If there is 1 thing that I use on a day-to-day basis when making Vietnamese dishes is fish sauce. Fish sauce is a smelly but tasty seasoning that Vietnamese people use in everything. (As a side note, it seems like most Vietnamese ingredients have a common theme: smelly but tasty lol) I remember watching a TV show once with Gordon Ramsey, and he said to a chef, “I’m surprised you’re putting fish sauce in that ground pork.” And the chef said, “If you don’t put fish sauce, then it’s not Vietnamese.” lol One of the most common uses of fish sauce is in Nuoc Cham (pronounced like nook-mam) or better known as Vietnamese dipping sauce.
The Many Uses of Nuoc Cham
Nuoc cham is a sauce that is used for dipping and as a vinaigrette in vermicelli bowls or salads. The recipe does not change whether you’re using it for one or the other. As a kid, I would use it for flavoring a lot of different things. Sometimes my mom would just cut up fresh vegetables for me and I would dip them in ngoc cham for some extra flavor. It was one way she tried to get me to eat veggies. lol Because of it’s varied uses, we would always have a jar of this stuff in our fridge.
Even with its complex flavor, the sauce is made with a few simple ingredients you can find in any grocery store. Lime juice, garlic, sugar, water, fish sauce, and red garlic sauce. Mix all these together and pour into a jar for safe keeping. The sauce can keep up to a month. Two of my most recent recipes that use ngoc cham – nem nuong spring rolls and banh beo.
Dipping Sauce Variations
Everyone has their own version of this recipe. My aunt Huong (aka Hollywood) has a yummy version of this recipe using white vinegar instead of lime juice. Using white vinegar is common in Vietnamese restaurants because it’s cheaper and easier to make. To make this variation, substitute 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for lime juice and 1 Thai chili for the red garlic sauce. You can use regular white vinegar or rice wine vinegar.
Did you make this Vietnamese Dipping Sauce?
If you made this Vietnamese staple, I would love to see!
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
- Combine the lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, red garlic sauce, sugar, and water in a small bowl. Mix well and pour into a jar for safe keeping.