If for some crazy reason, you ever wanted to rid the world of Vietnamese food, you have to start by destroying every bottle of fish sauce! This is because fish sauce to Vietnamese food is like tomato sauce at a sausage sizzle. You simply can’t have one without the other.
Many traditional Vietnamese dishes require a sauce made from fish sauce to bring it to life. This sauce is known as nuoc mam and is basically the lifeblood of Vietnamese cuisine. The principal ingredient in nuoc mam is fish sauce which funnily enough in Vietnamese is also called nuoc mam! In my family we have three major variations of this sauce to accompany our dishes. This includes a different nuoc mam recipe for dipping, noodles and salads. Today I am showing you my family’s dipping sauce, or nuoc mam cham.
It is my honest opinion that there is no nuoc mam recipe to rule them all. To me, nuoc mam is personal. It all comes down to your preferences in balancing the saltiness of the fish sauce, the acidity of the lime / lemon juice and the sweetness of the sugar. Hence, if you’re trying this recipe, I would encourage you to tinker with your ratios if you are not at first completely sold with the taste.
If I had to describe our family’s nuoc mam recipe, in comparison to others it would be a sweeter sauce with a bit of bite. This is because my parents come from Saigon which is in the southern part of Vietnam. My mother tells me that in the south they generally like to increase the sugar and lime ratio while the north prefer it with more fish sauce.
So, what foods should you use with my family’s southern style nuoc mam cham? I strongly suggest trying it out with Vietnamese spring rolls or rice paper rolls. Don’t get me wrong, I love sweet chilli and hoisin sauce with these dishes, but I am asking you one time to go authentic. You might never go back!
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce - Nuoc Mam Cham
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml of boiling water
- 3 tbsp of sugar
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml of fish sauce
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml of fresh lime juice
- 1/2 tsp of minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp of finely chopped chilli (optional)
- In a small bowl add the sugar to the boiling water and stir through until dissolved.
- Add and stir through the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilli.
- Let the sauce sit for 30 minutes for the flavour to develop.
- The sugar will not completely dissolve in the boiling water. However, it should completely dissolve once the other ingredients are added.
- If you prefer not to have garlic floating in you nuoc mam, then flatten the garlic and let it infuse in the nuoc mam. Remove the garlic before serving.