Boosting Local Economy Through Tam Thanh Fish Sauce Craft Village

The small village of Tam Thanh (Quang Nam) has been greatly enriched by its popular sauce made from anchovies freshly caught in the local waters. The traditional process for making the sauce, which has been passed down among the indigenous people for generations, requires no added additives and takes a minimum of 12 months for incubation.

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Tam Thanh Fish Sauce Craft Village: Developing Local Economy
Truong Thi Luan (91 years old) instructs her granddaughter how to make fish sauce according to the traditional method. Photo: Nguyen Hong

Profession of making fish sauce

From Tam Ky city to Tam Thanh, visitors can explore the renowned mural village – Tam Thanh mural village, Hoa Trung village, Tam Thanh commune, situated approximately 7 kilometers from Tam Ky city in Quang Nam.

The village is positioned at the border of the sea on one side and the Truong Giang river on the other. In addition to being a tourist attraction, this traditional fish-making village offers visitors an opportunity to experience the process of making, processing, and producing fish sauce for Quang Nam, Da Nang, and some northern localities.

Using fresh anchovies caught in the waters of Tam Thanh and the traditional stirring method, Ngoc Lan production facility owned by Le Thi Ngoc Tam, who comes from the renowned Tam Ap fish sauce village in Tam Thanh commune, creates pure, delicious, and characteristic Ngoc Lan fish sauce.

The fish from Tam Thanh sea is known for its delicious taste and rich nutritional value, making it an excellent choice for producing high-quality and healthy fish sauce. Ngoc Lan fish sauce is produced using traditional and manual methods, where fish and salt are mixed together in a certain ratio and aged for 10-12 months to create drops of fish sauce with a distinct aroma.

While traditional fish sauce is facing tough competition and many craft villages are fading away, Le Thi Ngoc Tam is focused on establishing her brand in Quang Nam province and Da Nang city to make Ngoc Lan fish sauce a leading product of the region. In addition to preserving her family’s profession and contributing to the local economy, her fish sauce production facility also provides jobs for six workers. Her aim is to “bring a taste of the sea to every Vietnamese family’s kitchen.”

Tam Thanh Fish Sauce Craft Village: Developing Local Economy
Nguyen Thi Hoi checks her family’s fish sauce.

In the Tam Thanh mural village, people and tourists are familiar with the traditional fish sauce facility run by Nguyen Thi Hoi (50 years old).

Nguyen Thi Hoi’s family owns a 30-square-meter area with 20 large jars, each holding about 100 liters of fish sauce.

Since a young age, Nguyen Thi Hoi has been involved in choosing, buying, and carrying fish home to make fish sauce alongside her parents. As a result, she has developed a keen sense for selecting fish.

In 2010, Nguyen Thi Hoi established her traditional fish sauce facility after years of retailing. Her main customers are locals, tourists, and some orders from neighboring provinces. On average, her facility produces 500 to 700 liters of fish sauce per month, with larger quantities during the Tet holiday. The production of traditional fish sauce provides her family with a stable income of about VND100 million (US$4,166) per year.

Preserving the traditional taste

When asked about the secret to her profession, Nguyen Thi Hoi didn’t reveal any. “I don’t have any secrets. Only fresh fish, clean salt, and a year of incubation,” she explained.

Nguyen Thi Hoi stated that she only sells fish sauce locally and hasn’t explored online sales or exports, even though she believes Quang Nam fish produces the best fish sauce. She expressed her wish to reach more people and make them aware of traditional fish sauce.

Tam Thanh Fish Sauce Craft Village: Developing Local Economy
Ian George Robertson (from England) “It was only when I was in Vietnam that I knew about fish sauce. I always thought it was typical of Vietnam.” Photo: Dieu Thuy

“I spent four years in Vietnam, one year in Hoi An, and three years in Tam Thanh. In 2019, I had the opportunity to work in Vietnam, so I moved here,” said Ian George Robertson, a British expatriate. “I like the fish sauce here. Sometimes we use fish sauce in our family meals. We use a simple plastic fish sauce bottle that a pork seller at the market gave us to try, and we still use it to this day. I know Tam Thanh village produces fish sauce because I bought it from a family here. Traditional fish sauce has a different taste from other types of fish sauce. I haven’t tried fish sauce from other countries. It was only when I was in Vietnam that I became aware of fish sauce. I always think of it as a typical Vietnamese delicacy.”

At the age of 91, Truong Thi Luan from the Ngoc Lan production facility still recalls the ancient recipe passed down by her ancestors. “When I was born, my grandparents and parents made fish sauce. My family’s fish sauce was also famous in the Tam Thanh area. We used to exchange fish sauce for food in the forest and rice in the plains. At that time, we made simple fish sauce by fermenting fresh fish with salt. Nowadays, besides family secrets, the younger generation gains more experience. As a result, the fish sauce is even purer and cleaner. I always hope that the younger generation can overcome life’s challenges in order to preserve our craft village,” she shared.

Rosie Nguyen