Just a quick note about fish sauce before I head out for busy week at the IACP conference, punctuated with teaching a couple cooking classes. I’ve been looking out for premium fish sauce (i.e., no funky additives and practically drinkable taste) ever since I got my first whiff and taste of the brown label Megachef from Thailand in 2009. Then a couple of years ago, Vietnamese Red Boat started sending stuff, which I wrote about in a “Saveur 100” ditty in 2011. Home cooks and professional chefs are looking for excellent fish sauce, just as they are other premium ingredients like olive oil.
But where to buy premium fish sauce easily? Yes, Red Boat is available via mail order and some select Asian and non-Asian markets. But Megachef is also terrific. Bee of Rasa Malaysia told me a while back that she’d found it in Orange County’s Little Saigon. I didn’t see Megachef in Northern California. I knew that they’d been trying to find a distribution channel in the U.S. but didn’t come across it myself.
Green Farm Market was relatively clean and organized and had a great fish sauce selection. I made my sister walk every aisle with me and in the fish sauce area, I found a Phu Quoc fish sauce distributed by a company called IHA Beverage. Here it is with Red Boat.
The IHA fish sauce has Korean Hangul because Korean cooks use nuoc mam in making kimchi; they’re a growing market for Vietnamese fish sauce. The flavor of IHA? It’s really good, a bit more delicate than Red Boat, which has a certain thick mouthfeel. The IHA sold at Green Farm Market for nearly $6 a bottle; Three Crabs is roughly $3.50 so IHA is positioned to be upscale. Yes, the pure sourcing of IHA’s product is not as transparent as Red Boat, which makes theirs, but IHA seems like a solid fish sauce to use.
The other premium fish sauce discovery was the blue label Megachef, which Bee mentioned but I didn’t find till I set foot into Green Farm Market. For whatever reason -- maybe people don’t know it or they are suspicious because the label covers up the fish sauce – but the little bottle you see below sold for less than a dollar. Green Farm Market had a number of small format fish sauce bottles, which are great for table use.
Turns out that Megachef blue label is suppose to be a little lighter for the Viet palate whereas Megachef brown label is for the Thai kitchen. Note the Thai script versus the Vietnamese romanization. The difference between the two? Very negligible, if any. Megachef says that their premium fish sauce is aged 2 years. It’s got very good flavor. I found an Oregon-based distributor and hope that that means more Megachef at more stores; that distributor just added Red Boat. Australians have better access to Megachef as uber Thai chef David Thompson was an early proponent.
These topnotch Asian ingredients are extremely affordable relative to other premium food products. The problem is finding them. Check them out, spread the word, and eventually we’ll have better access to great ingredients!
If you’ve seen these fish sauces, where? Or, are there other fish sauces you like?