Soy Sauces Used in Modern Thai Cooking and How to Make Your Own All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce

thai stir fry recipe
Throughout 2010 and beyond1 you will see posts consistently, though not consecutively, published on this blog on how to equip your kitchen and stock your pantry with items that are sitting in the homes of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends in Bangkok as we speak as well as how to turn those ingredients into either 1. the dishes we eat over there, or 2. the dishes you can’t get enough of at your favorite Thai restaurants outside Thailand, or both.

The goal is to get you acquainted with Thai/Southeast Asian ingredients so that you won’t find them intimidating any longer, assuming that is presently the case. Then it’s just a matter of knowing how to make the most of those ingredients in the realm of Thai cooking.

Posts in this series will be under the “She Stocks a Thai Pantry” label. Yes, I do realize it is a lame title. But if at this point you are still surprised by the lameness of how I label my posts, well then … (harrumphing with raised chin and quivering lips in the manner of an over-emoting soap actress) I guess you don’t know me at all.

Our first subject is the major soy sauces (ซีอิ๊ว) used in Thai cooking. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Only what I consider to be the major players are included.

Let’s start with the ubiquitous table sauce, Maggi, a sauce generally described as being made from vegetable protein to resemble soy sauce without actually containing soy. [Maggi is by no means the only brand used in Thailand, but it has become a generic name for all brands of table soy sauces, much like Kleenex. It’s not uncommon for some people to point to a bottle of obviously non-Maggi brand of table sauce and say, “Could you pass me some Maggi?”]

However, due to the way in which it is used among the Thais, I think it’s appropriate to put this very concentrated sauce in the soy sauce category. [Added August 19, 2011: Besides, Kat of Spatula, Spoon and Saturday has alerted my attention that Maggi as marketed in some places is actually made with soy. This makes sense as I imagine this soy formula will be more readily embraced in Southeast Asians who are more familiar with soy-based seasoning sauces.]

This is the table sauce of choice for most Southeast Asian kids and adults alike. In general, Maggi is not used as a cooking sauce; its job is to accent or embellish a finished dish rather than act as a cooking ingredient. In other words, Maggi functions in a similar manner to Tabasco sauce, A-1 sauce, or — in some way — table salt and pepper. A few drops of Maggi over a bowl of pork congee, or rice and hard-boiled eggs or Thai-style omelet (ไข่เจียว) made my childhood a truly happy one.

Another major soy sauce is sweet dark soy sauce (ซีอิ๊วหวาน). This is very similar to the sweet soy sauce in the Indonesian kecap family — the essential ingredient in the much-loved Pad See Ew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว), fried flat rice noodles with sweet dark soy sauce. It is also heavily used in Chinese-influenced red-cooked or braised dishes that are found in the Thai repertoire. Nothing can replace or mimic its salty-yet-sweet, caramel-y-yet-smoky flavor. It’s one of my favorite soy sauces in the whole world.

Notably, sweet dark soy sauce is also often served as a table sauce alongside the spicy ginger-chilli-garlic-soy sauce which accompanies Khao Man Gai (ข้าวมันไก่) for those who prefer a less spicy sauce. Both sauces are almost always offered at a Khao Man Gai joint for this reason.

thai sauce recipe
When I was a little kid, Dad and I would go on dates once or twice a month. One of our favorite date spots was a neighborhood Khao Man Gai eatery that served what I remember to be the most delicious version of this chicken and rice dish I’ve ever had. (Or it simply could be that anything eaten in Dad’s loving presence tasted good.) Knowing I was too young to handle the spicy Khao Man Gai sauce, Dad would drizzle some sweet dark soy sauce over my rice. And oh, how I adored it.

The taste of sweet dark soy sauce is seared into my memory and will always be mentally associated with how wonderful life was when Dad was alive and how blessed I am to have a truly magnificent man as my father.

[You fathers out there, please go on dates with your daughters. I’m willing to bet that years from now they will write blogs or books about how everything eaten in your presence tastes wonderful. Yes, even soy sauce.]

Another major player on the soy sauce scene is light or thin soy sauce (ซีอิ๊วขาว). “Light” in this context doesn’t not refer to its lower sodium content (as in 50% less sodium “light” Kikkoman that comes with a green cap); it refers to its lighter, thinner consistency and gentler, less in-your-face taste.

Its Thai moniker, ซีอิ๊วขาว, can be misleading as it literally means, ‘white soy sauce.’ Well, there’s nothing white about it. I guess it’s a convenient way of differentiating this thinner, lighter soy sauce from its more concentrated, thicker, darker counterparts.

