The classic Vietnamese Pho relies on lots of fish sauce for its irresistible umami-rich broth | Photo by Marek Minor on Unsplash

Swap Out Fish Sauce with These 3 Pantry-Friendly Options

Keep the umami saltiness going, but with your heart and smell intact

Jarvis Wai-Ki Clarke
4 min readNov 3, 2021


Fishy, salty, and in-your-face: It’s easier to recognize the presence of fish sauce than it is to pinpoint its arrival to the contemporary Western cooking scene.

But throughout the beautiful, sprawling landscape of fusion dishes, the line can get even blurrier.

There’s yet a clearer line that you might draw when it comes to cooking with the pungent, dark liquid. And fair enough.

The smelly punch to your nose and the sharp spike to your sodium intake — it can be too much to handle.

And for the vegan, vegetarian, and allergic crowd, the fishy substance is a hard pass.

Granted there’s got to be a credible swap or two for the enchanting umami flavour? Indeed there are.

While the boisterous bottle belongs to several Asian cuisines, notably from Thai to Korean, its alternatives can be found closer to home — right at your local grocery store. And you might not even need to pick them up.

1 | Worcestershire Sauce

However you like to pronounce it, Worcestershire sauce is an easy one to like both at home and across restaurant kitchens, thanks to the rich savouriness that it so quickly lends — a sprinkle atop hot rice or a dash across buttered greens.

As yet a resident of more cupboards and tables than its fishier counterpart, the bottled condiment has developed quite the substantial cooking portfolio, from the classic Caesar salad dressing to a whole host of marinades. But it’s also the perfect alternative to fish sauce.

Yet, aside from the country of origin and the flavour profile, the biggest difference between the two actually starts with the outside of the bottle — the ingredients label.

Where fish sauce, well, consists of just that, Worcestershire sauce, by comparison, has an ingredients list that is just as extensive as the condiment’s uses.

Rather fishy, the common denominator is anchovies.

Although linked by the key ingredient, Worcestershire sauce packs less fish essence. And it’s better to understand its overall flavour profile as a vinegar-meets-fish-meets-molasses number.

As a vinegar-first recipe, its base is rather flavoured from the addition of anchovies and seasonings.

Its flavour is one that beautifully balances sweet and savoury notes, punctuated by a slightly salty finish, then followed by an acidic notification.

It’s also interestingly reminiscent of some barbecue sauces containing molasses, in particular, which makes it perfect for marinades, sauces, and dips.

Just like fish sauce, it’s fermented. To which, it owes a lot of its punchy, umami character to.

While it’s important to note that the replacement isn’t a direct 1:1 conversion, its fishy characteristics help to approximate it to more of a 2:1 setting of Worcestershire to fish sauce.

And for the vegan route, there are certainly options available! Just double check to see if the brand is gluten-free, if that’s a concern.

2 | Anchovy Paste

The next logical, albeit not immediately obvious, replacement isn’t so much a liquid as it is a paste.

However, it certainly packs the fishy punch just the same. And it does so without the strong smell — which is further restrained once kept in the fridge after opening.

More common across Mediterranean pantries, the thick fish paste is a ground mixture made from anchovies, salt, and olive oil.

But its beautifully savoury, umami essence is, nonetheless, truly similar to fish sauce.

While also similar in cost and shelf life, there’s yet a slight caveat.

By virtue of its form as a paste — sold in a toothpaste-like fashion for easy storage and use — its flavour is pretty concentrated, much like that of tomato paste.

To safely use it without going overboard with the salt level of your dish, it’s a good idea to bloom it in a bit of water, oil, or even vinegar before use.

However, you can truly add it to marinades, sauces, and stews straight from the tube — the paste will dissolve right in as background flavour. Just add it judiciously.

For a delicious steak dinner, combine the paste with olive oil, garlic, chilli pepper flakes, and rosemary, then directly brush it onto the surface of a steak.

Here, its adherence to the steak also yields an entirely different flavour experience than that of a marinade of fish sauce.

3 | Low-Sodium Soy Sauce and Lime Juice

When life gives you limes, make fish sauce?

This trick is quite interesting with how it cleverly echoes the bright acidity found in a lot of Southeast Asian dishes.

When the lime juice is combined with a soy sauce that’s marked as low-sodium at a 1:3 ratio, respectively, the result is a remarkable taste.

The best part: You’re looking at significantly less sodium with the number reduced by about a whopping two thirds. And it’s totally vegetarian and vegan friendly, too.

This lighter combination performs well as not only a dipping sauce for spring rolls, but also as a regular seasoning agent, conveniently kept in the fridge door. Just make sure to use it within three days.

Related: Notes on Rice: Sticky Mistakes You May Be Making and How To Avoid Them



Jarvis Wai-Ki Clarke

With an appetite for words and a curiousity to follow a story, I love exploring the kitchen and the home as much as the outdoors, photographing along the way.