Sawa dee ka! Since this is Thai food week, I thought it’ll make sense for me to share with you some of the essential Thai sauces in BNF Kitchen. Now, perhaps this might be boring read on a Tuesday morning (you’d rather be reading Korean Air nut rage latest saga or perhaps stalking someone on Facebook or Instagram), but if you are interested in making Thai food at home on a regular basis, read on!
If you come across Thai recipes, you’ll probably see the usual seasonings like Thai oyster sauce, thin soy sauce, seasoning sauce, palm sugar, etc. I used to think “Hmm why must they specifically mention THAI oyster sauce, THIN soy sauce? Isn’t soy sauce just soy sauce? Is there a difference between Thai and Chinese oyster sauce?” I tend to question a lot if I don’t understand things. Hubby should know . (Btw, thank you for putting up with my 10,000 whys) The simple answer is YES. There is a difference. If you want to recreate the TRUE Thai flavor, then it is only right to use the right ingredients. Sure, we can always use substitutes but just don’t expect your dish to produce that same authentic taste. Makes sense?
Thai Oyster Sauce (naam man hoi)
I’m sure most of you are familiar with oyster sauce. They are great with stir fries, as meat marinates and one of the most important ingredients in making Thai food.
Salty with a mellow sweetness.
Chinese oyster sauce like Panda brand. If using other brands, just make sure to read the ingredient labels and pick those with oyster or oyster extract stated as the main ingredient.
Thai Fish Sauce (naam plaa)
This is the single most important sauce to have in Thai kitchens. If you only get to choose one sauce, then this is probably the one you’d reach for. I know some people are put off by the scent of fish sauce. Just like how I’m put off by the pungent scent of D fruit – Durians. But believe me, a fresh bottle of fish sauce actually smells “fresh”. The way to check the freshness besides looking at the expiration date is the color. It should be reddish brown and translucent when you look through the bottle. If it turns cloudy or opaque, please discard immediately. Next is by smell. As I mentioned above, a good bottle of fish sauce should smell fishy but pleasant and not makes you go “eww”, turn green in the face and gag. This is one sauce you definitely have to refrigerate once you’ve opened it to maintain the freshness and slow down the aging process.
Pungent, strong flavor and salty.
Tiparos or Squid brand are the two most trusted brands Thai people use. There is also 3 Crabs brand, which is more expensive but I’ve not get the chance to taste it.
Nothing can really replace fish sauce (in my opinion) as its taste is uniquely umami.
Thin Soy Sauce (si ew kau, literally translated as white soy sauce)
When Thai recipes call for soy sauce, this is what they are referring to. Some will go to the extent of stating “Thin Soy Sauce” but if they don’t, just keep in mind this is the one you should use.
Salty without a particularly intense flavor.
Look for brands like Healthy Boy, Maekrua or Kwong Hung Seng (Dragonfly on label).
Other types of soy sauce (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Korean) but please taste and adjust your seasoning accordingly.
Seasoning Sauce (similar to maggi but not quite)
This is the sister version of soy sauce but slightly darker in color.
The saltiness level is almost similar to soy sauce but the flavor is more complex and intense. It adds another dimension to the dish.
Look for Golden Mountain or Healthy Boy.
Maggi or soy sauce.
Thai Chilli Paste (nam prik phao)
This is another staple in Thai households. They are often referred to as roasted chilli paste or chilli paste in soya bean oil. The main ingredients are garlic, chilli, shrimp paste and fish sauce. Think of this as the Thai version of our sambal belachan or garlic chilli sauce. It is a very versatile sauce use mainly in Tom Yum Soups, seafood stir-fry, basil stir-fry and fried rice, etc.
Sweet, slightly tangy, fishy with a bit of smoky taste. The key is not so much of heat and spiciness but a balanced flavor of sweet-salty-sour to marry the flavors together and make a delicious dish.
Look for Pantai Norasingh or Maepranom.
Red Thai Curry paste or Asian chilli paste.
Thai Palm Sugar (nam tan pip)
Although this is not considered a sauce, I think it is worth mentioning as I used this quite a fair bit in Thai cooking. I have to admit I used to think gula melaka (coconut palm) is the only type of palm sugar. So you can imagine when I used it in one of the recipes, the result was very different and tasted a little weird. Gula Melaka is an unrefined, dark form of palm sugar, used mainly in Malaysian or Indonesian cooking. The taste is very different from Thai palm sugar. Thai palm sugar is tapped from sap of sugar palm trees. They usually come in round discs shape. So when the recipe calls for palm sugar, please use this and NOT gula melaka.
Light yellow, delicate fragrance and sweetness. Store in air-tight container or zip loc bag.
Any brand is okay. Buy at the mid or upper end of the price range to make sure it is of good quality.
Granulated sugar / brown sugar
How to store the sauces?
Since we are staying in such a hot and humid country, it is best to store all opened bottles of sauces in the fridge (especially oyster sauce which can get mouldy pretty fast and fish sauce). That being said, if you have limited storage space in the fridge (like me ), you could keep the soy sauce and seasoning sauce in a cool place or cupboard.
Where to shop?
The best place to look for the above products is at Yen Investments Thai Supermarket, 5001 Golden Mile Complex, #02-64 Singapore 199588. Opening hours 9:30 am to 9:30 pm daily. If you have other recommendations/places to go to, please drop me a comment!
So I hope this article has shed some knowledge on basic Thai sauces and if you are still unclear, do drop me your questions/comments below and I’ll try my best to answer them. Kob Khun Ka!
Reference: Pok Pok Cookbook, Inquiring Chef & Hot Thai Kitchen