This type of soy sauce is less salty than the dark soy sauce and — unless my taste buds are hallucinating — sweeter. The consistency and taste of “white” soy sauce are very close to those of fish sauce, although the two are never interchangeable, in my opinion. Some have asked me whether it’s a good idea to use “white soy sauce” instead of fish sauce to make vegan or vegetarian Thai curries, and my answer is, no, use salt. But this is just a personal opinion and by no means a dogma. I happen to think traditional Thai curries that are seasoned with soy sauce (of any kind) are disgusting.

thai sauce recipe
We’re moving on to the penultimate item: dark soy sauce (ซีอิ๊วดำ — literally “black soy sauce”). Golden Mountain and Healthy Boy are what I use in my cooking and recipe testing. (They’re also two most prominent brands among the imported Thai soy sauces in the US, from what I’ve seen.) At a risk of stating the obvious, dark soy sauce is darker than light soy sauce. (Isn’t this enlightening?)

One last note on soy sauces used in modern Thai cooking: I don’t ever use Japanese-style or Korean-style soy sauces or soy sauces brewed according to the Japanese tradition (Kikkoman) in Thai cooking unless in extreme cases. The flavors of such sauces lend themselves to the East Asian cuisines for which they are designed, and I find them to be out of place in Thai cooking. The same holds true in reverse. Serve Golden Mountain or Healthy Boy soy sauces with sushi to those who know better and watch sake flasks furiously fly … in your general direction.

Lastly, oyster sauce (น้ำมันหอย or ซ้อสหอยนางรม – literally “oyster oil” and “oyster sauce” respectively). Again, this is not exactly soy sauce, but I have placed it in this category due to the manner in which it’s used in Thai cooking. I think of it as umami-filled soy sauce with built-in starch. For vegetarians, look for Chinese brands of “oyster” sauce that is made from mushrooms.

Some facts about oyster sauce:

  • While the other types of sauce listed here function either as a table sauce (Maggi) or both a table sauce and a cooking sauce (light, dark, and sweet dark soy sauces), oyster sauce is almost exclusively a cooking sauce. At least, I’ve never seen it used as a table sauce in my lifetime.
  • Oyster sauce is a complex sauce containing what I suspect to be high amounts of Monosodium glutamate (MSG). That’s why a little bit of it goes a long way in providing flavor as a stir-fry sauce or marinade. If you’re ultra-sensitive to MSG, ask your favorite Asian, especially Chinese, restaurants that put up the “No MSG” sign whether they use oyster sauce in their cooking. If so, and I think that’s mostly the case, their foods contain MSG by way of the oyster sauce even though they do not lie about using the crystalline MSG.
  • A recent Oyster Food and Culture article on the making of soy sauce around the world reminded me of someone I’d thought about introducing to you since last summer.2I had drafted a post on him and kept it in my draft folder for a long time. You see a part of me wanted people to know of him; another part of me wanted to keep him a secret.The urge to share won out. Everybody, meet Bruno.thai sauce recipe
    My dark tan (hence the name) love, Bruno, is the strong, quiet type, but gets along with others really well. He is low-maintenance and can take care of himself just fine. Though Bruno is the type that spends most of his time in a cold, dark corner minding his own business, the moment I reach for him, he can leap to work at a drop of a hat. All I need to do to get him ready is shake him up violently. Bruno’s performance is solid, stellar, consistent, and always satisfying.You know how bread geeks avid bread bakers name their sourdough starter? Bruno is the name which I have given to my all-purpose, go-to brown stir-fry sauce. I am never without Bruno. I don’t see myself parting with him. I don’t see life without him.

    Containing soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese wine, it doesn’t take an expert to figure out that Bruno is not a traditional Thai stir-fry sauce. What would an ‘authentic’ Thai stir-fry sauce be? There’s no such thing. Most, if not all, of stir-fried dishes in the repertoire of Thai cuisine have been adapted from the Chinese. I need to get this message out there to keep some people from getting their kang keng nai in a bunch thinking that I’m calling Bruno a “Thai” sauce.

    I use Bruno in 90% of the stir-fry dishes I make on a regular basis. This is the base sauce upon which I build other Chinese-y-Thai dishes. After having experimented with different formulae over the years, I have settled down on Bruno. Deeply flavorful, Bruno pretty much meets all my needs, but I’ve been known to occasionally invite others to join us as well. You can add fresh garlic, fresh chillies, dried chillies, fresh ginger, different Thai herbs, etc. into whatever you’d like to create, and everything turns out so delicious. Bruno gets along with everyone.

