Reader Tip: Selecting & Using Fish Sauce With Your Ramen!

A reader named Don D. decided to share some wisdom about fish sauce. I’ve really never used it or known much about it. This was a really good read and I thought it deserved sharing with everyone!

An absolute necessity for any serious Rameneer is a bottle of NUOC MAM (Vietnamese) or NAM PLA (Thai) fish sauce, especially for any SE Asian dishes.  I’m not going to get into the details of the flavor other than to tell you its made of fermented anchovies (if you find that idea disgusting try to remember that fermented anchovies is one of the primary ingredients in Worscestershire Sauce).  What I’d like to do though, is give your acolytes a little info on what to look for and a couple of  brands to buy.

Like wine and olive oil, all Nuoc Mam (nook-mom) or Nam Pla (nom-plah) is not born equal, so to help you decide  which to buy, look for the following:

  1.   The ingredients should list only three items, anchovies, salt and water,  more indicates a lesser quality “diluted” product.
  2.   “Ni” or “Thuong Hang”, indicates  the sauce is a first run off the  fermenting vats, (similar to the meaning of “extra  virgin cold-pressed olive oil”). Later runs are  cheaper, diluted with water, and not so flavorful.
  3.   “Ca Com” refers to a specific species of anchovy which is considered the ultimate fish for the sauce.
  4.  The sauce should be a perfectly clear ” deep tea” color with no cloudiness or residue in the bottom of the glass, not plastic, bottle.

Here are three superior brands to look for:  PHU QUOC,  THREE CRABS,  DRAGONFLY and if you can’t find the first three, you can try the more commonly available, not-so-terribly-wonderful- but-still-perfectly-acceptable, TIPAROS.  There are plenty of other  good brands not mentioned here , so if you follow the guidelines above, you’re practically guaranteed a  a quality sauce.
To use it, simply give your finished ramen a couple of generous shakes, a swirl with your chopsticks and go for it, but beware….like Ramen, it’s highly addictive!

Right on – thanks for the info!


  1. I used to use 3 Crabs as as my all-around sauce. After trying Squid brand, however, I only use that for cooking as I find it has a cleaner taste (3 Crabs has a certain bitterness in my opinion). For dipping, I have discovered Red Boat (Chef’s Choice 40°N), which I believe is a first press sauce. Most flavorful (without being too salty) fish sauce I have had so far. It is expensive, though, around $7 for 8 oz. Totally worth it and small enough bottle I put it in my pocket and bring it to my fav Asian restaurants!

  2. Great observation David. I agree 150%. The genuine Phu Quoc manufacturers are currently trying to get international “appelation controlee” status for the area, similar to European wines and cheeses, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of counterfeits out there trading on their name.
    VIET HUONG FLYING LION BRAND is a consistently high quality, affordable and pretty available brand, They also make several “premium” versions, but finding them is a crap-shoot.
    I prefer PHU QUOC over 3 CRABS ONLY because PHU QUOC doesn’t have added sugar and seems to my palate to have a “cleaner taste”.
    Another good brand is (Thai) “CA COM”.
    Thanks for the post, Bro, you’re clearly a serious “Nuoc Mamanero”!

  3. Be careful by just saying Phu Quoc as the brand name to look for. It is also the fish sauce producing area of Vietnam and is on many bottles (high quality and lesser quality) to draw people into thinking they getting the good stuff. The best Phu Quoc labeled fish sauce is by Viet Huong and the label will say Flying Lion (same company that makes Three Crabs). Both are about the same price.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *