Taste of fish sauce

Many families in coastal areas often think that self-making fish sauce to prepare meals for their families seems like a linking between people and sea. It is not only a good dish but also becomes a cuisine cultural feature with a strong taste of sea that their lives have been a strong attachment with.

Cleverness in making fish sauce

Wondering whether he has been heavily in debt to his dead father, the old man – Mr. Nguyen Van Tung at Ly Thai Tong street – Thanh Khe district usually goes to the market to choose fresh fish to make sauce. His fish sauce is made to use or give guests coming home. Many generations of his family have been making much kind of sauces for a long time.The alley of his house is covered by many big jars of fish sauces which are delivered to markets.

Then, the rapid growth of urbanization, father left this job, but this taste of fish sauce has still haunted in Mr. Tung’s memories. So, when the season of shirmp, anchovy and small anchovy comes, he goes to the market and buyes 2-3kg fishes. Sometimes he takes all day to just make a small jar of fish sauce for his family, he brays galingale, ginger, garlic, pepper, and add a little salt, glutamate and wine in order to ripen fish sauce. After finishing, he sometimes opens up it to check whether it is really good. Once his children or neighbours ask fish sauce to eat with vegetables, he will do it to keep a jar not to be inclined and broken. His relatives smile when they occasionally catch him checks continuously fish sauce jars. His children – Mr. Ngoc inherits this job from him. When a seafish season comes, he asks his wife buy lots of fresh fishes and puts them into a 20l barrel and adds 10 kinds of spices; so that it needs to use lemon before using. While fish sauce becomes ripe, he just turns the tap on to take it out. Guests coming home not only appreciate the taste of fish sauce but also are surprised by the unique design of the sauce jar. Due to Mr. Ngọc’s talent in making fish sauce, his family always has delicious fish sauce to use.

There is a strange thing that Mr. Tung’s daughters do not know how to make good fish sauce like his sons. His brother – Mr. Chin also know to make it. He like making fish sauce with ginger, galingale which is more salty to use a long time. In the past, he often made fish sauce by 3 bowls of fish and 1 bowl of salt, but now he makes 4-5 bowls of fish with 1 bowl of salt. Because of making tasteless sauce, he only uses maximum 5kg fishes to make sauce in order to keep its quality. For Mr. Tung’s big family, making sauce is considered as a fate which mixes their life.

Making good fish sauce from the kitchen

For a long time, residents in coastal areas always have a bowl of spicy fish sauce in each meal. It is used with vegetables, rice and other dishes. Some families which cook soup with chop of pork also prepare fish sauce to use with chops. For who go oversea for duty or traveling, they often prepare a little bottle of fish sauce. Two year ago, in the traning course before attending in the festival for Vietnamese – Chinese Youth 2013 in China, the leader reminded all participants to take a little bottle of fish sauce because Chinese food often were used with soya sauce and much oil; so that it was not suitable for Vietnames taste.


The weather is getting cold, it is clear that much people crave for fish sauce. Mr. Pham Huong – president of the Agriculturalist Association of Man Thai district who left this job since 1995 but often gets used to make sauce. Everytime he makes fish sauce, he often uses 30kg fishes at least, but his family just uses during few days. In his opinion, there is tasteless without fish sauce in each meal. In spite of making sauce with much kind of fishes, he prefers anchovy because it is sweet and delicious. “Our fish sauce is good and high-quality. In the cold weather, in the morning or in the evening, using spicy fish sauce with rice is enough, no need to have a delicacy”, he said.

According to Mr. Tran Duc Anh Son – Deputy Director of the Danang Institute for Socio – Economic Development, Vietnamsese meal without fish sauce becomes like Korean meal without kimchi. Fish sauce is as one of spices, a dish as well as a nutrient food. Most of Quang Nam people have a salty taste, this taste get a close relationship with fish sauces. Without it, food becomes tasteless. Moreover, due to during preparing dishes in the kitchen, women often add a mix of pepper, garlic, lemon and glutamate into a bowl fish sauce, so that it becomes better.

Being in love this job

Going deeply to coastal alleys, we luckily met lovers in making fish sauce who had to leave this job. Ms. Nhi – owner of the fish sauce etablishment Nhi Ha at Le Van Thu street shared that materials for making sauces are not unstable, so there is less or no profit. If food additives are uses, fish sauce makers like them have not a clear conscience. Furthermore, because of the impact of advertisement, traditional fish sauce is getting lost, other new fish sauces are used by young houwives instead. There was a strong unhappy feeling when we saw Ms.Nhi was cleaning fish sauce jars.

Even districts near the beach like Tho Quang, Man Thai or An Hai Bac…, there are few families making fish sauce. There is no fish sauce smell anymore around here. Mr. Ngo Tan Hai’s family who make sauce since 1979 shook their head when we asked them about fish sauce. In the past, each family often bought 500-700 kg fishes to make sauce. At the present, they even cannot buy any fish. In order to get back money to maintain their job, they have to make “mam chua” to sell to traders. Depending on each trader, “mam chua” will be added suitable spices.

According to Mr. Dang Phuong Tru – resident at Nam O village, the best sauce is made with anchovy catched in lunar March or Apirl because of its breeding season. For salt to mix with sauce, it should use big white salt seeds refined impurities to avoide a bitter taste. Making sauce with 10 bowls of fishes and 4 bowls of salt. More salt, more salty sauce, but less salt, sauce will tasteless; so that it cannot keep a long time. In ten recent years, there were only a few dozen families making sauce, instead of 400-500 families in the past. As Mr.Tru said, fish sauce Nam O is now nostalgic when the quantity of this product is just served to few customers.

At the present, the fish sauce maker must be more professional to meet requirements of the market which is getting narrow. However, it is obvious that many families in coastal areas often think that self-making fish sauces to prepare meals for their families seems like a linking between people and sea. It is not only a good dish but also becomes a cuisine cultural feature with a strong taste of sea that their lives have been a strong attachment with.

Taste of fish sauce
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