    In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the way they cook at most Thai restaurants. You know what it’s like. You and five co-workers visit a Thai restaurant during the busy lunch hour. You all flip through the menu and order six different lunch specials. Less than 10 minutes later, your server places six plates of steamed Jasmine rice topped with six different stir-fry and dry-curry varieties — all complex-looking stuff that you don’t even dare attempt to replicate at home. You look around and notice that other diners also receive their orders around the same time. You start thinking that they either have a legion of cooks in the kitchen or the one they have has 5 extra sets of hands.


    In a perfect world, upon receiving your lunch order, someone in the kitchen would measure out 10 different fresh herbs and spices, grind them up into a paste with a pestle and mortar, and create one perfect single serving of Thai stir-fry for you. In the real world, it’s all about pre-fab cooking. This is fact. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. Without going all Sandra Lee on you, most, if not all, Thai restaurants have (and guard with their lives) their own Bruno formulae for various types of Chinese-influenced stir-fried dishes.

    My Bruno consists of 1 part Thai light soy sauce, 2 parts oyster sauce, 1 part Thai dark (not sweet) soy sauce, 1 part Chinese wine or sherry, 1 part cornstarch, 1/2 part sesame oil, and 1/4 part ground white pepper. I usually make about a quart of Bruno at a time and keep him in a huge glass jar in the refrigerator. You need to put Bruno in a jar with enough head space, because the cornstarch sinks to the bottom of the jar and you need to give Bruno a good shake in order to get him ready to work.

    How to use Bruno? I use 1/2 cup of Bruno, plus 3/4 cup of water, for every 2 pounds combined weight of stir-fry ingredients. This is my favorite ratio; your mileage may vary.

    thai stir fry recipe
    What’s good about Bruno is that apart from the added sesame oil I don’t put additional oil into my stir-fries at all; there’s just no need for it. When I stir-fry with Bruno, I go against the usual stir-fry protocol. I heat up the pan over medium heat, add to the pan the ingredients in the order of lengths of time required starting from the longest first, add Bruno to the mix followed by the water, and close the lid. When all the ingredients have been cooked through and the sauce has thickened, remove the pan from heat. That’s all there is to it.

    Have fun with Bruno. Use him with different vegetables, meats, add-ins (fresh chillies, sliced ginger, herbs, etc.). I bet you’ll love him as much as I have loved him and only him these past several years.

    1 This is contingent upon how long this blog lasts.

    2 Have you visited Oyster Food and Culture? LouAnn, the Oyster maestra herself, tackles ingredients, food items, and various locations around the globe on a topical basis; i.e., she focuses on one food item/group and one place in the world at a time and gives you all the information she has compiled to date on that particular food item and place all in one post. It’s not a rare occurrence that I sit in front of my computer screen, thoroughly enjoying an oysterculture post and, within 10-15 minutes, find myself going from not knowing about something to knowing a lot about that thing. And it doesn’t even feel like reading a textbook!

91 Responses to Soy Sauces Used in Modern Thai Cooking and How to Make Your Own All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce

  1. Marvin January 31, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    Awesome post leela. Thanks for sharing bruno, and especially for sharing your secret ratios!

  2. Astrid January 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    I grew up with Maggi…in Germany I had to google it but Maggi is actually German I wonder how it got so big in Thailand

  3. Leela January 31, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

    Astrid – Yep, Maggi is made by Nestlé with production bases throughout Asia including Thailand. I have never had the original German Maggi. Would be interesting to see if Nestlé uses the same recipe worldwide. My guess is no. The bottle I have is made in China, by the way.

  4. Manggy January 31, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    Excellent. I love that it has built-in cornstarch, too. Thanks for sharing your (extensive) knowledge!

  5. Arwen from Hoglet K February 1, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    I love the way your sauce has a name! It’s convenient to have it ready to go in the fridge too.

  6. OysterCulture February 1, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    Hi Bruno – I know I am going to like you and intend to take you home! What a great idea! I love it.

    I love the connection you made with the special time you had with your dad. I agree with you every dad should try to have a date with their daughter. It makes them feel very special – and how wonderful that you can recall those memories on a regular basis as a simple response to using a condiment.

