Vietnamese fish sauce, or nuoc cham, is a flavorful, simple dipping sauce for Vietnamese foods. Make this recipe in only 5 minutes!
Like a perfectly timed kiss in the love scene of a movie, a dipping sauce should complement and add flair to the foods it’s served with. If they aren’t well made, dipping sauces can easily overpower the flavors of the dish.
Vietnamese cuisine includes many dishes with an artful balance of all flavors. It isn’t uncommon to taste sweet, salty, spicy, sour, and umami all in one dish.
Oftentimes, a dipping sauce is used specifically to add one of those primary tastes.
Vietnamese fish sauce
Admittedly, the name of this dipping sauce can be a bit confusing. After all, it’s called Vietnamese fish sauce, but fish sauce is also one of the ingredients in the recipe.
The Vietnamese word nuoc cham is a generic name for any Vietnamese dipping sauce. It’s similar to how some people call any brand of facial tissues “Kleenex”.
The uses go far beyond a simple dipping sauce for egg rolls, sushi and pot stickers. Vietnamese fish sauce is a fantastic meat marinade, and could even be used as a tangy dressing for salad or steamed vegetables.
nuoc chom, Vietnamese dipping sauce
condiment / dipping sauce
Difficulty: Easy 🥄
Savory, umami-flavored Vietnamese dipping sauce for egg rolls, spring rolls and other Vietnamese foods.
Ingredient notes and substitutions
The primary ingredient in the dipping sauce is fish sauce, which has an earthy umami flavor.
Adding sugar and fresh lemons or limes brings a refreshing sweetness to the Vietnamese fish sauce. It’s often garnished with spicy chiles or garlic for another flavor dimension.
- Fish sauce
This ingredient is made from fermented salted anchovies or other fish. It’s used often in Asian cuisine to add umami flavor. You’ll see it in recipes like pad Thai, sunomono salad, and chicken panang.
I make condiments whenever possible, but making fish sauce requires a 3-year long fermentation process, so I buy it instead. You should be able to find it stocked with the other Asian ingredients of most grocery stores.
- Fresh citrus juice
Traditionally, Vietnamese fish dipping sauce is made with either fresh lemon juice or lime juice. With so few ingredients, the use of fresh citrus juice is a must. Concentrated juices will mute the bright flavor of the nuoc cham.
- Granulated white sugar
If you prefer using a sugar alternative, you could use any granulated, cup-for-cup sugar substitute. Although I haven’t tested this nuoc cham recipe using liquid sweeteners like honey, you’re welcome to try it.
Recipe notes for Vietnamese fish sauce
- Taste as you go.
With cooking in general, it’s recommended to taste as you go, adjusting the ingredients for flavor as needed. In the case of this fish dipping sauce, tasting as you make it is imperative. The flavor can range from tart to immensely sweet, or very rich- it’s completely under your control.
- Keep refrigerated.
Citrus juice tends to turn rancid when it’s left at room temperature for too long. It’s best to store it in a covered container in the refrigerator.
NOTE: After a while, the sugar may separate from the other ingredients. This is perfectly normal; just whisk the dipping sauce again to recombine.
Nuoc Cham Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
- Add hot water and sugar to a medium bowl or mason jar. Whisk or close lid and shake to combine.
- Add lime juice, then taste for sweetness. The flavor should be similar to sweetened lemonade (or limeade). Add a tablespoon more if needed.
- Add fish sauce, chili paste, garlic and whisk or close lid and shake to combine. Add the Thai chilies which add more heat.
- Serve as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, egg rolls, summer rolls, or with beef, chicken, pork, or seafood.
- This is how I prefer the flavors as directed by ingredient amounts. The flavor of this dipping sauce can be adjusted to suit your taste preference. Add smaller amounts at a time, then taste for flavor and add more if needed. Remember, you can always add more of something, but you can’t remove it after it’s been added. It’s important to taste the nuoc chom as you make it.
- Nutrition shown is for total 1 1/2 cups, as serving sizes may be different for each person.
- Store in airtight container, refrigerated, for 2 weeks.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.