Around the time when the banh mi book released, I received an email from Nili, asking about Red Boat competitors from Vietnam. (Sigh.) Asian food production is full of copycats and cut-throat rivalries. The photo that Nili emailed showed nuoc mam in bottles similar to Red Boat’s. It didn’t surprise me, and I asked where he saw these Vietnamese fish sauces. He pointed me to the humongous Shun Fat (Thuan Phat) market in San Jose. Shun Fat is known to have a wide variety of Southeast Asian ingredients and I’ve shopped at many of them in California. What else was I to do but investigate.
At the market, I scanned the shelves and select the ones made in Vietnam. With Red Boat added to the lineup, the result was the above collection – which ranged in prices from $4.99 to $7.99 at an Asian market. To solicit unbiased opinion, I asked students at one of my pho workshops to do a tasting and provide their comments. They’d come to class to learn about what to buy. I gave them a wide range to choose from. Though I offered cucumber for tasting, everyone tasted directly from disposable spoons. (No “eeeewww” reactions!) The responses were fascinating.