    Wow, I do not know where to begin:
    Your comment about Maggi not being a soy sauce because its made of wheat. From what I read on soy sauce, most of the “soy sauces” found in the US are either wheat or other grain based or some combination with soy, so it may still count. I looked at your link, and although it does not come out and say it, I wonder if its classified as a type of liquid amino. Hmm, now I’m curious.

    First, thank you for this post, you I was very excited to discover it was in the works, and thank you so much for accelerating your schedule. I am very happy! =)

    Finally, I am truly humbled by your comments regarding my posts, thanks so much for the compliment. I am always amazed when people read and even more take the time to respond to my ramblings – I write with no rhyme or reason, just pick a topic that interests me, and am always grateful that people respond. You made my day – again!

  7. KennyT February 1, 2010 at 4:45 am #

    Wonderful!! I’m a great friend of Thai food’s!!

  8. shaz February 1, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Love this post and I grew up on Maggi too (being Malaysian that’s hardly surprising). Also a staple at home was the Lee Kum Kee :). Bruno is such a great idea!

  9. Leela February 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    OysterCulture – Ha. It’s just a disclaimer of sorts to guard myself against random zealous hair-splitters, if you know what I mean. You’re right. If the absence of soy disqualifies a sauce from being called a soy sauce, many of what we now call soy sauce would all be renamed. 🙂

    Now you got me thinking — sweet dark soy sauce is made of sugar or sugar byproducts plus soy sauce (according to the label, anyway). If the soy sauce which is a subset of dark sweet soy sauce is one of those wheat-derived liquid aminos, then sweet dark soy sauce isn’t soy sauce either.

  10. Leela February 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    shaz – Lee Kum Kee rules! Oh, yeah.

  11. Tiffiny Felix February 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    I’m impressed…it takes a strong, confident woman to share her Bruno. I promise I’ll take good care of him 😉

  12. Tangled Noodle February 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    I am so guilty of being a one-soy-sauce-fits-all cook! Thanks for this primer; much like your coconut milk review, I appreciate learning about the differences that make, well, all the difference in a recipe. 😎

  13. formerchef February 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    Great post. These are the main ingredients I put in my own stir frys but I never thought of making a “Bruno.” I’m going to have to try it.

  14. Quasi Serendipita February 2, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    I think we may invite Bruno to dinner…

  15. Astrid February 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    I currently have a central American Maggi and if there is a difference I at least can’t taste it.
    I’ll make a point of buying an Asian version next

  16. 5 Star Foodie February 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    A very informative post on sauces and your bruno sauce sounds excellent!

  17. Leela February 3, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    Thanks for the info, Astrid. I’m doing the opposite; I’m trying to get a hold of some German Maggi! 🙂

    Who needs wine, olive oil, or chocolate tasting parties? Let’s do a Maggi terroir tasting.

  18. Nekoneko February 3, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    Great post, and very informative!! I like Thai food, but don’t know all that much about any authentic stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    Your “Bruno” reminds me of my own homemade all purpose curry paste that lives waaay in the back of my fridge, both at home and at work. (But I honestly never thought to give my lil’ friend a name… Till now, Hehehehe!!)

  19. lisaiscooking February 3, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

    Bruno sounds like a lot of fun to have around the kitchen! He would definitely boost my stir-frying confidence.

  20. Juliana February 4, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Bruno sauce…like it 🙂 Thanks for sharing the information about the sauces!

  21. Zen Chef February 4, 2010 at 4:29 am #

    Wow.. you opened my eyes about soy sauce! I don’t know half of the brands you listed on this post. I need to go explore my Thai market a little more often.

    Thank you for sharing your secrets about your secret lover, Bruno. I never been called stellar, solid, consistent and always satisfying in the same sentence before. 😛

    I gotta try it. Sounds really good!

  22. Karen February 10, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    Well, I invited Bruno over for dinner tonight, and he was absolutely wonderful. Bruno got a little kick from some chili oil and fresh ginger and garlic, which was wonderful with the shrimp, chicken, veggies and fresh rice noodles that kept him company on my plate. A Caveat to anyone who has never used fresh rice noodles (me) and is not familiar how to prepare them (me), They are not the easiest things to work with. The package says “Do not open package. Microwave” Which makes things clear as mud, doncha think? 😉

  23. Leela February 10, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    Thanks for taking good care of Bruno and for the report, Karen.:)

  24. heatherinsf April 6, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    I just heard about Bruno and am in love… Thank you!

  25. Nui May 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    Your story about Dad pouring dark soy sauce over your chicken rice reminded me of my son when he was young. He loved si-ew, even until he was pretty old enough to enjoy the more sophiscated Kao Man Kai sauce, he still preferred soaking his chicken rice with sweet soy sauce!

