If rice is the backbone of the Thai diet, fish sauce (Nam Pla, น้ําปลา ) is the cornerstone of the Thai palate – and one necessary element which should be in your pantry’s arsenal before you even pick up the cookbook to plan dinner. Made of fermented anchovies, salt and water, this light whiskey colored condiment is the salt of Southeast Asia, lending a rich, savory, almost caramelized brininess to everything it is used in as an ingredient.
Much like salt and pepper shakers in the Western food lexicon, it is common to see fish sauce with sliced bird-chilis on the table during many Thai meals – which is there to add a little heat and rich sodium to your food if you choose. But don’t think you can just use table salt in your papaya salad, and cut out the fish sauce. Huh-uh… The salty flavor is only one of the many nuanced elements of umami fish sauce brings to the kitchen. Some of the best mass produced Thai fish sauces are made by Tiparos, Golden Boy and Squid.