F is for Fish Sauce, Flavour, Phan Thiết and Phú Quốc

Chris Galvin

nuoc cham and fresh herbs

The Vietnamese alphabet has no letter F. But it does have the letter PH, as in phở, and also Phan Thiết  and Phú Quốc, two places famous for fish sauce. The former is a southeastern coastal city. The latter is both Việt Nam’s biggest island and a district that includes this island and twenty-two smaller ones, tucked under the curve of Cambodia’s coast, in the Gulf of Thailand.

In his book Bút Khảo Về Ăn (Notes on Eating), Dr. Lê Văn Lân relates an old folk tale that he remembers his mother telling him. Here’s my rough translation:

A long time ago, a northern village held a feast-tasting challenge to open the spring celebrations. The banquet table groaned under a spread of the rarest foods of the mountains and seas. Whoever could correctly name the tastiest dish would win. According to tradition, the competitors entered one by one. A single drum…

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