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Fish sauce in Chinese cuisine?


Ce'nedra
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I'm aware that there are some Chinese dishes which make use of fish sauce but is this traditional? Have the Chinese long made use of fish sauce or is it a recent influence from neighbouring cuisines such as Vietnamese and Thai?

Obviously soy sauce is very much a Chinese neccessity and invention. But what of fish sauce? When did it come to be seen in Chinese cuisine?

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

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Fish Sauce is virtually unknown in Chinese cuisine. I live not far from the Vietnamese border and none of my family or friends have heard of it. The few Vietnamese in town bring back crateloads every time they go home as it is unavailable here.

I have mentioned this to a few Chinese friends who assure me that 'fish sauce' is available, but when they take me to see it, it turns out to be something else - usually oyster sauce.

When I show them real fish sauce, they are baffled.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Fish Sauce is virtually unknown in Chinese cuisine. I live not far from the Vietnamese border and none of my family or friends have heard of it. The few Vietnamese in town bring back crateloads wvery time they go home as it is unavailable here.

I have mentioned this to a few Chinese friends who assure me that 'fish sauce' is available, but when they take me to see it, it turns out to be something else - usually oyster sauce.

When I show them real fish sauce, they are baffled.

I would highly disagree with this statement. Chinese are said to be the founders of fish sauce which predates their use of soy sauce. I can't quote exact dates etc., but a fantastic read on the subject is Salt: A World History: by Mark Kurlansky this will tell you all about the worlds fascination with start starting with China..

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I'm aware that there are some Chinese dishes which make use of fish sauce but is this traditional? Have the Chinese long made use of fish sauce or is it a recent influence from neighbouring cuisines such as Vietnamese and Thai?

Obviously soy sauce is very much a Chinese neccessity and invention. But what of fish sauce? When did it come to be seen in Chinese cuisine?

It's very popular in Fujian Province.

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This may be a regional thing? In Cantonese cooking, I have never heard of (or tasted) fish sauce being used. Until recent years maybe... that Vietnamese style cooking had infiltrated into our culture?

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Thanks for the info guys. I'm guessing that noone is really definite yet? lol! Here's something I just found...not sure how reliable it is though.

Fish sauce is a thin, salty liquid that is used in place of salt as a seasoning in many Asian recipes.  Although associated primarily with Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, it is also used in parts of southern China and occasionally in Cantonese cooking.  Made from salted fish, it is rich in Vitamin B and protein.

Fish sauce is used both in cooking and as a dipping sauce. Depending on where it was made, you'll find it sold under a number of names. Chinese brands are often labeled "fish gravy" or "fish sauce," while it is called "nuoc mam" in Vietnam and "nam pla" in Thailand. However, they are all basically the same product, although the Thai and Vietnamese brands are considered superior.  Fish sauce can be stored indefinitely without refrigeration in a dry place. 

http://chinesefood.about.com/library/blcdfishsauce.htm

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

http://musingsandmorsels.weebly.com/

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Thanks for the info guys. I'm guessing that noone is really definite yet? lol! Here's something I just found...not sure how reliable it is though.
Fish sauce is a thin, salty liquid that is used in place of salt as a seasoning in many Asian recipes.  Although associated primarily with Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, it is also used in parts of southern China and occasionally in Cantonese cooking.  Made from salted fish, it is rich in Vitamin B and protein.

Fish sauce is used both in cooking and as a dipping sauce. Depending on where it was made, you'll find it sold under a number of names. Chinese brands are often labeled "fish gravy" or "fish sauce," while it is called "nuoc mam" in Vietnam and "nam pla" in Thailand. However, they are all basically the same product, although the Thai and Vietnamese brands are considered superior.  Fish sauce can be stored indefinitely without refrigeration in a dry place. 

http://chinesefood.about.com/library/blcdfishsauce.htm

Back in the States, our family friends were from Fujian Province and they use fish sauce very liberally. They usually don't even bother using salt, substituting it with fish sauce. I remember distinctly because my family (dad's side) is Hakka, and we don't use any fish sauce and rely on salt mostly (equal to or even more than soy sauce), probably because Hakkas were very poor in the past). In Fujian, I was told that if you use salt to salt your dishes, you're looked at as poor.

In any event, from what I remember, they do not use fish sauce as a dipping condiment, but more as a flavoring agent. I never saw saucers of fish sauce on the table, etc., like they have in Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.

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Thanks for the insight bethpageblack! I've read that the Teo Chiu (which I'm half of) also use fish sauce in a few dishes and their cuisine (and language -in fact, I think they were once the same until they decided to split ways) is very similar to the Fujianese. So this certainly would make sense.

I really wonder though...if fish sauce supposedly originated from China (as said above), how did it come to be used so extensively in South East Asian cuisine in comparison to China? Strange indeed.

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

http://musingsandmorsels.weebly.com/

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I really wonder though...if fish sauce supposedly originated from China (as said above), how did it come to be used so extensively in South East Asian cuisine in comparison to China? Strange indeed.

