Nuoc cham is the quintessential Vietnamese dipping sauce. It is used in a variety of Vietnamese dishes in many applications. Every family has their own variation of this sauce, and this is my family’s recipe! Included in this recipe are instructions on how to make different variations of this sauce and substitutions for ingredients.
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.
What is nuoc cham and how is it used?
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 nuoc cham for some extra flavor. It was one way she tried to get me to eat veggies. Because of its 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 nuoc cham – nem nuong spring rolls and banh beo.
Nuoc Cham Video!
What is the difference between nuoc mam and nuoc cham?
There is no difference between them. They are 2 different names for the same sauce. Nuoc cham translates to “dipping sauce” while nuoc mam pha translates to “mixed fish sauce”.
Vietnamese 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 the lime juice and 1 Thai chili for the red garlic sauce. You can use regular white vinegar or rice wine vinegar.
What kind of fish sauce should you use to make nuoc cham?
I typically use Three Crabs Fish Sauce for my nuoc cham. It is the one I grew up having, and it has amazing flavor. Another fish sauce brand I like is Red Boat Fish Sauce.
What can I eat with nuoc cham?
This sauce is a cornerstone of Vietnamese cuisine and can be found in a lot of Vietnamese dishes. It is used as a dipping sauce for Vietnamese spring rolls and com tam, a dressing for vermicelli bowls like bun cha gio, and even Vietnamese salads like goi ga. And Vietnamese families in general use it as an all purpose dipping sauce. For example, I typically use it as a dip for raw vegetables.
How do you store nuoc cham?
Nuoc cham should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container. It can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.
Did you make this Vietnamese Dipping Sauce?
If you made this Vietnamese staple, I would love to see!
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Traditional Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp chili garlic sauce
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- Combine the garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, chili garlic sauce, sugar, and water in a small bowl. Mix well.
- Taste some of the sauce to ensure it's seasoned to your liking. If you want it to taste more sour, add more lime juice. If you want it to taste sweeter, add more sugar.
- How to adjust the flavor of the sauce so it’s right for you. If the sauce tastes too sour, add more sugar. If the sauce is too sweet, add more lime juice. If the fish sauce flavor is too strong, add more water. You can also omit the red garlic sauce if you don’t want a spicy sauce.
- How do you store nuoc cham? Store this sauce in an airtight container for up to a month in the fridge.
- The chili garlic sauce makes the sauce a little spicy. This can be substituted with Thai red chilis. Keep in mind that Thai chilis are a lot spicier than the chili garlic sauce, so be careful how many you add. You can add as many as you want.
- Some variations of this sauce use white vinegar instead of lime juice. This gives the sauce a different but still yummy flavor. Substitute 1 tbsp of white vinegar for every 2 tbsp of lime juice. But as I mentioned above, add more or less according to how sour you like your sauce.
- Another substitution for lime juice is lemon juice.
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