Do the Japanese use fish sauce? This is how they get their own flavor

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 23, 2022

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Japanese fish sauce (shoyu) wasn’t as hip as most other versions of fish sauce in other Asian countries. People loved it around the 1990s, but the trend decreased a little bit after that.

The most popular Japanese dish that uses fish sauce as one of the ingredients is shottsuru nabe (fish hot pot) and ishiri kaiyaki (grilled scallop).

Other foods that may use Japanese fish sauce are sashimi (raw fish), shottsuru yakisoba (stir-fried noodles), and zsazuke (lightly pickled food).

sushi with japanese fish sauce

A taste of Japanese fish sauce

Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

Many Asian countries have their own version of fish sauce. The main aspect that distinguishes Japanese fish sauce from other countries’ fish sauces is the taste.

While most fish sauces from other countries have a strong aroma and fishy flavor, this doesn’t apply to Japanese fish sauce. Japanese fish sauces are mild.

You’ll barely notice the fishiness either from the aroma or the taste. It has quite a deep flavor from the years of the fermentation process.

I also have this post on all of the different Japanese sauces you can think of and how they’re used. You should take a look at that as well if you want to learn more about Japan’s use of sauces.

With such a big difference between Japanese fish sauces and other countries’, many people in Japan dislike imported fish sauces. You can’t even use them as a substitute for other condiments in the kitchen anyway.

Japan itself has many local versions of fish sauce. The most famous one is called shottsuru from Akita Prefecture.

Two other versions of Japanese fish sauces that are also popular are ishiru or ishiri from Ishikawa Prefecture.

The Japanese don’t like to over-flavor their dishes and prefer to keep things natural, which is much different than Korean food. I find that very interesting!

Recently, I’ve dove deeper into these differences and explained both Korean and Japanese food culture in this in-depth post here.

japanese soy sauce

Shottsuru

People make shottsuru out of sailfin sandfish. The fermentation process takes a lot more time than other kinds of fish sauces.

While other Japanese fish sauces take months to ferment, shottsuru can take approximately 3 years to reach the right amount of fermentation. However, there’s a company that also offers a 10-year processed shottsuru as a premium product.

The most popular dish that uses shottsuru is shottsuru nabe. It’s similar to traditional Asian hot pot soups with seafood or beef. People also love adding shottsuru while cooking yakisoba, as it enhances the umami flavor more naturally.

There are a few different kinds you can buy, but my favorite flavor is this Akita shottsuru from Moroi Brewing that has the taste I most associate with how its served in Japan:

Akita shottsuru japanese fish sauce

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Here’s a video from the Japan News on this type of sauce:

Ishiru/Ishiri

The fish sauce from Ishikawa Prefecture has 2 variations:

  • On the east coast of the region, people used to make it from squid liver.
  • On the Noto Peninsula, they make it from sardines.

Although the names “ishiru” and “ishiri” are sometimes used interchangeably, some sources state that ishiru fish sauce refers to the one made from squid innards. Meanwhile, ishiri fish sauce is the sardines one.

The most popular dish in this region is the ishiri kaiyaki, a squid dish grilled with fish sauce.

People also love using ishiri in many other dishes, such as sashimi and asazuke pickles. Adding ishiri to those dishes may enhance the richness of the flavor without making it taste too much like sauce.

My favorite for this very reason is this Jinshi ishiri fish sauce that’s not too overpowering:

Jinshi Ishiri Japanese fish sauce

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Ikanago shoyu

There’s another version of Japanese fish sauce. It’s called ikanago shoyu from the Seto Inland Sea in Kagawa Prefecture.

This one is a soy sauce made of sandlace fishes. But compared to those 2 other versions of fish sauce mentioned above, this one is barely known by anyone other than the local people.

Also read: learn how to make the best Japanese sushi sauces

The Japanese have a unique fish sauce you need to try

After falling near to extinction, Japanese fish sauce has made its way back to life.

The condiment isn’t as popular as other authentic Japanese condiments, such as dashi and mirin. Neither is it as hip as Thailand’s nam pla or other countries’ versions of fish sauce.

However, this one has the most unique characteristics of a fish sauce. It makes quite an unforgettable culinary experience.

You should learn more about dashi as well if you’re into Japanese cuisine and sauces. I’ve written an in-depth post on authentic dashi here. If you’ve got some time you should read it.

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.