Why Three Crabs Fish Sauce Is the Most Widespread in American-Made Kimchi


As a brand new immigrant to the U.S. with no household roots to tie me to a area, I used to be consistently shifting to totally different locations, following jobs and alternatives. Each time I landed in a brand new metropolis, I sought out the Korean American neighborhood to assist me settle in. Ajummas would invite me to their properties to speak, ask me how I used to be doing, whether or not I had a boyfriend, and the way my people had been doing again in Korea. Inevitably they’d ask if I’d discovered learn how to make Korean meals at house. After I’d point out that I make my very own kimchi, they’d inevitably suggest Three Crabs Fish Sauce. Their enthusiasm satisfied me to nod and smile knowingly, a silent settlement to their love for this model — though it was one I’d by no means seen, heard, or talked about once I lived in Korea.

Regardless of the identify, the fish in Three Crabs Fish Sauce is anchovy, becoming the flavour of Korean fish sauces, that are often made with both anchovy or the Pacific sand lance. However the historical past of the model is uniquely American. The pungent sauce is offered by the Viet Huong Fish Sauce firm, based in San Francisco within the Nineteen Eighties by a China-born businessman who lived in Vietnam earlier than immigrating to the U.S. throughout the Vietnam Warfare. The bottle boasts that the fish sauce is a product of Thailand and processed in Hong Kong. Neither of those nations hosts dominant Korean-speaking populations, however there’s a Korean identify on the packaging (삼게표 멸치액젓).

I’m fascinated by the cult standing this fish sauce has achieved amongst Korean American ajummas, whilst extra Korean sauces develop into accessible stateside. Maangchi, the web’s Korean mother, recommends Three Crabs as her most popular model. A 2013 article in LA’s Korea Each day asks “Is there even a homemaker who doesn’t find out about Three Crabs?” with interviews from native girls raving about Three Crabs. “I’ve tried all of the sauces available on the market, however I couldn’t discover something as flavorful,” says Alice Kim from Brea, California, who is known amongst her buddies as an amazing cook dinner. An nameless lady credit the fish sauce as her secret ingredient, saying it’s particularly good for making scallion kimchi. With its uniquely American purposes — that are countless and fluctuate from cook dinner to cook dinner — the sauce is reflective of an entire new diasporic meals tradition that developed individually from the motherland, with its personal favorites, classics, and quirks.

I grew up principally in Korea and moved to the U.S. as an grownup within the mid-aughts, and I’ve watched with bemusement the rising reputation of Korean meals and popular culture. After I first got here to the U.S., I had solely three choices to purchase gochujang, the spicy soy-paste staple: Drive to the closest metropolis with a Korean grocery retailer; smuggle in Korean Air’s gochujang tubes that got here with the in-flight bibimbap meal; or watch for HMart, a once-small native East Coast model often known as Hanareum Mart, to open an internet retailer, pooling collectively an order with my buddies to attenuate transport charges. Right this moment, HMart has shops in 14 states throughout the U.S., and I can spot gochujang in all places, even at Safeway. It’s good to have the ability to discover Korean elements so simply now.

However the reality is, Koreans had been latecomers to the U.S. in comparison with our neighbors in Northeast Asia. Whereas Chinese language and Japanese immigrants got here to the U.S. as early because the 1840s, the primary main wave of Korean immigrants was in 1903, adopted by a a lot bigger wave within the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s, following the Korean Warfare.

These Korean immigrants wished to eat meals like they did again house, and the brand new People typically needed to discover substitutes for harder-to-find elements. Some modifications appeared like average leaps of logic. When napa cabbage (배추 – baechu) was onerous to search out, individuals made kimchi with cabbage (양배추 – yang baechu): In spite of everything, the phrase for cabbage in Korean is just “Western napa cabbage.” The popular rice for Korean People is Calrose rice, additionally marketed as sushi rice, a medium-grain rice developed in California in 1948. Much like the dominant number of rice eaten in modern Korea after the Japanese occupation, it was a crop made to imitate Japanese rice that may be simply grown within the U.S. Different staples similar to tofu, soy sauce, and sesame oil might be present in Chinese language and Japanese groceries, and though the flavors within the Korean manufacturers had been totally different, recipes might simply be adjusted to make them unnoticeable, often through the use of barely much less sugar.

