Fish Products Seafood Products
Many bottled and dried food products are made from fish, shellfish and seaweed. Some are critical to particular cuisines and simply cannot be substituted. Fortunately they are increasingly available in the US, particularly in Southern California with its vast Asian and Eurasian populations.

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Fish Sauce
Fish Sauces [Nam Pla (Thai); Nuoc Mam (Viet), Patis (Philippine); Garum, Liquamen, Muria, Allec (Roman); Garos (Greek)]

Fish sauce is essential to several cuisines, particularly those of Vietnam and Thailand today and of the Roman Empire. Fish sauce is made by packing small fish or fish blood and innards or a combination of both into large barrels or jars layered with salt and setting the barrels out in the hot sun for around a year. The fish is digested by its own digestive enzymes and a clear salty liquid is eventually drained off and bottled. The paste left in the bottom of the barrels is also bottled and sold as a different kind of fish sauce.

In view of the number of these fish sauces and their importance to the cuisines of Southeast Asia I have written a separate Fish Sauce Page covering them in depth.

Subst: there is no true substitute for fish sauce. If you have none or are a strict vegetarian a fermented yellow bean sauce is about as close as you can get. Lacking both you must resort to just salt.

Shrimp Sauce / Paste
Shrimp Paste

[Gkabpi / Kapi (Thai), Terasi (Indonesia), Blachan / Petis Udang (Malay), Mam tom / Mam ruoc (Vietnam), Bagoong alamang (Philippine), Hom ha / Hay koh (China)]

Shrimp paste is very important to sauces and dishes throughout Southeast Asia and Southern China. Basically it's shrimp, usually very tiny shrimp, salted, fermented, and dried until it breaks down into a paste which may be bottled or pressed into cakes. Much has been made of the overpowering smell and strong salty taste, but I haven't noticed these to be a problem, at least in high quality bottled products. Now the pressed block products are another matter entirely, you're going to want to seal them up tight in a jar. For details see our Shrimp Sauce Page.

Crab Paste / Sauce
Crab Pastes [Gach Cua Xao Dau An (Thai)   |   (Rice Paddy Crab sauces) Ba Khia, Nuoc Cot Cua Dong, Gia Vi Cua Nau Bun Rieu (Viet); Nam Bpo (Thai)]

Crab Pastes are not as widely used in Southeast Asia as Shrimp Pastes, but rice paddy crab sauces and pastes are very important in Laos and Issan, Thailand, where there is no access to the sea, and are also used in Vietnam. For details, including how to make some of these sauces and pastes, see our Crab Paste / Sauce page.

Bonito Flake / Shaved Bonito   -   [Katsuobushi (Japan)]
Bonita Flakes

Bonito Flakes are extremely important in Japanese cuisine and are also used in Korea. They are used both to make soup stock and sprinkled on dishes as a condiment. Bonito fillets are smoked, fermented and dried to the hardness of a board, then shaved extremely thin. This is quite similar to the process of making Maldive Fish except for the final shaving. Similar flakes (sababushi) are made from mackerel.

Mackerel Flakes / Shaved Mackerel   -   [Sababushi (Japan)]
This is similar to Bonito Flakes but made from mackerel instead. Since bonito are members of the Mackerel/Tuna family the difference is not great.

Maldive Fish   -   [Hiki-kandu mas]
Maldive Fish

Producing this dried fish product, made from fresh bonito, is the major industry of the Maldive Islands southwest of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). It is as essential to the cuisine of Sri Lanka as fish sauce is in Thailand. Bonito fillets are boiled, smoked and sun dried until hard as a board. They will then keep indefinitely stored in a dry place.

Traditionally this fish was sold by the piece. For use it was pounded in a large mortar until broken into tiny slivers. Today it is more often sold chipped or pre-pounded in plastic bags. The photo shows chips as I purchased them on the left and after pounding in my large stone mortar on the right.

Subst: Japanese bonito flakes are made by a similar process but shaved rather than splintered. They are much less dense so use a larger measure -or- Philippine Tinapang Durog, a very similar pounded product made out of round scad can be substituted in the measure the recipe calls for.

