Phu Quoc fish sauce

In Vietnamese cuisine, unique taste and specialties of dishes depend upon the well-blended of various kinds of traditional condiments. A secret ingredient surprises many professional cookers, talented chefs and food lover, an essential to create a unique taste for Vietnamese savory dishes is “Nước mắm” (Vietnamese fish sauce). The saltiness, but not pure salty, blend on the back-base sweetness scores the winning of fish sauce.

Nước mắm is a very basic and common condiment uses across Vietnam. The way Nước mắm is added, balanced in dishes, though, might different from regions but in general, it is a must have condiment in cooking.

“Nước mắm Phú Quốc” is the most famous commercial brands of fish sauce trading on domestic and international markets. The sea surrounding Phu Quoc islands has a huge economic potential of anchovies. It creates a long history of Nước mắm Phú Quốc dating back to 200 years ago when islanders made and trade Nước mắm to Laos and Cambodia at the end of 19th century. Today, “Dương Ðông” and “An Thới” are two locations contribute a significant output to Nước mắm Phú Quốc production.

 How “Nước mắm” is made

Nước mắm is a liquid condiment derived from fish that are ferment. The most common fish to make Nước mắm, in Vietnam, is anchovies. This explains a large number of traditional and famous villages in making Nước mắm locate in coastal areas or islands to utilize a plenty of fresh fish supply. The distinctive type of anchovies and the quality of fish are the key elements in having the best quality and flavorful fish sauce. July to December lunar calendar, particularly in August, is the best season during the year for fishing anchovies. Anchovies, right at the fishing boat, are washed in sea water and taken out impurities. Fish, then, is mixed with unrefined salt and store in the hold. The ratio of fish and salt, usually, is 3:1- three parts of fish mix with one part of unrefined salt. This method is traditionally called “chượp” to keep fish fresh; avoid the disintegration of fish meat to yield the highest degree of protein for fish sauce and fantastic smell. When the fishing boat returns to the mainland, salted fishes are put into a huge wooden barrel to keep for months.

A wooden barrel is made from soft wood because each wooden piece is arranged to form a huge barrel and big ropes are used to keep them stay closed and tied together without any tiny slot. Soft wood, thus, forms a better barrel than other types of wood. A wooden barrel has cylindrical shape with 1,5 to 3 meters in diameter; 2 to 2,5 meters in height; 2,5 to 8 cubic meters in capacity.

Each barrel can store 7 to 13 tons of fish. When a barrel is filled-up with salted fishes, one layer of fish will be put on top with another layer of salt, then, stay on top of that is a bamboo grid and a layer of stone to fasten and weight fishes down. Two to four days later, the enzymes in fish gut hydrolyze internal organs and create some liquid. This very first liquid has fishy smell and uneatable, so it is filtered out via a small tap on the wall of barrel. When all liquid are out, the main hydrolysis process begins. It takes 8 to 18 months for certain bacteria finish hydrolysis of fish meat and discharge transparent, light yellow or reddy brown liquid – known as perfect Nước mắm, no fishy but having a distinct aromatic smell.

This first, perfect liquid has the highest degree of protein called “nước mắm nhĩ” which is purely created from the hydrolysis of fish meat. After filtering out the first product, water can be filled again into the barrel for the second derivation, though, not having a high degree of protein as the first one. The degree of protein is reduced over each production cycle.

Nước mắm, then, is bottled for retailing or packed in plastic container for wholesales distribution. Nước mắm Phú Quốc has a natural reddy brown color without adding any artificial color. This is a result of fresh fish mixing method and a long period of ferment up to 12 months in wooden barrels.