Three Crabs Fish Sauce turned a transparent winner amongst Korean People over different manufacturers of fish sauce. Being from Seoul, I’m most conversant in regional delicacies that makes use of fish sauce primarily for kimchi. Kimchi made with Three Crabs tastes sweeter and extra crisp in comparison with kimchi made with Korean fish sauce manufacturers, making a uniquely “American” taste that works effectively with a heavier and extra red-meat-dominant Korean American delicacies. Kimchi made with Three Crabs cuts via the fattiness of crimson meat; its distinctive umami profile, which hits extra towards the again of the palate, provides a pleasant nuance to barbecue.

Regardless of its rave reputation within the Korean American ajumma neighborhood, nevertheless, Three Crabs Fish Sauce is both remarkable or troublesome to search out in Korea itself. Meals bloggers submit about this “new Southeast Asian fish sauce” throughout their travels. A handful of Korean retailers promote Three Crabs on-line, however not practically as a lot as Korean-brand fish sauces. Just lately on the Korean on-line platform Naver Buying, I discovered virtually 44,000 web sites promoting anchovy-based fish sauce. Solely seven of them had been promoting Three Crabs.

Delicacies that evolves within the diaspora is usually framed within the context of necessity, the concept of “making do” with native elements when replicating these at house is inconceivable. It’s widespread to listen to arguments that meals from the diaspora is one way or the other much less “genuine” than meals from the homeland.

However these meals improvements could make it again to the motherland, too, suggesting {that a} tradition’s meals will not be strictly tied to the land the place it originates. LA galbi, or LA-style thin-cut marinated beef quick ribs, is an import now established again on the Korean peninsula. The popular method of chopping ribs in Korea is English fashion, the place every rib is separated then butterflied so {that a} lengthy strip of meat is hooked up to a thick piece of bone. Korean immigrants (the most important focus within the U.S. settled in Los Angeles County) found that American butchers most popular the flanken fashion of quick ribs, and an unintended advantage of this minimize was that the meat marinated sooner. LA galbi was then transported to Korea within the ’70s and ’80s. I recall in elementary college that when a toddler introduced LA galbi of their lunchbox, all the youngsters would encompass them and ask for a chunk, admiring this American method of consuming beef.

Korean meals in Korea is hyperlocal and regional as a result of lengthy indigenous historical past of its individuals residing on a peninsula divided by mountains and streams. Every area developed its personal traditions: from the closely spiced, seafood-based stews of the southern areas, to the buckwheat and potato pancakes of the jap mountains, to the chilly, white kimchi eaten within the north. Regardless of the comparatively quick time frame since mass immigration, Korean American meals has developed into a singular department of regional Korean delicacies. This department carries the lives of recent immigrants to the U.S. and the tradition from the Asian immigrants who arrived earlier than them: It’s a reminder of the meals again house, reimagined within the security of their kitchens.

I’m to see how Korean American meals will proceed to evolve, each at the side of and separate from Korean meals in Korea. Utilizing Three Crabs fish sauce — and Western, not napa cabbage — ends in a uniquely American fashion of kimchi with Thai, Hong Kongese, and Korean influences. The candy kimchi comprised of Three Crabs is now a part of my core reminiscence, as a lot because the meals I grew up with in Korea. If I ever transfer again to Korea, I think about I’d be grateful that the fish sauce is accessible on-line. And although it by no means retains so long as napa cabbage kimchi, I’d decide up a head of Western cabbage immediately to make a small batch. The nostalgia jogs my memory of how we’ve discovered to adapt on this nation.

Minyoung Lee is a author in Oakland. Subin Yang is a South Korean freelance illustrator presently based mostly in NYC.
Copy edited by Laura Michelle Davis


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