Updated: Feb 20, 2021
Besides the classic salt, sugar and pepper, Asian cuisine uses a whole range of special sauces. The most characteristic condiment of a Lao meal is the unfiltered fish sauce, nam pa dek. Lao language describes seven tastes: salty (khem), sweet (van), sour (som), bitter (khom), umami (noua), spicy (phet) and astringent (fat). Read more about it on this page.
The seasoning in this blog is given as an indication but is suitable for a western palate. The spoons can have different sizes, those we use have standard volumes of 15 ml and 5 ml, for 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon respectively.
Nam pa dek Unfiltered fish sauce
The nam pa dek is a typical sauce of the Lao ethnic group. The preparation consists in fermenting fish in a jar for at least one year in salt and rice bran. It is sometimes flavored with galanga or pineapple.
The fish and its juice is boiled in the same volume of water and then sieved before consumption. The thick fish sauce used in recipes is this last mixture. We advise you to boil only a small quantity of fish at a time. The preparation once cooked can only be kept for a few days in the refrigerator.
The nam pa dek has a thick texture and a very strong smell. It is used to give a salty and umami taste to the dish. Its Thai name is pla ra. In English, it is sometimes called pickled (mud/gourami) fish.
Peng noua Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Glutamate, also known as the food additive E621, was discovered more than 100 years ago. In the West, the Japanese word 'umami' is used to describe this taste. The umami taste is actually the combination of glutamate and a nucleotide, inosinate or guanylate. All these substances are naturally contained in food.
Examples include: parmesan (glutamate: 1680 mg/100g), tomato (glutamate: 246 mg/100g), green asparagus (glutamate: 106 mg/100g), tuna (inosinate: 286 mg/100g) and chicken (inosinate: 283 mg/100g). The art of cooking consists of combining the right ingredients to obtain an umami flavor.
Glutamate is sold in Asian grocery stores. Unfortunately, it is often overused in modern Asian cuisine. ¼ teaspoon is enough to enhance the taste of a dish for four people.
Nam pa Fish sauce
Fish sauce is a condiment produced from fermented fish, usually anchovies. This sauce is used for salting preparations. It is also known as nam pla (Thai) and nuoc mam (Vietnamese). Some brands add glutamate to the sauce. Read the labels carefully.
Nam xi iou Soy sauce
Soy sauce is obtained by fermenting soy beans. Fermentation is initiated by the same Aspergillus oryzae fungus used in the preparation of sake.
This condiment is used for salting dishes. It exists in two main consistencies, called light and dark. Dark soy sauce is thicker and sweeter but also generally less salty than light soy sauce. The sauce we use in recipes is light soy sauce.
Nam xi iou dam Black soy sauce
Not to be confused with dark soy sauce, black soy sauce is more syrupy. It is used to salt and sweeten dishes.
Nam man hoi Oyster sauce
Oyster sauce is a dark and thick condiment flavored with oyster extract. It is used to season wok stir-fried dishes.
Kapi Shrimp Paste
Shrimp paste is a solid sauce sold in plastic jars. It is brown in color and very slightly sweet. It can be eaten as a dip sauce with chili, raw or cooked vegetables. Most of the time, it is used in sauces accompanying rice.