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How to Shop for Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Made from salted fermented fish (usually anchovies), water, and sometimes a bit of salt and sugar, think of fish sauce as similar to soy sauce in that it adds umam(depth of flavor) and a salty savoriness to your dishes. With so many brands available, it can be hard to figure out what to buy. Here are a couple of tips to help:

  1. Go for mid or high priced brands. They’ll still be less than $5 but the cheaper stuff has a harsh, unpleasant flavor.

  2. Look for a deep red color instead of a dark brown color, which might indicate that it’s past its prime.

  3. Glass bottles indicate a higher quality product than plastic bottles.

  4. Start with Vietnamese fish sauce, which tends to be lighter and less strong than Thai and Filipino varieties.

  5. In Vietnamese fish sauces, look for the Three Crabs brand (indicated by 3 crabs in a triangle formation on the label). This is widely available and a preferred brand.

If you’re cooking Southeast Asian curries, noodle dishes, or marinades for meat or fish, fish sauce is a must. Brands can vary widely in quality, flavor, and strength so try a few until you find one that you like. It’s a great ingredient to keep in the cupboard because it lasts forever and adds a unique depth to your recipes.