I hypothesize that this may have to do with geography. Vietnam and Thailand have very long coastlines. Fish is abundon... therefore the source material to make fish sauce. Soya beans on the other hand might not be. (I don't see a whole lot of tofu products used in those cuisines.)

In China, the majority of the population live away from the coast. Soya beans are the staples.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Hmm sounds reasonable. After all, the southern regions in China are known for their easy access to an abundance of fresh fish as well.

I think Vietnamese cuisine uses quite a bit of tofu and other soy products because there is a heavy Chinese influence.

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

http://musingsandmorsels.weebly.com/

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Thanks for the insight bethpageblack! I've read that the Teo Chiu (which I'm half of) also use fish sauce in a few dishes and their cuisine (and language -in fact, I think they were once the same until they decided to split ways) is very similar to the Fujianese. So this certainly would make sense.

I really wonder though...if fish sauce supposedly originated from China (as said above), how did it come to be used so extensively in South East Asian cuisine in comparison to China? Strange indeed.

It's all intertwined. Fujian Province is located east of Guangdong Province, and Teochow (Chaozhou in Mandarin) is located at the eastern tip of Guangdong Province. So it's not surprising that fish sauce is used in Chaozhou cuisine as well.

Another factoid is that there are lots and lots of Chaozhou people in Thailand and other parts of SE Asia, i.e., Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. They've been emigrating there for hundreds of years. So - the big questions are: Did fish sauce originate in China or did Chinese immigrants bring fish sauce with them to Thailand and Vietnam? Or did Chinese immigrants bring fish sauce back with them to China? Or was it transplanted from the Romans?

I should read that book referenced by Andrew. Sounds like an interesting read.

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Yes! I read that the ancient Romans used some form of fish sauce that is very similar to the Asian kind back in the days. That's really interesting now that I think about it because I can't imagine say, Italian cuisine with that kind of flavouring. It'd be very peculiar!

And yeah the Chinese in general go EVERYWHERE around the world. They're very good with business lol!

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

http://musingsandmorsels.weebly.com/

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Yes! I read that the ancient Romans used some form of fish sauce that is very similar to the Asian kind back in the days. That's really interesting now that I think about it because I can't imagine say, Italian cuisine with that kind of flavouring. It'd be very peculiar!

And yeah the Chinese in general go EVERYWHERE around the world. They're very good with business lol!

On the Amalfi, they make a kind of 'fish sauce' as well by salting anchovies and then reserving the liquid which is leftover...

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I would highly disagree with this statement.

Which statement?

 

I said that the vast majority of Chinese people do not use fish sauce in their cuisine, which is kind of shown by its lack of availability and the fact that few people have heard of it. (I now learn from this thread that Fujian may be different, but that hardly makes it universal in China.)

 

Your answer was that it was invented in China, therefore I must be wrong. Maybe it was. I wasn't commenting on where it may or may not have been invented. I was commenting on where it is used. A totally different concept.

 

The Roman stuff is called liquamen (or garum).

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Yes! I read that the ancient Romans used some form of fish sauce that is very similar to the Asian kind back in the days. That's really interesting now that I think about it because I can't imagine say, Italian cuisine with that kind of flavouring. It'd be very peculiar!

And yeah the Chinese in general go EVERYWHERE around the world. They're very good with business lol!

On the Amalfi, they make a kind of 'fish sauce' as well by salting anchovies and then reserving the liquid which is leftover...

Thanks for that piece of info ;)

That salt book by Mark Kurlansky sounds really interesting. I wonder if it's available in Australia? Probably expensive too huh?

What else does the book say about fish sauce (if you rememeber that is)? :)

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

http://musingsandmorsels.weebly.com/

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Thanks for that piece of info ;)

That salt book by Mark Kurlansky sounds really interesting. I wonder if it's available in Australia? Probably expensive too huh?

What else does the book say about fish sauce (if you rememeber that is)? :)

It is a truly fascinating read. As it is in paperback, it is not so expensive. Amazon.com lists the price at about $11.00. As the book is packed full of information on salt and its use, I don't remember a whole lot in reference to fish sauces. One bit I do remember is that original Chinese soy sauce was made with fish and soy beans originally and later the fish was removed. Also, salt was so expensive that it was never placed directly on food, and only used with brines and sauces etc. The sprinkling of salt on food was only for the high society...

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I would highly disagree with this statement.

Which statement?

I said that the vast majority of Chinese people do not use fish sauce in their cuisine, which is kind of shown by its lack of availability and the fact that few people have heard of it. (I now learn from this thread that Fujian may be different, but that hardly makes it universal in China.)

Your answer was that it was invented in China, therefore I must be wrong. Maybe it was. I wasn't commenting on where it may or may not have been invented. I was commenting on where it is used. A totally different concept.

The Roman stuff is called liquamen (or garum).

my apologies then

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Yes! I read that the ancient Romans used some form of fish sauce that is very similar to the Asian kind back in the days. That's really interesting now that I think about it because I can't imagine say, Italian cuisine with that kind of flavouring. It'd be very peculiar!

Some Italian dishes use a little bit of anchovies or anchovy paste for flavoring. Perhaps this has become the replacement for their fish sauce.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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