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Need advice on fish sauce!!

I would like to try more southeast asian recipes but a lot of them require fish sauce as an ingredient. The problem is I am really turned off by the pungent nature of the sauce when it comes out of the bottle or during cooking. The only one I've tried is a Three Crabs brand (Viet Huong) but the smell was so strong the first time I cooked with it that I haven't used it again. I don't have a total aversion to fish sauce because I enjoy eating Thai and Vietnamese cuisine but cooking with it is a real challenge.

Did I pick a bad brand? Are there milder brands out there that will not sacrifice flavor? By the way, if someone has found a great substitute for this ingredient, I'd love to hear about it as well.

I look forward to all your suggestions!

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  1. Three Crabs is a normal brand.

    Yes, some brands are lighter, though I don't know which ones are.

    You can leave it out, and adjust the salt to your taste.

    1. A couple of things - one, I am with you, the odor of straight-up fish sauce is nausea-inducing for me. I literally breathe through my mouth as I measure and add fish sauce to my bowl/pan/whatever . . . because I do love the way it tastes when combined with other ingredients. Not meaning to be flip, but have you tried holding your nose? Breathing thru your mouth? Mind over matter? I mean, due to the nature of what fish sauce *is* (fermented fish), I doubt that any brand will smell more delicious to you!

      Second - Three Crabs, from what I have always understood, is a somewhat inferior brand of sauce - it's got some funky artificial ingredients (this is from memory now, don't have a bottle on hand) - I think it's not naturally fermented. I've used Golden Boy for years and like it the best (I started out with it for the very unscientific/unprofessional reason of liking the label).

      Others on the board will likely know more about the specifics of this . . . . Good luck!


      3 Replies
      1. re: gansu girl

        It is stinky, the first time I used it I don't try again for years but once you use it more regularly you get used to it. First if you are adding to a hot dish at the end then back away from it after you pour it in or as previous poster suggested hold your nose. To my knowledge there's no replacement for the flavor that it adds to Thai dishes, fried rice just isn;t the same without it. Keep trying, trust me!

        1. re: gansu girl

          I wish my fumehood was more powerful as that would help out a lot. Or I could get that stuff that Jodie Foster applied under her nose in Silence of the Lambs before she examined one of the bodies. Wonder what that stuff is...

        2. You get what you pay for, so go to an asian market and look at the prices and pay a buck or two more for quality. I recently started using Flying Lion and like it pretty well. Yes, there is a difference between brands.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Zeldog

            I didn't know Amazon now carries fish sauce! I haven't seen this brand before. Do you know where it is made?

          2. I'm sure this will be controversial, but I started digging fish sauce when I bought a bottle of "Thai Kitchen" fish sauce at the regular grocery. It's kind of a baby step into the funkiness of fish sauce, and now I but the kind with the squid on the label.

            First time I bought fish sauce for home I added the amount in a recipe to the soup I was making. So funky and sour I didn't even eat a bowl. Stayed away for a couple years, then edged back in to it. I added it to all sorts of stuff now.

            1 Reply
            1. re: corneygirl

              I am going through that stage now...I was thinking of getting rid of the Three Crabs bottle but how to dispose of the liquid without causing an environmental hazmat disaster! Sounds like Thai Kitchen brand is a mild introduction to the sauce. I hope they carry that brand in my supermarket.

            2. Used to buy 3 Crabs. Came highly recommended but I never liked it. Recently switched to Tra Chang brand on advice from this board. Way better!

              1 Reply
              1. re: shaebones

                I find 3 Crabs way too pungent. Thanks for the suggestion!

              2. Fish sauce may smell stinky when it comes straight from the bottle, but as it cooks, it loses that pungency and becomes a magical ingredient that pulls all flavors together. It has that "umami" quality. If you still can't abide using it, then substitute with worcestshire, which contains anchovies, and is every chef's "secret ingredient" because it does much of the same thing.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pitterpatter

                  I'll try Worcestershire as a substitute and report back. At least it is more complex than just salt.

                  1. re: mad4hops

                    Do you know the approximate amount to use relative to fish sauce?

                2. I first tried Lucky brand, and after trying 3 Crabs, have gone back to it. Golden Boy isn't too strong either. Both have the basic list of ingredients - anchovie, salt, sugar.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: paulj

                    I've found that when I go into my Southeast Asian stores, which carry a large variety of brands, if I grab one of the most expensive ones from the shelf, then head to the cash, I can usually engage the cashier in a bit of conversation about what qualities this particular sauce that warrant the higher price tag. I then ask if this is the best brand, in the cashier's opinion. I've always found cashiers to be quite forthright about their preferences. I had one sauce called Phu Quoc. It cost me $4.99 (Canadian dollars). It was very rich and strong. I must admit it was pretty stinky, but I don't mind the smell. I asked the cashier if he thought that brand was the best. He directed me to another, which was the same price, and told me that the flavour was more refined. I bought it and must say that he is correct. I like the headier fish sauces for cooking, but for putting a few drops on rice or other dishes, then one I have now is the way to go. It has a pink label and the word Viet-Nam in large letters. There is a picture of a king mackerel on the label and it says in English "King Mackerel Brand". I'm not sure I'd cook with it myself, since it is very light in flavour, but as I mentioned already, it has a superior flavour as a condiment.

                  2. Squid brand is our favorite. It's got great flavor but you aren't ambushed by the "fragrance" of rotten fish, when you pour.

                    1. My favorite fish sauce is Golden Boy. I grew up in Thailand and that was what we used over there for years. I have tried a lot of other brands but I always come back to Golden Boy. Three Crabs is good for making dipping sauces like Nuoc Cham for some people but it is overpriced. I use fish sauce in a lot of non Thai and Vietnamese dishes too.