Fish Sauce: nam pla
By and large, fish sauce, or nam pla (literally meaning "fish water") is the single most important flavoring element for the majority of Thai dishes. Fish sauce is a cloudy, ruddy-brown sauce made from fresh fish extracts.
Genuine forms of fish sauce are made by taking the juices from the flesh of fish and putting them through a long process of salting and fermentation. Though most of the fish sauce sold in today's markets is processed from saltwater fish, it was also traditionally made from freshwater fish.
Revered for its natural seal-salt qualities, fish sauce is used as a natural salting ingredient, much like Westerners would use table salt. A high-quality fish sauce gives a rich, watery flavor to dishes, and many people note that by adding fish sauce to Thai recipes, they can immediately taste the unmistakable flavor of Thai-cooking. Simply stated, fish sauce is used in virtually all Thai recipes.
Make sure to purchase a high-grade fish sauce, as there are many imitations. A standard 24-fluid-ounce bottle of premium quality sauce will run around $4-5 in the market. A high-quality fish sauce will have a pleasing aroma of the ocean, not an overwhelming smell of fishiness. It should be neither too salty, nor too bland. The sauce should not make your dishes taste too fishy, and if it does, consider another brand. Quality brand names of fish sauces include Tra Chang, Squid, Anchovy, King Crab Tiparos, and Golden Boy.
On the level of health, fish sauce is composed of up to 10% of complete proteins, possessing all the important essential amino acids that we need for immune-function and cellular regeneration. High-quality fish sauce also posses a packing punch of vitamin B12, riboflavin, Pantothenic acid and niacin. It will also contain a wide variety of helpful nutrients such as calcium, iodine, phosphorous and iron.