What is the difference between Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce?

In this article, we will answer the following question:  What is the difference between Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce? We will discuss the differences between Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce and its importance in Asian cuisine. 

What is the difference between Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce?

The difference between Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce is that the last one is a little saltier and flavorful. However, if you are new to fish sauce, it is less likely that you will notice a difference. The most significant differences n flavor and quality is between different brands of fish sauce.

Fish sauce – Thai version 

Fish sauce or Nam Pla is also known as the essence of anchovies (since it is the fish with which it is mainly made in Thailand); one of its main properties is to salt the culinary preparations in which it is incorporated, something similar to use of soy sauce, in fact, in some Asian kitchens they opt for fish sauce in the absence of good soy crops to make their sauce. Both sauces also provide the so-called fifth flavor, umami.

This type of sauces is obtained from some fish species, mollusks, and shellfish, both raw and dried; a paste is made with them, and it is mixed with salt, approximately between 10 and 30% of it. The fish sauce requires around 24 months of fermentation, but before, this preparation produces a fish paste that is also used in cooking in about a month.

Follow the fish sauce process that will offer different qualities; it is like olive oil; the first extraction is the best. Later it is usually added with spices and aromatic herbs to find Nam Pla with different flavor nuances, spicier, fresher, more intense … The longer the sauce ferments, the more the fishy taste is reduced, acquiring fruit flavors—dried and cured cheese.

In Thai cuisine, fish sauce or Nam Pla is an essential ingredient; it is used almost for any dish, providing its flavor and the nutritional value for which it has always been highly appreciated, a rich source of protein. However, It must be added in small amounts to provide a balanced flavor. Despite its intense smell, it softens when incorporated into the recipe, enhancing the taste of the rest of the ingredients.

Soups, sauces, marinades … we will see recipes where we can incorporate fish sauce, a dressing that you can buy in Asian product stores or specialized stores.

Fish sauce – Vietnamese version

One of the most popular sauces in the cuisine of Vietnam is the Nuoc Cham sauce, also known as Vietnamese fish sauce, bittersweet or sweet, depending on the proportion of ingredients in its preparation, because as you will see below, the fish sauce is They add chilies, garlic, sugar and lime or lemon, and the intensity of its flavor is lightened with water.

Sometimes grated carrot is added when serving the sauce, such as garnishing some vermicelli or some lemon slices if they are to accompany the fish. There are many variants of the recipe depending on the region, the dishes to be seasoned, and the chef’s tastes. Nuoc Cham sauce is usually served as a dipping sauce or dip and as a dressing, mainly for rolls or vegetable or vegetable dishes, noodles, rice, and fish, but also served with meat dishes.

There are many ingredients that Vietnamese cuisine is served from to achieve aromas with so much character and personality. Still, if I have to name just one, I would undoubtedly choose the nuoc mam sauce as a worthy representative and ambassador not only of Vietnamese cuisine but of Southeast Asian cuisine in general.

This sauce has such a powerful aroma, but it is so refined that it is practically impossible to describe its flavor accurately: it is salty, slightly sweet, and when tasted, umami is correctly perceived. 

It also has the peculiarity of highlighting and transforming the original flavor of other foods, achieving surprising results on the palate. It is also difficult to understand how, by itself, the sauce can provoke rejection due to its strong smell of fish -in someone who still does not know this prodigious sauce- and, nevertheless, combines phenomenally with vegetables, rice, or meats without even being detected. 

The sauce is made from salt, water, and a type of anchovies called cá com in Vietnamese and is obtained through a fermentation process that can vary between 4 months to 5 years. 

The bottom line

Fish sauce is manufactured in different countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, or even Japan, which also uses squid for its preparation. Of course, the flavor can vary significantly from one brand to another. 

This happens because there are almost 20 different varieties of anchovies from which this sauce is obtained, and the manufacturing process or the proportions of the ingredients can be modified. The best-known fish sauces are Vietnamese and Thai; in the latter case, it is called nam pla.

Any Vietnamese lost in the world and eager to faithfully reproduce the flavor of the dishes of his land or any cooks determined to delve into Vietnamese cuisine should get hold of a bottle of this beautiful sauce. 

The good news is that it is straightforward to find nowadays in any Asian establishment or even in supermarkets, so don’t hesitate, look for the best fish sauce and give your dishes a different taste!

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Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.

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