Wednesday, August 22, 2007

fish sauce emergency

i know i am always complaining about something, but this one is the realest: i got home last night, and after opening the door to my place, the smell of fish sauce hit me square in the face.

so the story goes like this: i took a group of students camping this past weekend, and as part of the trip, we always cook lots of food. (the students are all southeast asian, and so we make stir-fry, sticky rice with bbq chicken and tammakhoung, and even Lao-style eggs for breakfast). well, i took the students shopping the day before the camping trip at viet-wah, where we bought supplies for cooking. when we got to the fish sauce isle, the students all started clamouring for me to purchase the squid brand fish sauce. (if you are Lao you know what i am talking about. if you are white, then you think fish sauce is that "a taste of thai" junk they sell in the white people grocery stores on the oriental/hispanic food isle for $3.67 for an 8 ounce bottle. so click on the link for squid brand and get educated). well, i argued with them that the "three crabs brand" was a much better choice - even though its three times as expensive (usually running about $2.69 while squid is usually .99 cents) but they countered with "my mom always uses this kind!" "yeah, i be seeing this up in the shelf! she never be using nothing with crabs." "yeah! she be putting the squid on everything!" at this point i really didn't want to explain that the use of the squid brand was a budgetary decision rather than a culinary one. i mean, clearly (a taste of thai excluded) price should indicate the quality of the product being offered. if you pay three times as much, then you should expect a three times as tasty fish sauce. and, to further bolster my defense, i will quote from surfasonline:

Three Crab Fish Sauce 24 oz.

This fish sauce has a subtle sweet flavor and its fish sauce smell is somewhat muted compared to other brands. Three Crabs brand fish sauce has achieved a kind of cult status in the American market, being mentioned in various culinary circles as "the" premium brand.

but i gave in, and put the squid brand in the shopping cart. i mean, its not bad. i used to use it too - because i too saw it on every table, in every cupboard, and at every pho restaurant in fresno back-in-the-day. but i converted to 3 crabs after a dream i had about being attacked by pad thai. that is another post altogether. so i figured i would let them use their squid, and i would bring my own 3 crabs and everyone would be happy.

which is what i did. and everyone was happy (until last night). and that's when it happened. see, we had a good camping trip, lots of food, lots of sun, lots of fish; but as the group facilitator, i am left responsible for clean up. so i unloaded all the stuff into my apartment, and in doing so i stacked 3 large plastic storage containers on top of each other right in front of my tv set. then i left for work this morning with plans to put everything away when i got home. well, the bottom container buckled somewhere between my clocking in and clocking out at work, and the top container came crashing to the floor, and the squid brand fish sauce was in the top container. the squid fish sauce bottle broke. the 3 crabs was just fine... still intact, in fact - everthing else was fine: the bottle of sugar, the shrimp paste, the padek bottle, oyster sauce, msg bags don't break so of course it was ok, but also the soy sauce; the only thing that broke was that cheap 99 cent squid brand fish sauce. i bet even that nasty "taste of thai" wouldn't have broken.
so my night was all about cleaning up fish sauce. and the smell is just not leaving - and there aint nothing muted about the smell. i had to get up all the shards of glass too, and that alone took an hour. and then i called chandra, a friend of mine, and she suggested baking soda. so i dumped a whole box of baking soda, but the smell still won't go away. i couldn't even eat the fish sauce with the vietnamese broken rice today. i am ptsd'ed. the students didn't figure what damage a broken bottle of fish sauce could do to a person when talking me into buying it. i don't know if i will ever be able to eat it again. and i love fish sauce (not as much as padek, but getting there.)
my front room is under quarantine right now. i just go right into my bedroom and close the door. toxic fumes i swear.

any suggestions? any fish sauce emergencies that yall would like to share? help me.


katie said...

you're not the only one, Joseph! :(

also, i remembered that i have this stuff called 'simple solution stain and odor remover' that you can try...

jrm said...

librarians are the best ever. so to the world i say:

"have you hugged a librarian today?"

i am gonna be fish sauce smell free in no time.

Darly said...


If you can handle the smell of bleach, then go for Ajax professional extra power. It should minimize the smell of Squid nam pa.

I wonder if lime juice would do the trick. You might need like a cup or two though to wipe the (infected) area. :)

Interesting to know that Squid fish sauce brand in your area is cheaper than the 3 crabs brand.

My mother loves to use 3 Crabs brand for green papaya salad. It's like a trend in Kansas to only use this brand for tum maak houng. If you don't use this brand of fish sauce at a gathering like at a picnic for example, then no one will eat your tum maak houng, lol.

