The Legacy of Garum: Asian and European Fish Sauces

The concept of garum as a condiment lives on in various incarnations of prepared fish sauces. The accompanying table lists some of the international fish sauces. When choosing a fish sauce, look for one with a clear, reddish-brown color, like the color of good whisky or sherry, without any sediments.


If the color is a dark or muddy brown, the sauce is likely to be either a lower grade, or one that is not properly or naturally fermented; it may also be past its sell-date. Good fish sauce has a pleasant aroma of the sea, not a smelly fishiness, and should not be overly salty. If the bottle you have been using makes the dishes you cook taste too fishy, try another brand.

Fish Sauces Around the World

Location Name Ingredients
Cambodia patis


Fermented fish, krill, oysters, and clams
PR China yúlù


Reeve’s shad (Tenualosa reevesii)
England Worcestershire sauce Fermented anchovies
Indonesia terasi Fish paste or fermented krill
Cetara, Campania, Italy Colatura di Alici Anchovies
Japan Gyoshō or Shottsuru


Sailfin sandfish (Arctoscopus japonicus)
Korea eojang or aekjeot


Fermented anchovies or sand lances
Laos nam pa


Fermented fish, often anchovies
Myanmar ngan bya yay Fermented fish
Philippines patis


Galunggong or round scad (Decapterus punctatus)
Thailand nam pla Fermented fish
Vietnam nước mắm


Anchovies, mackerel, scabbard fish

[Compiled from Anon., “Garum,” online.]

Unfermented garum. Photograph by Assassas77. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license via Wikimedia.


Fresh Fruit with Fish Dipping Sauce

This easy dipping sauce combines the garum-like nước mắm with a mix of pungent fish sauce, chiles and shallot. It’s great with green or ripe mango and slightly unripe pineapple as well papaya.


  • 2 tablespoons raw jasmine rice
  • 3 dried Thai bird chiles, stemmed, or 2 teaspoons crushed dried Thai chiles
  • 1/2 cup Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 fresh red Thai chile or other small red chile, minced
  • 2 large green or ripe mangoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 4 thick rings of slightly unripe pineapple, sliced into eighths
  • Lime wedges, for serving


  1. In a small skillet, toast the rice over medium heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and coarsely grind. Sift to remove any big pieces; you should have about 1 tablespoon.
  2. Add the dried chiles to the skillet and toast over moderate heat until browned in spots, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the spice grinder and grind to a coarse powder.
  3. In a bowl, stir the fish sauce with the sugar until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the shallot, fresh chile, and toasted rice powder. Add the dried chile powder, 1 teaspoon at a time, checking the heat as you go. Let the dipping sauce stand for 20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and serve with the mangoes, pineapple, and lime wedges.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Level: Hot

Seafood Salad with Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Dressing

This quick and simple salad is enlivened by but not overwhelmed by the nam pla fish sauce. Feel free to change the cooked seafood mixture.


  • 4 red and green fresh Thai chiles, cut into thin rounds with seeds
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla), or to taste
  • Juice of 2 limes, or about 3 tablespoons, or to taste
  • 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • 2 cups total of cooked small shrimp, canned crab meat, canned salmon, and canned lobster meat, mixed together in your favorite proportion
  • 4 large leaves of hearts of Romaine lettuce
  • 4 sprigs of fresh Thai basil


  1. To make the dressing, in a bowl combine the chiles, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar and mix well. Add the cooked seafood mixture and stir gently with a wooden spoon until well-mixed.
  2. To serve, place a lettuce leaf on four small plates. Top with ½ cup of the seafood mixture and garnish with the Thai basil sprigs.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Level: Medium Hot

Variation: Add 4 or 5 chopped ripe cherry tomatoes to the salad.