Vietnamese fish sauce from Phu Quoc hard to find in the United States

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vietnamese-style fish sauce has a sweeter, more delicate taste than traditional Thai fish sauce, which is heavier. Thai cuisine has bolder flavors than Vietnamese, so Thai-style fish sauce, such as the Tiparos brand, is "copacetic with that flavor style," says Andrea Nguyen, author of the cookbook "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" (Ten Speed Press, 2006) and the blog Viet World Kitchen. "They're different flavor profiles."

According to Nguyen, most fish sauce in Vietnam is made by very small producers, and it simply costs too much to have an infrastructure in place to export their product. Knorr, a German brand owned by the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever, built a bottling plant on Phu Quoc in 2002 and has since been selling Phu Quoc fish sauce under its brand name. Knorr fish sauce is available in Canada and Asia but not in the United States. Unless you're shopping in dense Vietnamese enclaves in this country (such as in Little Saigon in Orange County, Calif.), it is difficult to find Vietnamese fish sauce here: that is, fish sauce with a Vietnamese flavor profile that was also made in Vietnam.

Many chefs in the United States use the Three Crabs and Flying Lion brands of fish sauce, both produced by the Viet Huong company and both a "product of Thailand processed in Hong Kong," as indicated on their labels (even though the words "Phu Quoc," referring to the Vietnamese island, deceptively appear in large print on Flying Lion bottles).

Nguyen also recommends those two brands as being the closest to Vietnamese in style that are readily available in the United States, even though they are produced by a Thai company. Both brands can be found at large Washington area Asian grocery stores such as H Mart, Grand Mart and Lotte, and at the Eden Center.

-- J.W.

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