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A Fishy Business

Chefs all over the world are lauding the special umami taste of a small, family-produced fish sauce called Red Boat. Jon Fasman travelled to Phu Quoc to see, and smell, what makes it so special.

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By Jon Fasman, The Economist

The story of the world’s best fish sauce begins, like so many others, with a son who just wanted to make his mother happy. Cuong Pham and his parents came to the United States from Saigon as refugees in 1979. They settled in northern California, where Cuong eventually became an engineer, spending 16 years with Apple. His mother, however, could never find the fish sauce (nuoc mam in Vietnamese) she remembered from Vietnam. Cuong’s family owned a fish-sauce factory; his uncle would bring his mother 20-litre cans of specially selected, just-for-family nuoc mam. In America she had to settle for commercial fish sauce, often the saltier Thai variety – designed, in the words of Andrea Nguyen, a cookbook author and proprietor of the indispensable Viet World Kitchen website, “for the lusty highs and lows of Thai food, [not] the rolling hills and valleys of Viet food”). So Cuong did what any son would do: he started his own fish-sauce company.

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