    I can also vouch for your story on secret sauces in Thai restaurant kitchens. I used to hang out at my friend’s restaurant in Toronto so often, that for a short time I even helped out as staff. He made great ready-to-cook curry and basil sauces, and his dishes could be cooked in 5 minutes.

  26. John May 19, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

    Maggi sauce differs depending on the country. Wandering Chopsticks did a taste test here:

    My Vietnamese friends insist the “Imported from Europe” version tastes better than the less expensive Chinese version seen in the U.S. I haven’t picked up the subtleties, but they are amused at my preference for Mexican Coke or Kosher-for-Passover Coke over regular American Coke.

  27. Anonymous June 28, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    My Thai grocery lady was telling me about this customer who came into her store looking for ‘magic’ sauce, and how she could not figure out what he wanted, no matter how insistent he got about how commonplace it was in Thailand. We eventually twigged that it was ‘Maggi’ sauce he wanted! I’m thinking that your Bruno might be the real magic sauce, and thanks for the recipe.

  28. da wiz January 11, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    Thanks a lot for Bruno. However, I am looking for the ingredient that gives a sort of smoky or barbecued flavour to the sauce. Many Thai restaurants in NZ as well as those I have visited in the US seem to have this smoky flavour in most, if not all, their stir-fry dishes.

  29. Leela January 11, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    da wiz – Two possibilities off the top of my head:

    1. The smoky flavor you are referring to doesn’t come from the sauce but from the way in which the stir-fry is made, i.e. in a steel wok and over extremely high heat. This results in what the Chinese call “wok hei” or the so-called “secret restaurant smell.” I have discussed this in my Pad See-Ew post (see comments on that post also).

    2. The stir-fry sauce contains Thai chilli jam or Nam Prik Pao which is sweet-ish and smoky. I’m planning on posting on how to make this ingredient from scratch (and the many, many ways you can use it) very soon. But you don’t have to use homemade Nam Prik Pao; you can use the store-bought kind which is excellent. It’s available in most Southeast Asian grocery store in the chilli paste section. If not, Amazon definitely has it. Just add a tablespoon of Nam Prik Pao to every 1/2 of Bruno and you’re all set.

  30. Leela January 11, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    da wiz – correction: every 1/2 CUP of Bruno. Sorry. 😛

  31. Sarah January 25, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    I think Bruno and I would make good friends! 😛

  32. Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday) August 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Excellent post! I need to send ppl this way.

    One thing I actually noticed (very recently, in fact) that my bottle of Thai-bought Maggi actually IS soy-based. I have always thought it was wheat-based as well.

  33. Admin August 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Kat – I’ve noticed that too. Don’t have a confirmation on this from the manufacturer, but based on my own experiment of taste-testing different Maggis from Mexico, Poland, Germany, US, and Thailand, they taste different.

    I have a feeling the formula of Maggi is Thailand has been made soy-based (instead of the ambiguous “vegetable protein-based”) because that’s what goes best with Thai and Chinese-Thai food. Besides, one of its biggest competitors, Golden Mountain, is also soy-based.

    Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll have to add this to the post.

  34. Anonymous August 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    i just read about your ‘bruno’. sounds very interesting, i just wonder if the ‘wok smell’ will appear at the end of cooking when 1/2C of bruno and 3/4C of water aadded with the lid on?

  35. Admin August 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Anon – In general, the wok smell applies to dry stir-fries like pad see-ew, fried rice, or dishes where you want dried, caramelized, charred bits. Bruno, functioning both as a seasoning and thickening ingredient, works best for saucier stir-fries.

  36. Neil September 25, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Hello, thanks for the recipe!

    The ingredients on this page doesn’t mention the 2 parts oyster sauce in the downloadable instructions.

  37. Admin September 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Neil – Thank you. The mistake was actually in the text-only printable version. Regardless, it’s fixed now. Good catch. Thanks again.

  38. Mother Sweden October 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    I just found you yesterday, courtesy of Mr. Lebowitz, and I love you. Truly I do. I just made your Sweet Chili Sauce. Tomorrow will be your Satay sauce, Bruno and who knows what else? Thank you. Winter in Sweden just got a LOT spicier!

