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The BEST Authentic Nuoc Mam Recipe (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and Vinaigrette)

Learn how to make the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce called nuoc mam.

Nuoc mam is one of the most essential recipes to have on hand in Vietnamese cuisine. Nuoc mam is a chile, lime, sweet and sour dipping sauce that is often used as a vinaigrette. It is used and accompanied with a multitude of Vietnamese culinary dishes that helps bring out the flavor of dishes like spring rolls (cha gio), grilled pork and rice (thit nuong), and my all-time favorite pork and mushroom crepes (banh cuon).

For westerners trying Vietnamese dishes for the first time, some Vietnamese dishes can seem bland until they find out that dipping sauces like nuoc cham that are mandatory for bringing out the flavors of the dish! So if you want to taste and experience a Vietnamese cuisine in its full glory, you must take what seems like an optional side seasoning and add it to the dish after it’s presented in front of you. Nuoc mam is an essential recipe that you’ll want to have mastered (which is really easy to do) to bring out all the flavors.

Nuoc Mam is also known under the moniker of nuoc mam, nuoc mam cham, and nuoc mam pha. While each of these names refer to the same dipping sauce recipe, the translation means something a little different.

  • Nuoc mam pha means mixed fish sauce.
  • Nuoc mam cham means fish sauce for dipping
  • Nuoc mam means fish sauce.

Now, you’re probably wondering: Doesn’t nuoc mam mean the fish sauce that is the bottled version without the chili and sugar? That is a long-held heated debate among the Vietnamese community!

nuoc mam cham recipe vietnamese

Understand that Nuoc Mam Can Refer to Two Different Things

Nuoc mam can refer to the regular fish sauce which is the dark brown, fermented condiment that is used in Vietnamese cuisines. Brands that you may be familiar with are Squid Brand (Phu Quoc) and Three Crabs (Viet Huong).

Nuoc mam can also refer to the sweet chili, sugar garlic dipping sauce as well (the topic of this post).

As an analogy, it’s kind of like how some regions of the United States refer some soda pops as Coke, even though it might not be the brand Coke they are referring to.

I know this is very confusing if you are trying to understand Vietnamese cuisine, but it is an intense and mind bending debate on why the same description of a cuisine also is used for a specific ingredient.

So in short, nuoc mam can mean both bottled fish sauce or a dipping sauce that goes with various Vietnamese dishes.

nuoc mam cham recipe vietnamese

Differences in Nuoc Mam Recipe Between Regions in Vietnam

Nuoc mam is prepared with a few differences among regions in Vietnam. For example, in northern regions, the dipping sauce is made with broth. In the heart of central Vietnam, they use less water and broth, which means the sauce tends to be stronger and bolder. In the southern areas, nuoc mam uses a base with coconut water.

The common ground is that nuoc mam recipes share the main ingredients of fish sauce, sugar, water, bird’s eyes chiles, and garlic.

The Various Adaptations of Vietnamese Nuoc Mam Recipes

With all these different regional differences, you’ll also see various ways Nuoc Mam has been adapted. For example, some recipes like mine will boil the sugar water to completely dissolve it while other recipes just have all of the ingredients diluted by just shaking it in a jar. Some of them also have you add Coco Rico Soda in place of water.

Even with all of the various adaptation of this dipping sauce, one thing remains true: the recipes in general for nuoc mam really easy to make. And if you store it in an airtight container, this delicious vinaigrette will stay good in the fridge for up to four months.

One thing you want to avoid is allowing the fish sauce ingredient to over power the entire recipe because different brands of fish sauce have different potent levels. The color and grade of nuoc mam may look different due to the nuoc mam that is actually used in the recipe. Nuoc mam comes in various colors and grades. For example, palm sugar tends to make nuoc mam darker.

In most Vietnamese restaurants, they make nuoc mam in large batches. For the acidic taste, they’ll use vinegar instead of lemons because it is more cost effective. You may also find that they won’t add minced garlic, but this is what makes homemade nuoc mam so great – you can add all the flavor without any shortcuts.

You’ll probably want to start with my recipe and perfect it to what your family loves, depending on whether they want a milder taste or sweeter flavor.

Common Vietnamese Cuisines that Use Nuoc Mam

Nuoc mam is a slightly sweet and tangy delicious dipping sauce that accompanies a lot of Vietnamese dishes, often as a dipping sauce or as a vinaigrette.

Vietnamese egg rolls and spring rolls use it as a dipping sauce to add a bolder flavor.

Grilled pork (thit nuong) over a bed of rice and fried egg uses nuoc mam as a dressing that is absolutely delicious. The same goes for a similar recipe that uses vermicelli noodles.

Banh ot, which is a pork and mushroom crepe, uses this as a vinaigrette as well. It would taste completely bland without it.

Fried, roasted pork with the bubbly, crunchy pork skin along with the moist pork meat with this sweet and sour dipping sauce is divine and absolutely kicks the flavor of this dish up a notch.

There are so many recipes to use with nuoc mam, and these were only a few that I’ve listed. So if you plan on making Vietnamese recipes often (like the ones I share here), having a batch of this premade will definitely save you a ton of time.

Check out this article on different ways to use nuoc mam.

Special Trips to the Asian Grocer

As in all of my recipes, I call out anything that you may need specifically from a local Asian grocery store.

In this recipe, the only thing special that is needed is Squid Brand fish sauce. You may be able to find this at your traditional grocery store, but in most cases, you won’t. This is my favorite brand of fish sauce because it is a little bit milder than the ones you’ll tend to find in traditional grocery stores.

