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Fish sauce is a condiment that is derived from fish that have been allowed to ferment. It is an essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, and Cambodian cuisine and is used in other Southeast Asian countries. In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, fish sauce can also be used in mixed form as a dipping condiment, and it is done in many different ways by each country mentioned for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken.In parts of southern Chinamarker, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles.

Fish sauce, and its derivatives, impart an umami flavor to food due to their glutamate content.


Some fish sauces (extracts) are made from raw fish, others from dried fish; some from only a single species, others from whatever is dredged up in the net, including some shellfish; some from whole fish, others from only the blood or viscera. Some fish sauces contain only fish and salt, others add a variety of herbs and spices. Fish sauce that has been only briefly fermented has a pronounced fishy taste, while extended fermentation reduces this and gives the product a nuttier, cheesier flavor.

Southeast Asian

Southeast Asian fish sauce is often made from anchovies, salt and water, and is often used in moderation because it is intensely flavoured. Anchovies and salt are arranged in wooden boxes to ferment and are slowly pressed, yielding the salty, fishy liquid. The variety from Vietnammarker is generally called nước mắm (well known by brand names including nước mắm Phú Quốc (Phu Quocmarker) and nước mắm Phan Thiết (Phan Thietmarker)) and similar condiments from Thailandmarker and Myanmarmarker are called nam pla (น้ำปลา) and ngan byar yay respectively. In Lao/Isanmarker it is called nam pa, but a chunkier, more aromatic version known as padaek is also used. In Cambodiamarker, it is known as teuk trei (ទឹកត្រី), of which there are a variety of sauces using fish sauce as a base.

The Indonesianmarker semisolid fish paste trasi, the Cambodianmarker prahok and the Malay fermented krill brick belacan or budu from liquid anchovies are other popular variations of the same theme. The similar Filipino version common to Indochina is called patis. Patis is nearly always cooked prior to consumption (even if used as an accent to salads or other raw dishes), or used as a cooking ingredient. It is also used in place of table salt in meals to enhance the flavor of the food but instead of being poured on the food, it is often used as a dipping sauce.

Southeast Asians generally use fish sauce as a cooking sauce. However, there is a sweet and sour version of this sauce which is used more commonly as a dipping sauce (see nước chấm). In Thailand, fish sauce is used in cooking and is also kept in a jar at the table for use as a condiment. This jar often contains a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, and chopped hot chilies, called prik nam pla.


In Korea, it is called aek jeot, and is used as a crucial ingredient in many types of Kimchi (usually from myul chi, anchovy or kanari which is made from sand lance), both for taste and fermentation. The anchovy-based fish sauce lends itself well to the making of radish type kimchi. Kanari type fish sauce is more expensive than the anchovy-based fish sauce and is usually reserved for the preparation of special cabbage (baechu) kimchi. Sae woo jeot (shrimp) is also popular as side sauce.


In Japan, it is used as a seasoning of local specialties. Ishiru in the Noto Peninsulamarker is made from the sardine and the squid. Shottsuru of Akita Prefecturemarker is chiefly made from the sailfin sandfish. Ikanago shoyu of Kagawa Prefecturemarker is made from the sand lance. They are often reserved for the preparation of the Nabemono.


A similar fish sauce was ubiquitous in Classical Roman cooking, where in Latin it is known as garum or liquamen, and also existed in many varieties such as oxygarum (mixed with vinegar) and meligarum (mixed with honey). It was one of the trade specialties in Hispania Baetica. It was made of a variety of fish including tuna, mackerel, moray eel, and anchovies. Garum was frequently maligned as smelling bad or rotten, being called, for example, "evil-smelling fish sauce." This attitude derives in part from ancient authors who satirized the condiment, but mostly from the fact that fish sauce was generally unknown in the Western world until very recently. The truth is quite different, and in fact garum only smelled when it was being made. Once the process was complete it had a pleasant aroma for as long as it was usable.

In English it was formerly translated as fishpickle. The original Worcestershire sauce is a related product because it is fermented and contains anchovies.


The origin of fish sauce is still shrouded under speculation, although it has been suggested fish sauce first appeared in China. It was documented that the ancient Chinese used salt to make a fermented fish sauce which gradually evolved with the addition of soy beans as filler to become a fermented bean sauce known today as soy sauce. As the predominant Chinese population live away from the coast, fish sauce was not practical. In contrast, soya beans are the staples. Regions of China such as Fujianmarker and Chaoshan, however, still widely use fish sauce and it is believed this is due to proximity to the coast.

However, while it is mainly the ethnic Chinese (usually Hokkien and Teochew) who cook with fish sauce in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is a staple of nearly every dish in cuisines such as Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian. Additionally, Chinese envoys to Thailand in the 17th century mentioned fish sauce as a condiment in use there.

It is said early fishing boats were unable to venture into the deeper ocean to catch larger fish, instead staying close to shore and netting many small fish lacking in meat. They found that by layering these many small fish in barrels with salt, they could produce a protein-rich sauce. Fish sauce as a primary source of protein, most often simply mixed with rice, continued through European colonization.

See also


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