Things You Don’t Want to Know About Your Fish Sauce

We recently visited a small fish-sauce operation near Battambang, and our tuk-tuk driver said he used to work for a similar factory.

“I know it’s not good. Sometimes the workers piss into the vats. The men, sometimes they’re lazy. They don’t go to the toilets.”

I really didn’t want to know that.

He also told us that factories such as this one send the bulk of their shipments to Thailand, where the bottles are slapped with Thai labels. Tonle Sap fish, Cambodian factories, Thai fish sauce. Go figure.

18 thoughts on “Things You Don’t Want to Know About Your Fish Sauce

  1. True, I would rather not have known that. It made me think about my time working in restaurants. Most people would probably not want to know what sometimes happens behind the scenes. We put a lot of faith in other people when it comes to handling our food. It’s best to just hope for the best… I love your blog and I’m having the best time reading through the archives!

  2. Isn’t urine a preservative? Keep the acidic levels high to maintain low microbial levels. Yummy! Heckfire—it is better than formaldehyde.

  3. I always thought the smell of a fish sauce factory was horrendous but I put that down to the fish! CAn’t wait to tell one of my chefs who was singing its praises today 🙂

  4. Well I can tell you stories about apple juice, and that’s no joke… Huge open vats of apples with substandard quality, the process of how it becomes juice–the people who work at Tree Top never drink it, let me tell you.

    But seriously, this story is odd because in order to make fish sauce, fish are caught then placed into concrete tanks with salt. Then pumped out into a truck, like a milk truck. It’s moved to a bottling plant. There is no opportunity for someone to just piss in the fish sauce, I should think. And from what I know of Thai people, there is some kharma concern when it comes to just pissing into food. I doubt this is true, but I don’t doubt someone told you that.

    In any case, I always use Tra Chang which is a trusted label in Thailand, and made in Thailand.

    A tour of how Tra Chang is made, in Thailand:
    http://importfood.com/how_fish_sauce_is_made.html

  5. Well, this has certainly been food for thought! Let me just say for the record that I remain a great fan of fish sauce. Of course, many of my meals in Asia (and elsewhere) contain specks and dribbles of things I don’t really want to eat. Can’t avoid it. We’d starve if we tried.

    As for the veracity of this story, all I can say is that my source is a very honest man. I have not seen this with my own eyes. Although we did see wide-open fermentation vats behind the pile of fish you see above. Really, anybody could put anything into those vats; same with the nearby prahok bins (and I’m sure a lot of unsavory items work their way into the vats via the wind).

    That said, I’m still tasting the “liquid fish paste” chile sauce I had on my lunch today–delicious! not only did it contain “liquid fish paste,” but dried fish paste and dried shrimp. Triple the pleasure.

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