How to Make Traditional Nuoc Mam Fish Sauce

Recipe Note: This recipe calls for boiling the sugar and water first because it allows the sugar to completely dissolve for a smoother taste. In my recipe, I do not add palm sugar or use Coco Rico (coconut soda) like some others that you might find. This recipe uses ingredients that you already probably have in your pantry.

Adding the ingredients in small increments and batches goes a long way. Remember, this Vietnamese dipping sauce also acts like a vinaigrette dressing in some recipes, so it should be a little bolder and stronger than most dipping sauces.

Let’s talk about some of the ingredients and how they play a role in making this a delicious and delectable accompaniment to any Vietnamese dish that needs a bolder flavor.

Water

The majority of the volume of this dipping sauce will be made of sugar water.

Citrus/Acidic Flavor

Typically, lime is used for adding the kick. Often, you’ll see alternative options of this recipe calling for lemon, vinegar, or rice wine. I definitely prefer a freshly squeezed lime.

Fish Sauce

I prefer the Squid Brand fish sauce overall as it’s not as overpowering as some of the other brands.

Garlic

Often, recipes will call this optional. I honestly don’t think it’s optional, as it kicks up the flavor a notch.

Birds Eye Chile or Thai Chile

If you want a little heat, add in a chile to spice things up.

nuoc mam cham recipe vietnamese

Ingredients for Nuoc Mam

1/2 cup of water, for boiling
1/4 cup of sugar, for boiling
2 tablespoons of sugar
3 cloves of garlic
2 bird’s eye chiles (you can use Thai chiles)
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
3 tablespoons of lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup of cold water

Directions for Making the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

In a small sauce pot, boil 1/2 cup of water with 1/4 cup of sugar on low heat until it’s completely dissolved. Once dissolved, set aside to let cool.

Next, use a food processor to mince the garlic, 2 bird’s eye chiles, and 2 tablespoons of sugar until minced and well mixed.

Once the sugar water is cooled, add in the mixture and stir well.

Next, add in the fish sauce and the lime juice. Stir until well blended. Next, add in 1/4 cup of cold water. Blend well.

Sample the nuoc mam and adjust as needed. You may need to add more of one of the ingredients depending on what is missing. For added sourness, add in lime juice. For added saltiness, add in fish sauce. For added sweetness, add sugar.

To store, pour it into an airtight container and put it in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

Summary of Nuoc Mam and How to Make It

This is a quintessential vinaigrette in Vietnamese cuisine. There are a lot of variations that you’ll find that include different vinegars like white, distilled and rice whine to lime juice. While there’s no wrong way to make this dipping sauce, you’ll just want to make sure not to add too much fish sauce.

If you are looking for a recipe to try out with this vinaigrette dipping sauce, try my recipe for Vietnamese crispy egg rolls.

Make sure you adapt it as you go and make it your own, adjusting it to suit your own family’s taste buds.

 

vietnamese egg roll nuoc mam dipping sauce

Authentic Nuoc Mam Recipe (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and Vinaigrette)

Yield: 20
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Nuoc Mam is one of the most essential recipes in Vietnamese cooking. Nuoc mam is a sweet fish sauce recipe with a little sourness built into it. It is used and partnered with a multitude of Vietnamese culinary dishes that helps bring out the flavor of dishes like Vietnames spring rolls (cha gio), grilled pork and rice (thit nuong), and my all-time favorite pork and mushroom crepes (banh cuon).

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of water, for boiling
  • 1/4 cup of sugar, for boiling
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 bird's eye chiles (you can use Thai chiles)
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 cup of cold water

Instructions

    In a small sauce pot, boil 1/2 cup of water with 1/4 cup of sugar on low heat until it's completely dissolved. Once dissolved, set aside to let cool.

    Next, use a food processor to mince the garlic, 2 bird's eye chiles, and 2 tablespoons of sugar until minced and well mixed.

    Once the sugar water is cooled, add in the mixture and stir well.

    Next, add in the fish sauce and the lime juice. Stir until well blended. Next, add in 1/4 cup of cold water. Blend well.

    Sample the nuoc mam and adjust as needed. You may need to add more of one of the ingredients depending on what is missing. For added sourness, add in lime juice. For added saltiness, add in fish sauce. For added sweetness, add sugar.

    To store, pour it into an airtight container and put it in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 125Sodium: 2050mgCarbohydrates: 28gSugar: 25g

Nutrition information isn't always accurate.

nuoc mam cham recipe vietnamese

Other Easy Vietnamese Recipes You’ll Love

If you love this Vietnamese steamed rice sheet recipe (banh uot) as much as our family does, please write a five star review and help me share on Facebook and Pinterest!

Vietnamese nuoc mam dipping sauce

Vietnamese nuoc mam dipping sauce

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Debra

Sunday 7th of March 2021

This sounds delicious. After watching a lot of Vietnamese food travel (mostly Max McFarlin) I definitely want to make this. And, above all yes, your profile pic is wonderful, such a beautiful smile, such a beautiful person that comes through from your picture. Thank You!

Jay B. Petersen

Wednesday 16th of December 2020

How many rural or urban Vietnamese have historically had a food processor? Get authentic, really.

S. H.

Thursday 29th of October 2020

Love nuoc mam. My husband is from Saigon and he makes delicious vietnamese dishes.

Nanette

Friday 28th of August 2020

Hi, great recipe! But tortuous to keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling to get to the recipe when I’ve already read the book/article once. I normally would’ve skipped recipes likes this that do not have a “jump to recipe” link. Please consider putting a “jump to recipe” link at the top of your recipes. It would be beneficial in coming back to the recipe with ease. Thank you for reading.

Melinda

Thursday 7th of May 2020

Beat recipe I've found and something I can implement! I used powdered birdseye b/c of availability.