Southeast Asian cuisine mainly consists of lightly prepared dishes with strong, aromatic seasonings such as basil, coriander, lime, lemongrass etc. The ingredients that are commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine are rice, ginger, garlic, chillies, dried onions, sesame seeds, tofu and soy sauce. But, there is one such popular and most commonly used ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine is fish sauce. Fish sauce is valued as a cooking ingredient in Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese cuisine.
What Is Fish Sauce?
Fish sauce is a pungent condiment made by fermenting anchovies with salt for up to two years. It is made by placing the anchovies in a barrel with salt and slowly pressed to extract the liquid, which is the fish sauce. Mostly, anchovies are used to make fish sauce, however, mackerel, shrimp or krill are also used to make fish sauces .
Fish sauce is also referred to as ‘Nam pla’ in Thailand, ‘Nam pa’ in Laos, ‘Teuktrei’ in Cambodia and ‘Ngan bya yay’ in Burma. Fish sauce has a salty, hot, savoury, slightly sour and umami (a Japanese term for pleasant savoury taste) flavour and a rich, translucent reddish-golden brown colour .
Fish sauce is versatile and it’s used in all kinds of dishes such as stir-fries, green papaya salad, pad Thai and pho. But, what if you don’t have this cooking ingredient in your kitchen and you don’t know what other ingredients you can substitute it with in your cooking. We’ve listed some of the tasty substitutes for fish sauce which you can easily use in all kinds of dishes.
1. Soy sauce
Soy sauce is an excellent substitute for fish sauce. It is made by fermenting soybeans, salt, water and wheat. This type of soy sauce has been shown to enhance digestion and its antimicrobial activity has been shown to fight against bacteria  . The presence of amino acids in soybeans gives soy sauce an umami flavour with a dash of sweetness.
- Substitute fish sauce for soy sauce in small amounts.
2. Oyster sauce
Oyster sauce and fish sauce are similar in terms of the savoury flavour and it could be used in stir-fry recipes. Oyster sauce is made by extracting the juice of oysters. It is sweeter and slightly salty.
- Use oyster sauce in equal amounts in marinades, stir-fries and fried rice.
3. Vegan fish sauce
People who are on a vegan diet or are allergic to fish and shellfish can use vegan fish sauce as an alternative to fish sauce. Vegan fish sauce is made from shiitake mushrooms, liquid aminos and soy sauce. Liquid aminos are the free amino acids that are made by fermenting coconut sap with salt and water or treating soybeans with an acidic solution to break them down into free amino acids.
- Use vegan fish sauce in small amounts in all kinds of dishes.
Image ref: vietworldkitchen.com/blog
4. Worcestershire sauce
Worcestershire sauce is made from anchovies, tamarind, vinegar, molasses, cloves, onion and other seasonings. The strong savoury flavour of Worcestershire sauce makes it a perfect alternative to fish sauce.
- Make sure to use Worcestershire sauce in little amounts as having excessive of it can be bad for your health.
Seaweeds or sea vegetables are a type of algae that grow in the sea. It is versatile and can be used in many dishes like soups, stews, sushi rolls, salads and smoothies. Seaweeds are nutritious and rich in umami flavour .
- You can use both fresh and dried seaweed as a substitute for fish sauce. Fresh seaweed goes well in dishes like sauces, salads and broths and dried seaweed can be added in all kinds of dishes.
6. Mushroom and soy sauce broth
Mushroom and soy sauce broth is another excellent substitute for fish sauce. It is made from dried shiitake mushrooms, low-sodium soy sauce and water. You can easily make it at home by simmering dried shiitake mushrooms, low-sodium soy sauce and water in a pot until the broth has reduced by half. Strain the broth and use it in soups and stews.
7. Coconut aminos
Coconut aminos are made by fermenting coconut sap and sea salt. It is darker in colour and has a savoury and slightly sweeter flavour than soy and fish sauce. Coconut aminos are low in sodium and are gluten-free and soy-free.
- You can use coconut aminos in small amounts in all kinds of dishes.
Tamari is a type of soy sauce made from fermenting soybeans and has other ingredients like miso paste, salt and water. It has a rich, strong and slight salty umami flavour and it is dark in colour .
- Use little amounts of tamari in stir-fries, sauces, soups and dressings.
Image ref: thespruceeats
Q. What can I use instead of fish sauce for vegetarians?
A. If you are a vegetarian, you can use soy sauce, tamari, seaweed, coconut aminos and mushroom and soy sauce broth instead of fish sauce.
Q. Can I use Worcestershire sauce instead of fish sauce?
A. Yes, you can use Worcestershire sauce instead of fish sauce.
Q. Is oyster sauce the same as fish sauce?
A. No, oyster sauce is not the same as fish sauce. Oyster sauce is made by extracting the juice of oysters, whereas, fish sauce is made by fermenting anchovies with salt. Both the sauces are different in aroma, taste and flavour.
Q. Is fish sauce the same as soy sauce?
A. No, fish sauce and soy sauce are different. Fish sauce is made by fermenting anchovies with salt and soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans, salt, water and wheat.
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