I Love the Smell of Fish Sauce Part 1

Sliced cucumbers marinate faster
I love the smell of fish sauce…just not too early in the morning! Part 1

I never knew the true nuances of fish sauce – all its subtlety, pungency, and variety – until my Mang arrived in America and started to cook real authentic Viet meals at home. Before that, the only fish sauce that was in the kitchen was a plastic bottle filled with an odoriferous brown liquid with a bright yellow, red and blue label on it. Not only was it the only one available at the time, but it was very cheap, and still is today. When my Bo would start making his 2 to 3 Viet dishes that he knew, the smell of the fish sauce he used would blow through the apartment like a demented Sirocco.  All bedroom doors had to be closed, the kitchen windows would have to be opened and the fan turned on, since the apartments we lived had no AC – let alone a venting system. If I were coming home from playing outside and opened the building door I could smell my Bo’s cooking from 3 flights down, and depending on the smell I would make my decision as to come in or stay outside as long as possible. People not used to the smell of fish sauce will feel like their nostrils had been assaulted by Barnacle Bill and a half-rotted Kraken. If you told my younger self that I would come to love the salty, fermented anchovy liquid, I would have laughed in your face and told you I would rather eat Limburger cheese.

My introduction to a more palatable use of fish sauce came when we would go out on the weekends and eat at the few restaurants, like Little Saigon in Arlington, VA. Both Mekong Market and Pacific had restaurants upstairs and they served everything. We would go to Pacific to eat Pho; Mekong for their vermicelli noodle dishes; Saigon Bistro would be the fancier Bo Luc Lac (Shaken Beef) or Frog Legs in Garlic. There was also Mai’s, whereupon entry there was a quaint little bonsai fountain scenescape, and then the yummy Grilled Squab (pigeon) or my favorite dish there,
Mỳ Khô (Viet style noodles with broth on the side). All these restaurants added fish sauce in their entrees or soups, and as a vinaigrette to dip crispy rice paper wrapped spring rolls in, or spoon over your noodles. I still would not touch the unadulterated raw fish sauce, but I would slurp up all the lemony-limey, sweet-sour-salty taste of the vinaigrette. The garlic and lemon/lime raised the scent of the fish sauce from a lone power punch to a heady, citrusy smell that magically made whatever you ate it with taste 100% better! Not until my Mang’s arrival did I finally realize that the Viet in me had fish sauce in her blood.

Marinated Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:2 long seedless cucumbers

1/3 cup of Jovian Pantry® Viet Vinaigrette

1/2 sweet onion

1/2 a bunch of cilantro or Thai basil 

Lemon or lime juice to taste

Chili flakes or black pepper to taste

  1. Peel and slice cucumbers and 1/2 of the onion.  The thickness of slices determines how long you should marinate them.  If you only have few hours, then slice them 1/8 inch or thinner; if overnight, then 1/4 of an inch is fine.
  2. Clean and chop your choice of herb and add into a bowl with the sliced cucumbers and onions.
  3. Add the Viet Vinaigrette and taste.  If it is too strong or sweet, squeeze some lime or lemon juice to your taste.
  4. Shake in some chili flakes or black pepper to your preferred heat. Stir again thoroughly, cover and refrigerate. Remember to stir at least once during the marinating process.

This can be eaten as a side for grilled meats, used to garnish sandwiches, or even as a light snack!!!

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