  39. Admin October 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Mother Sweden – You’re too cute. 🙂 Thank you.

  40. Ben January 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    This blog is amazing….

    I have a question, I have no thai background and can’t seem to get the right soy sauce(s) for Pad See-Ew it seems like the sauces are labeled in such a way to maximize confusion. Some are dark soy, and some are thick soy, and some are sweet dark soy. Some have medium sweetness and others are just sweet. Is there anyway to be clear about this and be assured I get the right one? Is black (not sweet soy) ever used in pad see-ew?

  41. Admin January 9, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    Ben – I hear you. It’s frustrating. My Pad See-ew recipe calls for two kinds of soy sauce are called for: sweet dark soy and light soy sauce. The sweet dark soy (aka kecap manis) is required; the light soy sauce you can probably substitute with dark soy, if that’s what you have.

    Are you also asking for specific brands? Let me know if that’s the case, and I’ll link to the specifc products.

  42. ben January 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Well I suppose I just want to clarify in general black soy sauce means dark soy sauce, and if the sauce is sweet (kecap manis) this will be labeled? Also golden mountain sauce is actually dark soy? I have both golden mountain sauce and dragonflybrand black soy sauce and to me the golden mountain tastes more like healthy boy brand light soy sauce, but maybe that is just my novice tastebuds fooling me.

  43. Judon January 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    What a find this site is!! Thank you.
    Is sesame oil you use in Bruno the dark toasted oil?
    I’m heading to our local Asian mart tomorrow and can’t wait to try ‘Bruno.’

  44. Admin January 19, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Judon – Yep.

  45. Admin January 20, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    Ben – It’s probably best not to call the different types of soy sauce by their brand names as each brand makes at least 4-5 formulae.

    But I think you’re referring to Golden Mountain soy with the green label and cap (which is the predominant type found in the US) in which case, yes, that is dark soy. As for the Dragonfly soy you have, if it’s sweet soy as opposed to dark soy, it would say so on the label — unfortunately in Thai. The only way to know for sure whether you have the sweet dark soy is to taste it. If it’s sweet, then it is. Labeling things in English is not these manufacturers’ strong suit, as you can tell.

    I don’t want to get into comparing different formulae of soy sauce made by different brands (e.g. is GM’s dark soy the same as HB’s light soy?) as it would make things even more confusing. Both Golden Mountain and Healthy Boy make so many formulae of soy and label them so arbitrarily that it’s almost impossible to keep track of all of them or make sense of what each one is.

    I think I may have to write a follow-up post. 🙂

  46. Tam January 31, 2012 at 1:16 am #

    Do you know of any good gluten-free soy sauces? I’ve tried one brand, but it was very thin and I wasn’t a huge fan of the flavor. My husband and I love to make Thai food at home, and finding a good soy sauce we could use would expand our options so much!

  47. Admin February 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Tam – As far as I know (and I admit I have not looked into this closely enough), soy sauces made in the Chinese tradition (which are used most, if not all, of the time in Thai cooking) are made with no wheat (unlike Kikkoman type of soy sauce) and thus should be gluten-free.

    Can anyone confirm this?

  48. peppercornstuff February 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    fantastic post – i learnt a lot and have gone a purchased some sweet dark soy to try out. however, i do feel the article is a bit mis-leading about MSG. it implies that it is only present in oyster sauce but most of the sauces listed especially maggi sauce consist largely of MSG. MSG can carry a bit of bad name with some people so wouldn’t want oyster sauce to be misaligned especially when all the brands of oysters sauce i’ve used and chinese soy sauces don’t have MSG in them.

  49. More Cowbell March 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Just FYI, many, if not most, Chinese sauces/condiments can be found MSG-less, if you’re willing to spend the time. I used to teach a Chinese stir fry class, and the school demanded that we not use MSG for legal reasons. It took me many visits to many different Asian markets to find the sauces, but most were available without MSG.

    Doesn’t invalidate your point about restaurants — they’re not going to bother, I don’t imagine, maybe not even the ones that claim to use no MSG. But for the home cook, MSG issues need not prevent enjoying home cooked Asian meals that use bottled/canned condiments and sauces…although if you’re used to the flavors of restaurant dishes, that missing MSG will be noticeable. Just my two cents.

  50. Eric April 5, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    Do you really not use any oil in your pan before adding the veggies? How do you keep things from sticking?

  51. Admin April 5, 2012 at 5:04 am #

    Eric – On moderate heat, vegetables shouldn’t stick to the pan, especially if the pan’s well-seasoned. You can even use a nonstick pan since this doesn’t require cooking over extremely high heat like many stir-fry dishes do.

