Monday, October 14, 2013

Gluten-free Fish Sauce

It has been over 45 days since I've gone gluten free. Overall, I think the transition has been pretty smooth, but I have had my share of breakdowns especially when I tried to eat out with my family and friends at local Asian restaurants--the authentic, mom & pop shop kinds. Staff is not always knowledgeable, nor are they keen on being accommodating.  

My worst dining out experience was going to BCD with my in-law's. (I'll be writing a restaurant review later). Hence, my Instagram post saying that it sucks to be Asian & gluten-intolerant. 

While I quickly discovered gluten-free soy sauce (typically called Tamari), it took me much longer to find gluten-free fish sauce. I thought I wouldn't be able to enjoy Thai food again.

What is fish sauce anyway? 
It's a strong briny sauce made from fermenting anchovies, water, and salt. It's a key ingredient in East & Southeast Asian foods. 

  • Vietnamese - nuoc mam
  • Thai - nam pla 
  • Korean - aekjeot  
  • Philippines - isda

A few years ago, I saw a cool documentary on Extreme Cuisine hosted by Jeff Corwin on the making of fish sauce

Finding the right fish sauce
Prior to my G-free days, I bought the Viet Huong Three Crabs fish sauce based on my research for a Thai green papaya salad (som tum) recipe. I didn't realize that this brand was NOT gluten-free after the fact. Look for an inconspicuously labeled ingredient called "hydrolyzed vegetable protein," translated as wheat protein.

When I found out I was gluten intolerant, I purged my kitchen of all gluten-containing items including the incomparable condiment, fish sauce.

I haven't had much Asian food since my confirmed diagnosis. Unfortunately for me, my favorite Asian dishes almost always include fish sauce, which, in turn, contains gluten.

  • Korean Kimchi - depending on brand of fish sauce used to season
  • Vietnamese Pho - broth & condiments 
  • Som Tum - salad dressing 

Gluten-free Brands
Below are some gluten-free brands I found online. While I feel comforted in knowing that I can try to replicate Asian dishes at home, I wish that I could still go out to eat like I used to. Now that I am more familiar with brands, I can ask restaurants what brands they use.

Squid (Thai)

According to my friend, Connie, this is the best fish sauce because its extra smelly.

Three Shrimp (Thai)

Lighter in taste compared to the above brand.

Red Boat (Vietnamese)

Check out this video tour hosted by Spike Mendelsohn (as seen on The Next Iron Chef & Top Chef).

Three Ladies (Vietnamese)

Rufina (Filipino)

Thai Kitchen (American)

I think Thai kitchen products are "Americanized," and probably not the most authentic. 

Where can you buy fish sauce?
  • Local American grocers depending on your neighborhood demographic 
    • My local Albertson's in Fullerton has a dedicated Korean section with soju, laver, kimchi, etc.
  • 99 Ranch
  • Vietnamese markets in Westminster, CA
  • Korean Markets: Han-Nam Chain, Zion, H-Mart, Arirang (AKA AR Mart)

Help me buy the best one. Please vote!
What is your favorite gluten-free fish sauce brand? free polls 

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