Tinapang Durog
Maldive Fish This dried, smoked, fermented and pounded fish product is similar to Maldive Fish but made in the Philippines from round scad instead of Bonito. The samples I purchased were not completely dried and were sold from a refrigerated case in small plastic bags. While it could be dried more completely for room temperature storage it's not a big deal to keep it in the freezer compartment.

Subst: Japanese bonito flakes are made by a similar process but shaved rather than splintered. They are much less dense so use a larger measure -or- Maldive Fish can be substituted in the same measure called for in the recipe.

Salted & Dried Fish

Salting has been used to preserve fish since prehistoric times and there are many forms, both moist and dry as a board.

Salt Cod   -   [Bacalao (Basque, Spanish); Baccala (Italian); Bacalhau (Portuguese)]
Salted Fillet

Salt Cod was once an important staple in Europe, particularly Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The fishery, off the coast of Newfoundland, was discovered by Basque whalers, and they invented the salting technique still used today (the Norwegian Vikings freeze dried their cod).

While fish can be transported and stored frozen today, the unique flavor of salt cod is still much favored in the cuisines of Spain, Portugal and Italy, as well as Canada and Brazil. The photo specimen was 19-1/2 inches long, 7 inches wide and 1-1/2 inches thick at it's thickest point, and weighed 2.3 pounds. It was purchased from an Italian market in Los Angeles, for 2013 US $ 11.99 per pound.   Details and Cooking.

Asian Salted Fish
Salted Fish This form of salted fish is used through Southeast and East Asia. It is moist and must be kept refrigerated or frozen. The traditional form shown in the photo is now rare. Today it is most commonly found in the frozen fish case, neatly packaged in flat plastic bags with heads, fins and bones removed. Mackerel is the most common and easily recognized from its blue color and broad stripes.

The photo specimens were purchased from a bulk bin at a local Korean market. They were 11 inches long and weighed a shade over 1/2 pound each.   Details and Cooking

Dried Anchovies
Dried Fish This form of dried fish is used very widely in East and Southeast Asia. They come in many sizes, the photo showing some of the smallest (0.68 inch long) and largest (2.5 inches long) common sizes. These were purchased at a Korean market in Los Angeles. The small ones are often crushed to paste with some water to make an impromptu fish sauce for use in soups, stir fries and the like. The larger are used to make Korean Anchovy Stock, a very important basic ingredient.   Details and Cooking

Diang, Tuyo   -   [Philippine Dried Fish]
Salted Fish

Tiny salted and dried fish are a very popular ingredient in Philippine cooking. Many different fish are treated this way. They are used both as an ingredient and as a flavoring, particularly with rice, mung beans or other dishes that need a little flavor boost. The photo specimens, Yellowtail Scad, were purchased from a Philippine market in Los Angeles. The fish were about 5 inches long and weighed 0.33 ounce each.   Details and Cooking

Jar of Kusaya Developed on the Izu islands, this Japanese fermented and dried fish is famous for it's amazing stench, but it takes a distant second place to the Surströmming of Sweden. The stench, in both cases, is caused by fermenting with too little salt to properly preserve the fish - probably due the the very high cost of salt in ancient times.

Scad, Flying Fish and similar small fish are washed many times in clear water, then stay 8 to 20 hours in a stinky brine that may have been maintained for generations. The fish is then dried in the sun for about 2 days and put up in jars. The flavor is mild, and kusaya is often eaten while drinking sake or shochu.   Photo by DDD contributed to the public domain.

Can of Surstromming Surströmming is reputed to be the most putrid stinking substance consumed by mankind - note that the can in the photo was opened outdoors, which is where it's most often eaten. A seasonal delicacy in northern Sweden, it's only competitor for stinkiness is said to be Japanese Kusaya. Both are produced by fermenting fish in insufficient salt to properly preserve them. This, in both cases, appears to stem from ancient times when salt was very expensive.

Baltic herring are first fermented in tubs for one or two months, then put up in cans - but the fermentation continues in the can, causing the cans to swell noticeably. Surströmming is normally eaten on bread along with potatoes and chopped red onions.

Surströmming can be mail ordered from Sweden, but I have not yet done so, so I defer my opinion to a person with direct experience - see Details and Cooking.   Photo by Lapplaender distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany.

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