  52. Douglas April 28, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    I made some bruno so I would eat more veggies and have something else to put nam prik pao on. Something wasn’t quite right – too much white pepper or something. Reviewing the comments I see that I left out the oyster sauce. The downloadable version and text only version do have the correction, but the recipe stated on this page does not have it and that’s what I was looking at. Still, anything with nam prik pao added is tasty. ;-}

  53. Ekes Gonini June 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Bruno has changed my life. Or at least the way I make stir fries. Thank you!

  54. akoh August 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Ha, Maggi is as big in Subsaharan Africa as it is in Asia actually. I have friends from Kenya, Senegal and Cameroon that use it religiously!

  55. Admin August 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    akoh – Interesting. I’ve been told it’s pretty big in South America as well.

  56. Sarah September 20, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    Thank u for the explanation on the different soy sauce. What is the difference btwn Chinese light soy sauce vs Thai light soy sauce? Do they taste different? Can they be used interchangeable?

    • Leela September 20, 2012 at 8:19 am #

      The differences are barely noticeable when used in a dish (more noticeable if you use it as a dipping sauce). In general, it’s always best to use Thai brands of soy sauce in Thai recipes, but, if necessary, I think the two can be used interchangeably.

  57. hanksyd October 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Regarding Bruno ratios, does anyone know how many grams or tablespoons goes into the ” 1 part cornstarch ” for the Bruno recipe ?

    • Leela October 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      In this case, it’s volume measurement. So whatever you use to measure the other ingredients, use it to measure the cornstarch.

  58. Mo December 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    is there a substitution for Chinese wine and cherry?

    • Leela December 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      If alcohol is the issue, you can simply replace it with chicken or beef broth or just water.

  59. is3000 December 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Just to clarify, is there no oyster sauce in the Bruno recipe? It looks like there may still be a reference to it in this paragraph: “Containing soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese wine…”

    • Leela December 11, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      Oh, a mistake must have been made (although I don’t see how it could have happened) when I lasted edited the post. It’s fixed now. Thank you for alerting my attention to this.

  60. ElCee January 26, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Love, love, LOVING this site since discovering it a few days ago…you’ve helped me crack the pad see ew recipes that hadn’t been working for me and it feels like every time I drop by, I learn a few hundred more things about Thai cooking! I’m about to borrow Bruno from you tomorrow if that’s ok and also make your grandmother’s Yellow Chicken Stew but I have one question…what exactly is Chinese cooking wine? I have a funny feeling that if I get the wrong thing it’s going to totally mess up both recipes tomorrow!
    Can’t wait to get going now, thank you so much 🙂 Cat x

    • Leela January 26, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      ElCee, it also goes by shaoxing wine, a kind of rice wine used both as beverage and as a cooking wine: You can find it as most Asian, especially Chinese, stores.

  61. is3000 March 5, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I made Bruno tonight and, whew, he came out peppery! I’m tasting from an American palate but I like spicy food, so I was surprised. Most of what I’m tasting seems to be the sesame oil and the white pepper. Here’s what I used in case I got the ratio wrong:

    1/4 cup Thai light soy sauce (Healthy Boy)
    1/2 cup oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee Premium)
    1/4 cup Thai dark soy sauce (Healthy Boy)
    1/4 cup Chinese wine (Kikkoman Aji-Mirin)
    1/4 cup cornstarch (Argo)
    2 Tbsp sesame oil (Dynasty)
    1 Tbsp ground white pepper (Sauer’s)

    Mirin was all I had on hand. Maybe switching to Shaoxing would change the flavor profile.

    I diluted 1/2 cup of it with 3/4 cup water to make things easy.

    It tastes good! Subtle but very peppery.

  62. Rachel April 9, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you for this very informative read! I always wondered about the sweet/dark/white thing…

    BTW, in my house, we use Oyster Sauce as a table sauce…although only for one dish that we make with eggs, sausage, onion, tomato and serve with rice.

    And thanks for sharing BRUNO, I’m sure he will get much love from my family 🙂

  63. Pcs May 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Just wanted to say thanks for the blog. I’ve discovered bruno, forgot about it and found it again and will try soon.

    Anyways, regarding oyster sauce, I like to it as a cross between cooking and table sauce at least in reference to Hong Kong/Chinese cooking. It is used as a condiment usually and we use it to top vegetables or mixed in to noodles for a simple quick dish mainly at wonton shops.

    There’s others I can’t think now but its pretty ubiquitous in Cantonese/HK foods and is pretty well substituted for soy sauce as a condiment in most cases.

