Fish sauce and rice are the building blocks of Vietnamese cuisine. Fish sauce is called nuoc mam in Vietnamese. This flavor is used widely in Southeast Asian food. The Thai version of the sauce is more pungent whereas the Vietnamese version is lighter and more delicate. There are recipes that use fish sauce dating back 1,000 years!
Never had fish sauce? Andrea Nguyen recommends sniffing dried porcini mushrooms and then sniffing fish sauce in her book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. The smell is nearly the same! The taste of the sauce is similar to soy sauce and used much in the same manner. It is thought to contain the fifth flavor, umami, which is a full bodied meaty sort of flavor.
Fish sauce is not nearly as nutritionally deficient as ketchup which is basically sugar and tomatoes. Fish sauce is high in vitamin B and protein. Our Vietnamese Vinaigrette is made with fish sauce — try it next time you order a noodle bowl!