Khai Hoan Fish Sauce

Khai Hoan is one of the accessible fish sauce factories on Phu Quoc Island. Not only you can take a peek on how the stuff is manufactured, you can also buy it there!

Khai Hoan Fish Sauce Phu QuocKhai Hoan Fish Sauce Phu Quoc | photo: Frank Fox (cc-by-sa)

Khai Hoan Fish Sauce Factory
11 Hung Vuong Street, Duong Dong (see map)

Travelling to Vietnam is not only a feast for our eyes, ears and taste buds, sometimes we also need to accommodate our noses' sense of adventure. A visit to one of Phu Quoc Island's traditional fish sauce factories is exactly that: An adventure for your nostrils.

Fish sauce tanks at Khai Hoan factory Fish sauce tanks at Khai Hoan factory | photo: (cc-by-sa)

Authentic Vietnamese Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is a key ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine that is mainly produced in coastal cities and villages. The best fish sauce of the country is made in Nha Trang, Phan Thiet and - of course - on Phu Quoc Island.

As we draw closer to Khai Hoan fish sauce factory on 11 Hung Vuong Street, the captivating smell of anchovies in their process of enzymatic self-digestion that also runs under the name of autolysis mixes with the odour of a durian stall next to the entrance gate. We are lucky and there is a ship moored at the small dock. Upon closer inspection, the ship reveals it's cargo: Several tons of anchovies in sea salt.

The other factory we visited during our exploration of Phu Quoc Island was Phung Hung factory. They are located opposite of Phu Quoc Prison and don't have access to water ways, so their anchovies probably are delivered by trucks.

Salted anchovies ready for turned into delicious fish sauce Salted anchovies ready for turned into delicious fish sauce | photo: (cc-by-sa)

Anchovies in Autolysis

Using fish sauce for creating delicious Vietnamese food is one thing, but seeing tons of dead fish slowly fermenting in their own fluids is something completely different. A peek through the main gate of the factory reveals a hall with huge wooden tanks on both sides. These tanks contain the fermenting anchovies. The clear liquid that is produced in the process is collected and bottled for sale.

Phu Quoc Island is famous for it's savoury, natural fish sauce that is produced in a traditional manner without the use of unnecessary chemicals. Until the amber liquid is ready for use it takes from eight to nine months, which makes time the most important ingredient for good fish sauce.

The reason for the popularity of nước mắm in Vietnamese kitchen is its relatively high content of natural glutamate that adds umami flavour to traditional dishes.

Seeing the raw anchovies in sea salt while being exposed to the intriguing smell of their fermenting cousins might be a bit much to stomach for the less hardened traveller, so let's go back to the shop and showroom of this particular factory. Khai Hoan sells their fish sauce in two different grades, 40 and 43. These numbers indicate the strength and saltiness of the magic potion and while 43 is a little pricier, it lasts longer than the 40 variant since you use a lesser amount of it.

Ship full of salted anchovies Ship full of salted anchovies. Looks weird, but in Vietnam it's perfectly normal. | photo: (cc-by-sa)

Taste and Purchase

For your convenience, you can taste the nước mắm (the Vietnamese name for fish sauce) right there and decide which one suits your needs best. If you are about to buy your year's supply right there, please note that most airlines don't accept liquids in the hand baggage, so either you put the bottes in your luggage or you use Khai Hoan's delivery service to Saigon (and maybe other places, you have to ask them though). The delivery to your address in Saigon comes at a cost of 10% of the total value of your purchase.

You can also buy Khai Hoan fish sauce at one of the following addresses in Saigon:
23 Mai Van Vinh, Tan Quy Ward, District 7
373/152/40 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Ward 8, Tân Bình District
20 Ngo Thi Thu Minh, Ward 2, Tân Bình District

And even more fish to be turned into fish sauce And even more fish to be turned into fish sauce | photo: (cc-by-sa)

Pricing of the Fish Sauce

If you are used to the cheap fish sauce in local supermarkets, which starts as low as 29,000đ for a bottle, you may ask why in hell you should pay Khai Hoan's 99,000đ or even 155,000đ for grade 43 per litre. The answer is quite simple. The Phu Quoc fish sauce is real, natural nước mắm without preservatives, added flavours, artificial monosodium glutamate (MSG) or food colouring. Not only it tastes much better than the cheap stuff from the supermarket, it is also much healthier.

Selection of Kai Hoan fish sauce Selection of Kai Hoan fish sauce | photo: (cc-by-sa)

Khai Hoan Fish Sauce Factory on the Map

Fish sauce tanks at Khai Hoan factory Fish sauce tanks at Khai Hoan factory | photo: (cc-by-sa)

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