Aug 012008

Fish sauce. Liquid umami. A innocuous-seeming whiskey-toned brew that, when popped open, takes about thirty seconds to make an entire room smell like the Jersey Shore. Who wouldn’t want it in their kitchen?

I recently bought a bottle of Tra Chang fish sauce, a high-quality Thai brand, and it’s done far more for me than simply seasoning my stir-fries. It, in its inscrutable Southeast Asian way, has blown my mind.

That, friends, is a thinking man’s label, and I have spent quite awhile pondering what exactly it’s trying to convey.

At first I took it at face value: obviously, the ingredients of the sauce, apparently a fish of unknown denomination and a prawn, weigh exactly the same as an odd-perspective block of 100%. This means quality. This means the sauce is 100% composed of the things composing it. Other fish sauce brands may be content when their ingredients weigh in at only 99%, but not Tra Chang. Tra Chang will not accept a product that weighs even an ounce less than a physical representation of a mathematical abstraction.

But then I looked at the back label, which informs the consumer bashfully that the sauce’s ingredients are “anchovy-fish 70% salt 29% sugar 1%.” But the fish on the label isn’t an anchovy. And whither the prawn? Is Tra Chang entirely a lie? If you placed a block of all of Tra Chang’s untruth on a scale opposite a block of 100%, would it balance? Why is the background exploding? How many prawns would it take to equal the weight of a block of my confusion?

I feel like I can’t trust anything anymore. I swear, next someone will tell me egg creams contain neither eggs nor cream.