Definitions

bad smelling

Fish sauce

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 Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, Cambodian, and Filipino 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 southern China, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles.

Types

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 Vietnam is generally called nước mắm (well known by brand names including nước mắm Phú Quốc (Phu Quoc) and nước mắm Phan Thiết (Phan Thiet)) and similar condiments from Thailand and Myanmar are called nam pla (น้ำปลา) and ngan byar yay respectively. In Lao/Isan it is called nam pa, but a chunkier, more aromatic version known as padaek is also used. In Cambodia, it is known as teuk trei, of which there are a variety of sauces using fish sauce as a base.

The Indonesian semisolid fish paste trasi, the Cambodian 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 in fact the by-product of the making of a fish paste called bagoong, and is not generally consumed on its own. Rather, it 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, although it is sometimes used as a dipping sauce as well. 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 and chopped hot chilies, called nam pla prik.

In Korea, it is called aek jeot, and is used as a crucial ingredient in Kimchi (usually from myul chi, or kanari, meaning anchovies), both for taste and fermentation. Sae woo jeot (shrimp) is also popular as side sauce.

Origin in the Southeast Asian diet

The origin of fish sauce in the Southeast Asian diet dates back to ancient times as a primary source of protein. 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, would continue through European colonization.

Western

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.

Garum is frequently maligned as being bad smelling or rotten. For example, it has been described as an "evil-smelling fish sauce" made of fish ranging from tuna, mackerel, and moray eel to anchovies (Introduction to Paul Wilkinson, Pompeii: The Last Day, London BBC Productions 2003). 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.

According to Merriam-Webster, the English word "ketchup" is derived from the Malay word for fish sauce, "kĕchap."

See also

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