HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Is there a good substitution for Fish sauce?

  • 36
  • Share

Hi fellow food lovers,

We are making a homemade Pad Kee Mao. Our first time to make fresh pasta for a thai dish so we are really excited.

Problem is I really am not the biggest fan of fish and oyster sauce. They are huge for thai sauces. I was wondering if anyone knows of a decent substitution for fish or oyster sauce in a dish?

Thanks for your help!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
  1. Not really the same but, when I've not had fish sauce, I've used soy. No doubt, purists will say it spoils the "authenticity" but I'm not a purist. To my taste, it adds the same savouryness.

    1. Try anchovy paste. It may be just my sense of taste, but I find soy sauce to be completely overpowering, even in very small quantities.

      1. Worcestershire sauce. I'm a bloody mary maniac, and when out of Worcestershire sauce, I've used fish sauce successfully.

        5 Replies
        1. re: relizabeth

          Not a bad idea! Thanks!

          1. re: kezdenek

            I second that anti-fish sauce stance and have also successfully substituted Worcestershire sauce.

            1. re: LJS

              Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies.

              Unless you're a vegan, forget Thai food without fish sauce.

              And before you forsake it altogether, try Red Boat, which is noticeably better than average.

              1. re: knucklesandwich

                Thanks knucklesandwich. I'll give it a try.

                1. re: knucklesandwich

                  There are excellent vegan Worcestershire sauces.

          2. If you have an Chinese/Asian market near you, you can probably find this, there are many different brands.


            1 Reply
            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

              Very helpful. Thank you so much. I will look for this.

            2. No decent substitute in my book. If you don't like fish sauce, I don't see why you're interested in a Thai dish that calls for it.

              Worcestershire? No. Soy with some anchovy paste & a squeeze of fresh lime juice? Maybe. But if you're going to add anchovy paste, you might as well use the fish sauce. And so little fish sauce is used in a dish (much like soy), that I don't understand how it can be offensive. Same for Oyster Sauce. Most dishes only call for a tablespoon or so in a dish containing a multitude of ingredients.

              But personal preference always prevails in my book. If I were you, I'd choose another dish that doesn't call for ingredients you strongly dislike.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Bacardi1


                This is exactly how I feel. If you don't like fish sauce, why make a dish where fish sauce is a primary seasoning?

                1. re: Bacardi1

                  I agree entirely. Fish sauce is the very essence of Thai cookery.

                  My head is spinning at the thought of Worcestershire sauce in Pad Kee Mao.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    I share your opinion. There just are some things that do not have a substitute or equivalent in my opinion.

                    1. re: chefathome

                      Yup. Hate being the authenticity jerkwad, but fish sauce is different. If you don't like it, there's really no substitute. I'd just add extra salt.

                      1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                        I also think that fish sauce's smell on its own can be off-putting, but in a dish it's a whole different animal.

                  2. re: Bacardi1

                    Agree,there is no fish sauce substitute,and soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce are not even close.

                    Try it, develop a taste for it.

                    1. re: skshrews

                      Not even tamarind paste would make Worcestershire sauce into a substitution for fish sauce.

                      I have a bottle of 3Crabs.

                  3. Again, I don't get it.

                    If you like Pad Kee Mao from a restaurant -- which is made with fish sauce why would you want to stray from the way it's made?

                    1. My husband is allergic to shellfish. I noticed that the Asian markets have a vegetarian version of fish sauce. You might try this as an alternative.

                      Usually I'll just use a bit of tamarind paste soaked in hot water, then I add a tiny spoon of beef bouillion concentrate and a bit of soy sauce. It's easier for me than having to buy the specialty sauce.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: applgrl

                        Fish sauce does not have any shellfish in it. It is made with Anchovies.

                        1. re: chefj

                          I wouldn't bet a severe allergy on it.
                          I know one I have on the shelf includes dried,pulverized shrimp fermented with the scale fish.Imported from Vietnam

                          1. re: lcool

                            It lists the shellfish on the label. Most Vietnamese Fish Sauce seems to be labeled very well.

                      2. I sometimes use Miso, instead of fish sauce, when I am cooking for vegan friends.

                        1. Why not try to use a bit less than stated in the recipe? Just to prevent it from being overpowering and I'm sure that you'll slowly acquire a taste for the stuff. It's addictive :)
                          If you really can't stand it, then I would use a little bit of soy, although the taste will be different (but still nice)

                          1. Can't find fish sauce where I shop, so I do this:

                            1 can drained anchovies + 2 cloves bruised and peeled garlic + ½ teaspoon brown sugar + ¼ teaspoon salt + 1 ¼ cups water, then strain.

                            This and another option can be found here:

                            From what I gather, probably not too close to the real thing, but you might like it or use it as a starting point for other variations.

                            1. Try a bit of bottled clam juice. Careful not to add too much. I use it when I don't have any fish sauce or anchovy paste. I recently bought a big bottle of really cheap fish sauce. It was HORRIBLE! I had to dump it. But what did I expect for $1.30 a liter? LOL

                              1. Robin Robertson has a good vegan fish sauce in her book "Vegan Fire & Spice. It tastes a lot like fish sauce without the anchovy odor. I love fish sauce, but my wife hates the smell of anchovies. Here is her recipe, modified slightly so as to avoid copyright infringement.
                                1/2 C soy sauce
                                2 cloves of garlic pressed
                                1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
                                1 Tb lemon juice
                                1 Tb agave syrup
                                1/4 C water
                                Good luck

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: ebethsdad

                                  This recipe is a substitute for Vietnamese Table sauce Nước chấm
                                  Not plain Fish Sauce that is used in cooking Nước mắm
                                  Which ideally should only contain Salt and Anchovies

                                  1. re: chefj

                                    Hmm, in my experience this tastes like plain fish sauce without the anchovy bite. I have made Nuoc cham (when the significant other was out) and it is more complex than Robin's vegan substitute. However I bow to your didactic tone, and merely suggest that the OP try this as a substitute.

                                    1. re: ebethsdad

                                      I'll ignore the insult.
                                      The addition of garlic, sweetener, acid and spice makes this a substitute for the Vietnamese Table Sauce Nước chấm. It is not used as an ingredient in cooking. It is a Condiment or Dip, for want of a better term. Used with an already prepared Items.
                                      The OP wanted a substitute for Fish Sauce Nước mắm which is not the same thing. It does not have sweetener etc... If they were to use your sauce as a sub in the Pad Kee Mao it would throw off the balance.

                                      1. re: chefj

                                        I agree with chefj 100%

                                        No way is something made with garlic, lemon, hot pepper and sweetener intended to be a substitute for fish sauce.

                                        It is indeed obviously intended to be a vegetarian/vegan sub for a sauce which uses fish sauce as an ingredient. Here they sub soy sauce for the fish sauce.

                                2. for pad kee mao, oyster and soy sauce will be fine. I don't find oyster sauce at all offensive, but they make some vegetarian versions.

                                  1. Not all fish sauce is alike. get you the 3 crabs fish sauce. It is the best. You may be using too much fish sauce in a recipe. How to tell? You should get a hint of a seafood deptness but not an over powering fishy smell.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: pawpawfrombama

                                      I personally love fish sauce, but my husband cant stand it. Im wondering if umami powder could be used? Im oddly fascinated by this product since i heard about it, but have not tried it

                                      1. re: Goatjunky

                                        That's like saying sweet powder or sour powder.

                                        Umami is a sensation detected by your taste buds, not a thing.

                                        That said, fish sauce really delivers the umami!