Love it or hate it, everyone who’s encountered fish sauce can agree it’s anything but bland — yet that’s exactly what vegan fish sauce often is. Taking a whiff or little taste of anything with the words “fish sauce” on the label should be a borderline unpleasant experience. Why do so many vegan alternatives refuse to go there?
To be fair, I haven’t tried every vegan fish sauce on the market. However, those I have tried all make the same mistake: They try to mimic fish sauce’s aggressively fishy flavour with seaweed. Fish sauce and seaweed are “fishy” in two completely different ways, though, and the latter is just too mild. It lacks that funky, stinky, overwhelmingly salty punch you need from a fish sauce substitute — otherwise, it’s just seaweed-flavored umami water with a little soy sauce for good measure.
At least we still have Maggi seasoning sauce. It may not taste exactly like fish sauce, but it behaves just like it, and that’s what makes it so special.
I’m biased, but I believe Maggi sauce is a perfect ingredient that belongs in every household, plant-based or not. If you’ve used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, it’s very similar, but to me, Maggi is miles better. It’s funkier and saltier, with an immediately recognisable flavour that can easily overpower a dish if you’re not careful — just like the real thing. It’s also a lot cheaper than Bragg’s (not to mention overpriced vegan fish sauce). You can buy a huge bottle at pretty much any East Asian supermarket for a few bucks, and since it’s so potent, it’ll last a long time.
My only caveat: Much like fish sauce, Maggi is extremely pungent and comes out of the bottle in a hurry, which means it can be a lot to take in at first. (My first Maggi experience involved accidentally dumping way, way too much onto my bánh mì at Best Baguette and powering through. No regrets!) This is why cookbook author and fellow Maggi enjoyer Andrea Nguyen’s recipe for shaking tofu is the perfect introduction to this ingredient. It’s a super fast, super easy tofu stir-fry with a Maggi-based sauce that tastes far more complex than its short list of ingredients would suggest, with a fresh, herby salad component that perfectly sets off the tofu. All in all, it’s a flawless summer dinner recipe and a great way to familiarise yourself with a new kitchen staple. Trust me: Once you figure out how much Maggi is enough, you’ll put it on everything.