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Worth Its Salt: The Breathtaking World of Fish Sauce

  • Museum of Food and Drink 62 Bayard Street Brooklyn, NY 11222 United States (map)

Fish sauce is a culinary staple throughout Southeast and East Asian Cuisine, where the fermented condiment makes up 7% of the region's protein intake. Yet this umami-rich sauce is still less known by American home chefs and consumers than other umami-bombs such as soy sauce, and more recently miso.

More than the simple consequence of salt, fish, and fermentation, all fish sauce is not made alike. So how exactly does the fermentation process work? Can fish sauce have a terroir like wine? What happens when you barrel age it, or utilize a fish other than anchovy? And, where in the world does fish sauce actually come from? (The answer might surprise you!)

Join Bun Cheam, Dennis Ngo, Melissa Asawachatroj, and Eric Brown, with Betsy Fox to learn about the science, history, process, and application of this beloved and bewildering culinary cornerstone.

This program is part of our Global Cultures, Global Cuisines program series.

Photo: Frank Fox



Former Executive Chef of Talde Bun Cheam’s love of food began when he started cooking with his mom at three years old helping make krueung by mashing lemongrass in a mortar and pestle. After immigrating to America in 1989, and earning his chops in his home state of Pennsylvania, Cheam moved to New York where he spent three years working at Commerce in the West Village, learning classical French technique and mastering the craft of pasta making. 

In 2015, Cheam was promoted to executive chef at Talde Brooklyn where he was able to develop dishes inspired by food he grew up eating, and give guests a taste of his home. Cheam left Talde in 2017 to pursue an independent pop-up venture, Haup (the Khmer word for “eat”), which focused on Cambodian street food. Later this year, he will be partnering seafood purveyor Aqua Best, to open Essex Pearl, a seafood-focused restaurant within the new Essex Crossing Market in the Lower East Side. Cheam’s menu will include an extensive raw bar as well as seafood dishes inspired by the immigrant communities the Lower East Side. 

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Dennis Ngo is the chef / owner of Di An Di, a Vietnamese restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Dennis fell in love with cooking while on a sabbatical from being an Information Systems consultant and has never looked back.   Throughout the course of his culinary career, Dennis has helped open numerous Vietnamese restaurants in New York City, including An Choi, Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen, Hanoi House and founded Lonestar Empire, a Texas style smoked brisket operation, which has been at Smorgasburg since 2012.   Dennis hopes to continue sharing his love of Vietnamese food and its culture with New Yorkers for many years to come.



Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Melissa started her career in finance. Since then she received a grant to be an apprentice at the grand palace to master Thai traditional food, and became a Thai food and culture educator - under MellyCookery. 

Thai food and culture is a part of Melissa's life and soul. She is not only passionate about cooking, she was also trained in Thai customs and etiquette from a young age. For her, cooking Thai food is an art: she believes it connects to people, humanity, traditions, beliefs and culture in each region. 

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Eric Brown is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and currently the Barrel Manager of The Brooklyn Brewery. He is a long-time brewer, going back to his roots as a home brewer and head of the Culinary Institute of America’s home brewing club before starting his professional brewing career. He is a dedicated biker and currently stands as one of the few people trusted with cooking for employee barbecues at the Brewery.


Following her love for all things culinary, Betsy Fox created Forklift Foods in 2012 following more than 20 years as a multinational advertising executive and strategic brand planner. At Forklift, Betsy leads a culinary brand management and marketing team that develops go-to-market plans for specialty food, and lifestyle brands -- helping entrepreneurs take their products from concept to consumer. Forklift advises the food industry on trends, portfolio management, brand positioning, product design/development, innovation, and brand identity as well as multichannel communication plans that rely heavily on social and digital platforms. Forklift works with a range of clients from growing artisanal brands like Red Boat Fish Sauce.