Two Recipes Featuring Fish Sauce from Kasma Loha-Unchit

Using Fish Sauce in Traditional Thai Recipes

Fish SauceFish sauce, or nam pla in Thai, is an indispensable staple of Thai cooking much like salt is in Western cooking. This odoriferous brown liquid is Thailand's soy sauce. Various forms of sauces are derived from fermented fish throughout Asia, fish sauce being just one of them. Thai fish sauce in general is paler and milder than Vietnamese. On some bottles, especially those that originate in China, Hong Kong and the Philippines, the name may be 'fish gravy', but it is essentially the same as fish sauce.

Fish sauce was once even popular in the West. In ancient Rome, fish sauce was commercially produced as liquamen or garem and was one of the most common and strongest seasonings.

In addition to flavor, fish sauce provides protein and vitamin B. It can be stored up to a year without refrigeration.

Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Dressing for Seafood Salads

  • 4-8 red and green fresh Thai chiles, cut into thin rounds with seeds
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. Thai fish sauce, to taste
  • Juice of 1-2 limes, or about 3 Tbs., to taste
  • 2-3 tsp. sugar, to taste

Crush the chiles and garlic with a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste. Add fish sauce, lime juice and sugar to the desired combination of salty, sour and sweet.

Chili Lime Fish Sauce (Nam Plah Prik or Prik Nam Plah)

Mix together:

Recipes used with kind permission from cooking instructor Kasma's Loha-unchit.

Recipe Copyright © 1999 Kasma Loha Unchit; Image © 2010 Phiphat Phatanapaijitgul/

How to tell which Brands of Fish Sauce are Good or Not:
...look for fish sauce with a clear, reddish brown color, like the color of good whisky or sherry, without any sediments. If the color is a dark or muddy brown, the sauce is likely to be either a lower grade, or one that is not properly or naturally fermented; it may also have been sitting on the shelf a bit too long. Good fish sauce also has a pleasant aroma of the sea, not an overwhelming smelly fishiness, and should not be overly salty. If the bottle you have been using makes the dishes you cook taste too fishy, try a new brand.

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Fish Sauce in other Asian Languages:

  • Burma: ngan-pya-ye
  • Cambodia: tuk trey
  • Laos: nam pa
  • Japan: Shottsuru
  • Philippines: patis
  • Thailand: nam pla
  • Vietnam: nuoc nam

A Visit to a Thai Fish Sauce Factory

The fish sauce is started from very fresh fish, of the small variety, which are placed in concrete holding tanks along with salt (I think it is about a 3:2 weight ratio). It takes 5 to 7 kilograms of fish to make a liter of fish sauce of this quality. With a few interventions (periodically it is opened to the sun) they essentially let it sit for 18 months.... By 18 months the liquid is virtually clear: the owner put a glass in, swirled it around and it came out looking like fine whisky. No liquid had been added and yet the tank, save for a crusting of salt around one edge, was nearly completely liquid.

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