Men devoted to preserving tradition craft of Nam O fish sauce making

A male teacher who once got to know a lot about IT in Da Nang is now very involved in making traditional Nam O fish sauce. He is Bui Thanh Phu, 35, who took over the family’s business whilst a few young people in the namesake village would and, by doing so, he has kept the centuries-old Nam O fish sauce making craft going, especially protecting it from gradually falling into oblivion in the context of rapid urbanization.
September 26, 2019 | 14:51

Men devoted to preserving tradition craft of Nam O fish sauce making

Phu holding a bottle of fish sauce made by his own company

Having graduated from the Faculty of IT at the Da Nang University of Science and Technology and a business administration course at the city-based Duy Tan University, Phu became an IT teacher at the Hoa Vang District-based Pham Phu Thu High School.

However, it is surprising that the man then gave up his IT teaching job, and set up the Hong Huong fish sauce company in 2016 with the desire of promoting the Nam O fish sauce brand to the domestic and foreign markets.

In front of Phu’s house are dozens of over 100-year- old clay jars of fish sauce which are dubbed as his family’s ‘heirloom treasures’.

The small fish and salt are the only materials needed to make what is considered by many the best fish sauce in Central Viet Nam. Nam O fish sauce is made from long-jawed anchovies with high protein content. To create the sauce’s delicious taste, the fish must be freshly caught and of medium size. The taste depends on the right mixture of fish and salt.

The mixture is compressed, sealed in either wooden barrels or big clay jars and left under the sun for months. Every day, the liquid is siphoned out through a small tap at the bottom and poured back into the container right away from the top to ensure it zigzags through layers of the fermented fish and distills out all the nutrition.

In particular, the Nam O brand of fish sauce tastes very different from similar products from elsewhere in the country thanks to its special recipe (fish mixed with salt at the rate of 3/1).

Men devoted to preserving tradition craft of Nam O fish sauce making

In front of Phu’s house were dozens of over 100-year- old clay jars of fish sauce which are dubbed as his family’s heirloom treasures’.

Asked why he made a risky decision to follow the fish sauce making tradition as the traditional fisheries sector is facing many challenges in the face of rapid urbanisation and many fishermen change their livelihoods owing to increasing concern over looming menaces at sea, Phu asserted, “The Nam O fish sauce village has existed for over 400 years. In reality, fish sauce is one of the most popular and indispensable spices in Vietnamese meals. Only when Vietnamese people no longer use fish sauce and preserve the cultural distinction in the country’s cuisine did no more people make this liquid condiment”.

Since the establishment of the company, the business of Phu’s family has gradually prospered. Previously, Phu’s family made fish sauce with a limited capacity, only about 1 tonne per year, mainly serving their own needs and selling to a number of small traders at local markets. So far, the annual output has increased to 20 tonnes.

Thanks to Phu’s great efforts and determination, the Nam O traditional fish sauce production process of the Hong Huong company has been upgraded to a professional level, from production to labeling, packaging, marketing and product promotion.

In particular, the company strictly follows traditional recipe it inherited from ancestors in the village so as to preserve the pure taste of renowned Nam O fish sauce.

In addition to creating a compelling product launch website, the company has actively participated in trade promotion programmes and trade fairs.

Its products have affirmed their position in the domestic market and reach out to such neighbouring

countries as Laos and Thailand, hereby contributing to ensuring a berth for Nam O on the map of Viet Nam’s famous traditional fish sauce making villages, along with Phu Quoc and Phan Thiet.

The recent recognition of the traditional fish sauce making craft in the Nam O Village as part of national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is really good news for this time-honoured village. Phu said that he was very happy and more confident in his entrepreneurial path. He hoped that the traditional craft village would see a more prosperous future and keep pace with the modern development trends.

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