It seems like an oxymoron but vegetarian fish sauces do exist! For the Asian Culinary Association’s gala dinner last night in San Francisco, I did a fish sauce and fresh herb tasting for 150 guests, chefs, and students of the California Culinary Academy. Aside from the Bobby Chin contraband fish sauce that I’ve been keeping in the fridge, I bought the rest at Vietnamese and Chinese markets in San Jose. The fish sauce bottles included Viet Huong’s 3 and 1 crab, Tiparos, Squid, Ruffino, and Roland brand.
Of the eight fish sauces in the tasting, the one that I was most intrigued by was the vegetarian fish sauce pictured above, which cost $1.99. I’d seen vegetarian fish sauces in the past but never tried them. I’m an omnivore and was raised Catholic.
For this event, however, I thought that it would be interesting to see how the vegetarian nuoc mam stacked up. The label said that it contained soybeans, peanuts, water, salt, and sugar. In other words, it was had a soy sauce-like composition. There wasn't any wheat in the vegetarian fish sauce so it is a plausible gluten-free type of fish sauce.