I remember trying to figure out how to stock my kitchen with staples to cook some of my husband’s favorite dishes and feeling very overwhelmed. There are so many different things, so many varieties…it can be confusing. In fact, sometimes it’s still confusing.
If you are interested in cooking Asian foods this guide may help you sort it out. I can’t offer a comprehensive guide encompassing all the different ingredients…frankly, that would take more days and pages than I could possibly put together. Instead I will try and tackle one or two ingredients at a time.
Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in most Southeast Asian foods. There are also Japanese and Korean varieties.
If you are buying fish sauce to cook a Vietnamese dish, try and find one that is a dark amber color and has the words nuoc mam on the label. It is made from fermented anchovies, salt and water.
The delicious sauce (also called nuoc mam) served in Vietnamese restaurants along with the fried egg rolls and some of the other dishes that are often popular is made from fish sauce, vinegar, lime or lemon juice, sugar and sometimes chilis and garlic. This sauce is primarily used for dipping but the plain fish sauce is typically used for cooking.
In the Philippines, anchovies, shrimp or other small fish are fermented in a process that takes many months to make a paste-like substance called bagoong. The by-product of this is a yellowish liquid called patis…the Filipino fish sauce.
In Laos fish sauce is called nam pa and in Thailand nam pla. Both are very similar to the Vietnamese version. There is also another version in Laos called padaek which has some solid fish pieces in it.
Fish sauce in Japan is called Ikanago shoyu. Miso (seasoning) is usually made from fermented soy, rice or barley. Ikanago shoyu is a regional version of miso made from the sand lance and used to season hot pot dishes. This is
Fish sauce in Korea is called Jeotgal and is made from anchovies, but is primarily used in kimchi.
I’m sure there are probably a lot of other varieties and uses that I did not include, but hopefully this will give you some idea of what to get so that you do not feel overwhelmed in the Asian market.
Also, I know I’ve said in the past that there is no substitute for fish sauce, and in my opinion that holds true. However, in a pinch there is a recipe you can use if you can’t find fish sauce or if you run out suddenly.
Mix one part soy sauce to four parts anchovies and simmer in a saucepan for 10 min. Strain this through a sieve to extract the solids. I do not guarantee the flavor of this recipe, as I’ve never actually tried it…never been in that bad of a pinch.
And here are a few online sites you can buy fish sauce:
Pacific Rim Gourmet (expensive)