Novice’s Guide to Purchasing Asian Ingredients – Fish Sauce

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

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)

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Che Chuoi – Sweet Coconut Tapioca With Bananas

I remember when my husband and I first got married I knew very little about making Vietnamese foods. Many of the recipes looked daunting and some of the ingredients were unfamiliar to me.

Over the years I have figured many things out with help from cookbooks, the internet, family and our church family. While I am still learning, there are a lot of things that I have figured out how to make, that no longer seem difficult.

Now I have a new sister-in-law who finds herself pretty much where I was a few years ago. I hope to post some recipe tutorials that will simplify the making of Vietnamese cuisine in order to help my new sis and anyone else who is interested in trying a few Vietnamese dishes.

This recipe is like a Vietnamese version of tapioca pudding.

You will need:

2 cups water

1 14oz can coconut milk (not coconut water…it should be thick, white and creamy looking, not thin)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup uncooked granulated tapioca

1/2 tsp salt

2 large ripe bananas, cut in 1/4 pieces

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional and since my husband hates sesame seeds, I leave them out)

Mix the water and coconut milk in a medium pan. At first it will look a little chunky.

Bring the water and coconut milk to a boil (careful it doesn’t boil over, especially when you start adding things)

Reduce heat to medium-low then stir in sugar, tapioca and salt.

Cook for 30 min. stirring frequently. Then stir in bananas.

Remove from heat, cover and let sit for about 15 min. You can serve this warm or chilled. Here is where you would sprinkle on some sesame seeds if you desire. I hope this will be a simple and fun recipe for you to try! 🙂

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Iced Coffee – A Vietnamese Tradition

I’ve never been much of a coffee enthusiast. However, shortly after marrying my husband I was introduced to Vietnamese Iced coffee and it is now my favorite drink!

Here is a very easy way to make it that doesn’t involve the use of a Vietnamese coffee press (which we don’t happen to own).

First pick your coffee. This is what I used.

Brew about 10 cups of coffee.

Take a 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

Fill a standard size food processor with ice. You can use a blender also

Pour the condensed milk over the ice and grind it until it looks like slush

Pour into a pitcher

Pour the coffee over the slush and stir

Serve and enjoy! :o)

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Making my husband’s favorite dish

When I first got married, I wanted to make my husband’s favorite dish. He is Vietnamese and the only Asian foods I knew how to cook were Chinese and Japanese dishes (which are nothing like Vietnamese foods).
Now a few years later I find that making Vietnamese foods are not so daunting.
This is my husband’s favorite and the very first Vietnamese meal I learned to prepare: Thit heo kho voi trứng (Carmelized Pork and Eggs).
Here we go!
First chop about 1/2 large onion and crush 2 cloves of garlic.
Cut up about 1/2 lb of pork. Most Vietnamese cooks I know leave the fat on for flavor, but for health considerations I compromise with my husband and trim “most” of the fat off.
Set aside 1/2 cup sugar and at least 4 hardboiled eggs (I always make more because that’s everyone’s favorite part).
You will also need coconut juice, which looks like this:
And the most important ingredient – 1/2 cup fish sauce
You can also add a little Sambal Oelek…but not too much
Combine the pork, garlic, onions, fish sauce and sugar in a bowl and let sit for at least 10 min (Even better if you let it marinate for a couple of hours).
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan and brown meat. You can add a little chili paste (Sambal Oelek) to this if you want.
Add 1 cup coconut juice and simmer for about 5 min.
If you don’t have Asian caramel syrup on hand (which I never do) you can make your own by caramelizing sugar. Place about 1/2 cup sugar in a pan.
Cook on high stirring constantly until it is a rich caramel color. (This is where my husband usually pulls the battery in the smoke detector because I’ve set it off).
Don’t leave it too long or it will taste burned and make your meal bitter.
Add eggs to the pork mixture then pour the hot caramel over and stir well. This should turn everything a nice caramel color.
Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.
Now it’s time for me to go eat supper! 🙂