Whenever we go out to our favourite Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto to get our pho fix, we would always order a side of Vietnamese fried spring rolls and summer rolls. Accompanied with these appetizers, served on the side in a little bowl, is this indispensable sauce in Vietnamese cuisine, nuoc mam.
For those who have never had Vietnamese food before, some of the dishes may taste underwhelming at first until they figure out that it is essential to pair it with the nuoc mam dipping sauce.
Addicting and so incredibly flavourful, this classic sauce is used in many Vietnamese dishes like vermicelli bowls, spring rolls, and steamed rice rolls, just to name a few.
This sauce is beautifully balanced with salty, sweet, tangy, garlicky, and spicy flavour profiles.
It is a great condiment to make and have around to give your dishes a little extra punch of flavour.
With its complex flavour, some may think nuoc mam may be difficult to make. Well, it’s actually really simple to whip up.
In this recipe, we will show you how to make this easy Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce – nuoc mam cham. All you need are a few ingredients, most of which you probably have already sitting in your kitchen right now.
What You’ll Need To Make Nuoc Mam
The ingredients that you will need to make this nuoc mam cham are water, fish sauce (Three Crabs brand was used in this recipe), sugar, lime, white vinegar, garlic and Thai chilies.
If you don’t know where to find fish sauce, then you should check out your local Asian grocery stores. The majority of those stores would carry them.
You can even find it in the Asian aisles of big box stores and your local supermarkets.
What is the Difference Between Nuoc Mam and Nuoc Cham?
So what exactly is nuoc mam? In Vietnamese, nuoc mam can mean the popular dipping sauce made with fish sauce alongside a few other ingredients like garlic, chili, sugar, and lime; or it can mean the pungent fermented fish sauce – like the Three Crabs and the Squid Brand bottled fish sauces you would often come across at your local Asian grocery stores.
Nuoc cham just means “sauce” in general. It can refer to any type of sauce.
How Long Can You Store Nuoc Mam
The shelf life of this sauce is dependent on whether fresh lime juice or vinegar was used. If you are using fresh ingredients like lime juice, you can store it for about 1 week or 2, but it tastes its best when used immediately. Nuoc mam that mostly contains vinegar will last much longer when properly stored, which can last up to 2 months.
Dishes to Pair Nuoc Mam With
This sauce is great to add to many types of dishes. It can help brighten up foods that are more subtle in flavour, giving it that extra oomph to your taste buds. It also goes amazingly with fried and grilled dishes as well.
- Goi Cuon (Fresh Summer Rolls)
- Cha Gio (Deep Fried Spring Rolls)
- Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Rolls)
- Vermicelli Bowls
- Grilled Meats
- Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese Crepes)
Nuoc mam is very accommodating to personal taste preferences as it can be easily adjusted. There are numerous versions floating around out there with different flavour intensities.
Everyone has a different taste preference after all. Some like it sweeter, while others might like theirs more savoury, tangy, garlicky, or spicier.
There are no right or wrong ways in making this fantastic sauce. We have even seen nuoc mam recipes that use coco rico, a coconut flavour soda.
So feel free to adjust the levels of the ingredients to your liking and make it the perfect sauce that works for you.
Tips in Making Nuoc Mam
- Use hot water when you are trying to melt your sugar. Hot water dissolves the sugar faster, which helps make adjustments to the dipping sauce more accurate. Sugar takes longer to melt in cold water, so you might end up with a sweeter sauce than initially thought when taste testing.
- Use fresh lime juices. Try to avoid using bottled lime juices as those can leave your nuoc mam tasting off and bitter.
- How to pick juicy limes – Choose lime that has a smooth skin, and should be firm but with a little give when gently squeezed. Weight matters too, the heavier the more ripe.
- With the palm of your hand, press and roll the lime back and forth a few times on your counter. This will help break up some of the membranes in the fruit, softening the flesh inside, which allows easier release of its juices when squeezed.
- If your garlic and chilies are sinking to the bottom and you want them to stay afloat on top, try letting it sit in some lime juice for about 10-15 minutes before combining it into the sauce. This is also great to mellow out the flavour of garlic if you are not a fan of it’s strong taste and aroma. Soaking the garlic in acid like lime juice helps lessen the pungent flavour.
Nuoc Mam Cham – Easy Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce Recipe
- 1 Cup of Water
- 1/2 Cup of Sugar
- 1/2 Cup of Fish Sauce
- 1/4 Cup Lime Juice
- 2 Tablespoons White Vinegar
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- 2 Thai Chilies
- Have your hot water ready and pour in your sugar. Stir it until all the sugar is melted where you don’t feel any more of the granules.
- Add fish sauce into the sugar water mix.
- squeeze and measure out your lime juice, and add it to the sauce. Scrape in some of the lime flesh too, and mix.
- Add in the white vinegar.
- Smash your garlic, remove the skin and then finely mince it.
- Chop the Thai chili peppers.
- Add the minced garlic and chopped chilies into the sauce, stir and enjoy.