with fish sauce. I like fish sauce uncooked in dips with other ingredients (like in nouc cham). I don't really like it straight out of the bottle. Maybe a drop or two in my pho -- that's it. If you don't like it raw, don't sweat it.

          2. I love fish sauce, both in dips and in nouc cham (a personal favorite that I will actually put on plain rice) and I definiely cook with it. I like three crab for both Thai and Vietnamese. I agree, straight out of the bottle, it's a little strong. I also like it in salad dressings. I look at as in the same vein as soy sauce in Chinese food, with a stronger smell. I do understand it is an acquired taste. Once you have acquired it, well, it does provide a key taste to many types of Asian food and you really can't get without it.

            As an aside, I was at a favorite Thai restaurant in Cambridge one night and they made a salad with an unusual dressing that I really liked. After having been back three or four times I asked our server what was in the dressing. He told me it was, among other things, fish sauce. I asked him if they would tell me how they made it. He said, "of course, but most round eyes don't like fish sauce." My husband and I got a good chuckle out of that.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ptrefler

              I've never heard of a Thai salad dressing without fish sauce. But when you get one with a dazzling, heady, brilliant, perfect balance of lime juice, fish sauce saltiness and table sugar sweetness, it can take your breath away.