An Ode To Fish Sauce
Anchovies are small fry next to the ultra-umami flavor of Caramelized Fish Sauce.
Made from a base of premium Phú Quốc fish sauce (sourced from Red Boat) and rounded out with savory, earthy Okinawan black sugar, it's an ideal complement for any kind of grilled fare.
Notably, it's also the star ingredient in our new Luxe Caesar Salad Kit.
After tasting our Caramelized Fish Sauce for the first time, Kim Kwo, our Chief of Staff, wrote this ode to the fermented fish condiment—through the lens of an unforgettable dinner with a stranger in a faraway land.
Keep reading and be transported…
A little over 15 years ago, I went on a life-defining solo backpacking trip across Asia. I found myself in Mui Ne, a small fishing village on the coast of Vietnam, for a couple of nights. This town produced fish sauce and I could smell it miles away.
I had rented a small private bungalow in a beautiful resort by the water for the astronomical sum of $28 CAD/night. It was off-season, so I was one of the two guests at the resort.
The next morning at breakfast, I met the other guest; a man in his fifties who was there alone as well. He was having a lively conversation with the resort owners, pausing to nod in my direction when I arrived on the patio and took a seat. After a while, he walked over and asked to join me.
He (I don't remember his name) told me he was born in Mui Ne, but lived in the U.S. for most of his life. He had been at the resort for a few weeks, making arrangements for his mother's estate — she had passed away earlier that year.
He had befriended a lot of the locals, particularly the chef of the restaurant down the block, whom he enlisted to cook his dinners. Every morning, he accompanied the chef to the market and would request a meal made of dishes from his childhood in memory of his mother.
He asked me if I'd join him for dinner that night. He confessed that I reminded him of his daughter and he hadn't seen her in a while.
When we arrived at the restaurant, it was empty save for our table. As soon as we were seated, the chef brought out dish after dish, filling every inch of a table for four. None of it was familiar to me, so my host proceeded to introduce each dish, peppered with childhood anecdotes.
One of these dishes was Ca Kho To (forgive the lack of appropriate accents), a caramelized catfish dish that I fell in love with, but would only get to enjoy again years later.
We spent the night sharing stories about our families and what we would do when we got home - I'd figure out what I want to do with my life, and he'd repair the fractured relationship with his family.
At the end of the evening, I thanked him for his kindness and hospitality and he thanked me for the company. We parted ways, never to see each other again, never keeping in touch.
This is what our Caramelized Fish Sauce reminds me of. Nostalgia's a powerful thing, my friends.
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Images courtesy Red Boat Fish Sauce.