  64. Johana June 21, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Leela, does your Bruno have an expiration date? how long would you advise to consume it for? Thank you

    • Leela June 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      Johana – I go through Bruno pretty quickly, so the biggest batch (a gallon) never gone longer than 3 months in the fridge. So based on first-hand experience, I would say that’s the expiration date, even though I personally think that, made of mostly shelf-stable ingredients, he should last even longer than that.

  65. paul June 22, 2013 at 11:29 am #


    Big fan of your blog.

    Hope you get this before dinner time.

    I want to make Pad See-Ew. I’ve got everything but the Sweet dark soy sauce.
    Can I substitute it (never used it so not sure of it’s taste) I’ve got Tamari sauce, that and sugar perhaps?
    Or should I get my lazy ass to the store??

    • Leela June 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Paul – I’m not a fan of using soy sauce made according to Japanese tradition (tamari, etc.) in Thai or even Chinese-influenced Thai food such as PSE (to be fair, serving sushi with Thai style soy sauce would be just as bad). If it’s within reason to go get dark sweet soy sauce before dinner today, I would do that.

  66. Vishaka June 23, 2013 at 9:50 am #


    I am Thai/Indian and only lived in Bangkok when I was young. So I wouldn’t call myself native but I understand Thai etc. I love eating and making Thai food and your blog is fabulous!

    Anyway the soya sauce article was great but just confused me a bit.
    I have no problem with light thin soya sauce ( even though somehow i have ended up with no 1 and no5 from Thailand and they both taste the same to me!)but the dark soya sauce has completely confused me. I have the dark soya sauce no 5 which is sweet I believe and bought this in England from a Thai shop where I live. However I can never find the dark soya sauce you are talking about. The Golden Mountain sauce I have I bought in Thailand which has a green cap but it just says seasoning sauce- is this the dark non sweet soya sauce you are talking about?

    Would love clarification on this- thanks!


    • Leela July 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      Vishaka – That soy sauce post needs to be updated, and that will be done soon. In the meantime, you can use the green-cap Golden Mountain wherever non-sweet, dark soy sauce is called for on my blog.

  67. Ann K. October 11, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    I am Thai and I have been using Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce all my life. I just can’t stir fry Pad See Eew (Thai style chowfun) without several dashes of the seasoning sauce. My steak or grilled pork will not hold the same aroma and taste without the sauce. But I will not put the sauce into any Chinese style soup because of its strong soy sauce flavor.

    You are so right about using the right sauce with the right cuisine. No crossover. Eastern and Southeast Asian cooking will yield the different tastes and tones.

  68. ruthie November 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    You can get oyster sauce without MSG. I used to teach Chinese cooking, and we had to find as many sauces and condiments without MSG as we could to avoid law suits by students who had the sensitivity but didn’t bother to mention it to the instructor.

    Where does Chinese dark soy fall in this category. It is very black and thick but is less salty than regular soy sauce, not just Kikkoman. I liked it because it gave good color to dishes without being OTT salty.


    • Leela November 15, 2013 at 9:06 am #

      ruthie – Chinese dark soy isn’t used much in Thai cooking. Thin (white) soy sauce is used much more.

  69. Ralph February 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Hi Leela

    I lived for 15 years in Thailand and miss Thai food a lot. Thanks to your blog I am able to treat myself so some delicious Thai food (even bought myself the 17000 BTU burner to get real heat in the wok for my all time favorite – pad thai 🙂 ).

    Since I love oyster-sauce, but hate MSG, I checked a lot of different brands of the stuff. As it is sold in Germany as well and the manufacturer must declare the ingredients of foodstuff by law, here the list of indication of ingredients form the Mae Krua Oystersauce (the only one so far I have found without Monosodium glutamate or other artificial flavor enhancer). Here the link to, its for sale there as well: :

    Austernextrakt (oyster extract) 30%, Zucker (sugar), Salz (salt), Sojabohnen (soy beens), Weizenmehl (wheat flour), Maisstärke (corn starch), Konservierungsstoff E211(preserving agent sodium benzoate).

    So, thanx for the great work and effort you put into your blog and I hope this information helps a bit to live a life without MSG.


    • Leela February 10, 2014 at 8:56 am #

      Ralph – Thank you! Very helpful to me and, I’m sure, the readers.

  70. Ben July 28, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Leela is the wine that is pictured the brand you use to make bruno with?

    • Leela August 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      Ben – Yes. But other brands work just as well, if not better. Golden Pagoda, for example, makes good Chinese rice wines.


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