Vietnamese Fish Sauce “nước mắm”


Fish sauce is to Vietnamese cooking what salt is to Western and soy sauce to Chinese cooking. Fish sauce is used as a condiment and flavoring. It is included in practically all recipes. The Vietnamese fish sauce is so famous that foreign books and newspapers especially cooking books written in English or French, verbatim use the term “ sauce nuoc mam “, not ” fish sauce ” or ” la saumure ” any more.  It has made a name for itself.

Here’s a little history:  Vietnam has a coastline which stretches over 1900 miles. Therefore, Vietnamese fish sauce with the specific and well-known saltiness and smell is popular and irreplaceable.  Also, thanks to the preferential treatment from nature, Vietnam has plentiful sources from the sea so the local residents can process sauce from shrimp, sauce from squid, sauce from freshwater crab, and even sauce from fat-full crabs.  Whatever it is made from, the most common taste of Vietnamese people is its unique saltiness, so Vietnamese fish sauce is always strongly delicious.

The unique characteristic of fish sauce is salty flavor and fishy smell. One interesting characteristic of fish sauce is that it loses its fishy odor once it is mixed in with other ingredients. It is commonly used as seasoning for cooking and dipping seafood and other Vietnamese foods.

Raw material of making fish sauce is fish. Only the fresh anchovy fish makes the good quality fish sauce that is clear in color and good smell. For the pure fish sauce, fresh anchovy fish sauce is selected and mixed with salt by using Vietnamese own traditional process. Fermentation is started once a year, during the fishing season. After about 3 months in the barrel, liquid drips from an open spigot, to be poured back into the top of the barrel. After about 6 months the fish sauce is produced.

We can add many ingredients to the fish sauce, to create a specific taste for each dish.  The Vietnamese are masters at making and using their dipping sauces.

Here is an example of how the Vietnamese combine a lot of the ingredients. The fish sauce can be diluted with a little boiling water. Add a little sourness of dainty rice vinegar, the sweetness of sugar, the pungency of garlic, the aroma of black pepper, spotted with some slices of spicy Serrano peppers, combined with carrots or a bit lemon. It is all blended in a bowl of fish sauce, which is apricot yellow like honey with the distinctive taste and it can’t be confused among other sauces.

The taste of fish sauce is salty but flavorful, and very sophisticated, ceremonious, popular, but greatly delicate. How’s that for a description. Though the drop of fish sauce is tiny, its great flavor is really a part of the spirit of the country, of the people. It itself is the flavor of the home country in fadeless memory of every Vietnamese person far away….