I find 3 Crabs brand a bit too nuah (like having too much MSG). I don't use MSG since I'm allergic to it. If you have good padek, then you don't need MSG either. :)

jrm said...

well, i tried the baking soda, and i am not sure this was the best idea. if formed this oozy paste on the carpet which i spent an hour cleaning up, and now the remnants have dried to a "concrete-like mixture" (isn't this exactly what you told me jane?)

so i think i will try the lemon-juice for the time being, cause i like the smell of lemon, fish sauce and padek all mixed together; so maybe i can create the feeling that i am living in the bottom of a kok just used for making tammakhoung.

darly - that's hilarious about the picnics and the 3 crabs. i've heard a couple of "moms" tell me that if you use 3 crabs, you don't even need padek. (but i always dismiss that as Lao superstition and use the requisite 2 spoon fulls of padek anyway.) thanks for the advice!

if all else fails, i am off to the qfc to rent the rug doctor. and if that fails: moving out.

plainoldsarah said...

drama! fish sauce drama! but i appreciate the recommendation on brands. i have no idea which brand i bought - i doubt i had a choice - it's hard to find in the local groceries around here.

jrm said...

come on sarah, there are plenty of asian stores there - and they are fun to go to also! there is one in either murray or west valley or something where all the Lao people live, and you should go there. if you need the address, i can call my friend in orem and he knows what it is.

and while i got your attention, how much did you pay sarah to convince her to move to the cultural wasteland of slc?

Jane Says said...

book club at my house!!!!

plainoldsarah said...

for your info joseph, she is moving to centerville. even more of a wasteland. =) you should come!!!

actually, there is an asian market within 10 minutes walking distance from my house. i've wandered through it a few times, mostly wondering what to buy and if i bought something, what would i do with it. i'd like to learn to cook lao food. come to slc!!!

bug girl said...

I don't even know how I would handle such a devastating situation. You might be onto the next style of bio-terrorism. I think my family would disown me if my bottle of fish sauce were to bust a move. I don't even let them know I have it for fear of their retribution. I am not sure which brand I have, it was the only other brand besides the Taste of Thai on the shelf so I got it. But I do not have the luxury of asian stores in Logan. But now when I am down in the south (SLC) I will search for the three crabs fish sauce.

By the way, I second your visit to SLC to teach us how to cook lao. I need help. My food all tastes the same (which is the taste of good, but I need some diversity). Please come and teach me how to be lao.

Somchai said...

Instant Karma I’d say, toss that 3 crabs and never let it in your kitchen again.

As for what to do I’m amazed no one had mentioned it yet. Ever heard of the expression when life turns up lemons, make lemonade?

Slice up the carpet into long strips, BBQ it on the back yard grill until it is charred on the outside, put in coke, add mac phet, cilantro, bang nuah, dent lightly. Voila, jeao carpet.

jrm said...

wow. that is hilarious. and to think i was gonna try to professionally clean it! i think i will schedule the bbq this weekend. yall are all invited.

Jessica said...

Just found your blog via Jenni's...I think I have the tiny expensive white man's grocery store fish sauce in my cabinet.

Did you get the odor under contorl?

I would sugest to you "Backout" it is a cleaner that you can buy at Fredmeyer/QFC that is natural. It "eats" organic materials and should rid you of the smell...with a problem like that though you will probably need to reaply several times.

Anonymous said...

OK..If u are trying to promote ur resturant, be a little bit more sincere and not rude. I guess u can say POLITE. The word "AIN'T" is not a word. Need to use better grammar in ur website and be a little bit more upscale with the wordings. Whoever made this site up sounds like a Thug wanna be. WORDING ON TIPS, BEING NICE, AND TALKING ABOUT OTHER MOTHERS COOKING IS SO UNCALLED FOR!! VERY RUDE!!! I PROBABLE WONT STEP FOOT IN THAT REST.

jrm said...

thanks for the comment! (but pls don't judge the restaurant because of my rudeness. i don't own it or operate it, just happened to eat there. and i am just a guy from the south where "aint" aint a rude word to say, just grammatically incorrect. and as far as mothers go, i love my mom, but she can't cook as well as the cook in the thai restaurant in question.)

thanks again.


How funny! I was on the phone with you when you discovered this mess, remember? I thought there had been a break-in because you were so upset! When I found out it was some stanky fish sauce I couldn't help but laugh.

Actually, I initially thought your distress was a ruse to get me off the phone. J/J! Tee Hee!

Tysha & Jacob said...

Oh my. I guess it's good I don't live next door anymore. I can only imagine the strong smell! Good luck battling the fish sauce!

jrm said...

thanks wl. laughing at my pain. hehehe.

jacob, its not so strong that you can smell it next door, i swear.

more to come on my exciting saga of the fish sauce.

Anonymous said...

Hazmat procedures aside. I would like to get back to the subject of brands and differences among them. Specifically, 3 Crabs, although produced abroad, is designed with the tastes of the american market in mind.

It is the only major brand which includes fructose and wheat protein. Fructose is sugar. Thai Kitchen has sugar too. I feel it is a shame that our culture is so accustomed to sugar in all processed food that its absence is noted as indicating inferiority in quality and flavor. Tsk tsk.

As for hydrolyzed wheat protein, it can cause great physical distress and possible organ damage to those with wheat allergies or Celiac disease.

Other major brands do not contain any of this rubbish. Get back to basics. So called "refinements" or "improvements" serve only to diminish the fine cuisines that the originating cultures developed over long periods of time.

Also, the elitism expressed by equating price with quality is quite distasteful and often erroneous.

Of course, we all decide with our palates in the end, but please consider my words when shopping and cooking. I hope anything I've stated will help people in their decisions. Please educate yourselves about what you are buying and eating. And "good eats" to all!