Tan is an age-old village next to the estuary of the
same name in present-day Vinh Truong Ward in Nha Trang
City. For a hundred years, the villagers here have earned
their living with nuoc mam (fish sauce).
mam is to Vietnamese cooking what salt is to Western
and soy sauce to Chinese cooking. It is used as a condiment
and is an essential in practically all recipes.
interesting characteristic of fish sauce is that it
loses its fishy, pungent odor once other ingredients
are added to it. Together with chili and carrot slices,
it is often used as a dipping.
other characteristics of fish sauce are precisely its
fishy smell and salty flavor. And especially its pervasive,
raw smell is what visitors to Binh Tan first notice.
at the bustling fishing wharf of Vinh Truong, you see
hundreds of people busy with unloading fish from the
ships docked at the wharf. Ca com, or anchovy fish,
is the main ingredient to make nuoc mam in Binh Tan.
Hoai, a woman who has been making fish sauce for 30
years, says Nha Trang has many anchovy fish, and nuoc
mam made from the fish caught in the region tastes different
from elsewhere in Vietnam.
house where nuoc mam is made is called nha thung (house
of barrels) because of the large wooden barrels, in
which the sauce is prepared and which are everywhere
in the house.
barrels are so big that they can hold hundreds of kilograms
of fish. The barrels are usually made from wood of such
trees as bang lang, sen or chieu lieu, whose trunks
range in diameter from 60 to 100 centimeters.
timber is split into four-to-five-centimeter-thick sheets,
which are dried thoroughly and then assembled into round
or oval barrels, each fastened with four or five bamboo
make the ropes, bamboo is submerged in a creek, river
or pond for two to three months and then split into
two-to-three-centimeter strands. Ten to 20 of those
are plaited together to make the rope.
cracks or holes in the barrel, excluding the essential
draining hole at the bottom, are filled with a mixture
of otter oil, resin, sawdust and cajuput. The barrel
then has to dry for at least one week.
the actual task begins. To make nuoc mam, people usually
mix fresh anchovy fish with salt based on a 1:1 ratio,
meaning for one bowl of fish, you add one bowl of salt.
the fish is washed, it and the salt are placed in alternating
layers to fill the barrel. The barrel is sealed and
left for a minimum of six months so that the mixture
first liquid that comes out is known as nuoc mam song
(raw fish sauce). The cloudy nuoc mam song later is
poured back into the barrel.
next liquid that drips out of the barrel is called nuoc
mam nhi. The dark yellow liquid has an average protein
concentration of 36% and is considered to have the best
also use nuoc mam nhi to keep warm and ward off colds.
After taking the nuoc mam nhi, people put more salt
into the barrel to produce category-two nuoc mam.
technique of preparing nuoc mam in Binh Tan has changed
in recent years. Many of the more than 200 families
now making fish sauce in the village have replaced the
old wooden barrels with cement tanks to shorten the
time for fermentation.
the flavor of nuoc mam remains unchanged. Many fish
sauce makers in the village have become popular under
their registered tradenames, such as Chin Tuy, Nha Trang,
Hai Viet, Ngoc Hoai and Ngoc Hai.
to spread the essential sauce, nuoc mam from Binh Tan
is available at shops selling specialties of Nha Trang
so that tourists can bring it to many other regions
/ 06 -SGT)