When I dine at Vietnamese and Thai restaurants and request that they leave out the fish sauce, ubiquitous in South Asian cuisine, the dishes sometimes taste as if they are lacking something. That “something” is fish sauce, South Asia’s “secret ingredient” that adds oomph to dishes, injecting that special flavor that you can’t quite put your finger on.
Here is my vegan version that can be universally added to Asian-style dishes, lending them that extra “something.” And the secret ingredients in my fish sauce? Wakame, a seaweed, and the liquid from those jars of fermented tofu, a somewhat stinky Chinese condiment made by pre-serving tofu in wine, vinegar, and other ingredients for months (don’t be put off by the description!). Give it a try and then use it in everything from green papaya salad to Thai-style curries.
Source: Vegan Fish Sauce
I think chemically the trick of fish sauce and anchovies and all that is the combo of glutamate (umami) + nucleotides like GMP and IMP (umami boosters). Glutamate is decaying protein – Nucleotides are decaying RNA/DNA or thereabouts. Yes, we love the taste of rotting things. And the best part is that we can get it from all sorts of places. The “fishy” taste there is provided by the seaweed.