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A Cooking Adventure with Thom

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 Fish Dipping Sauce - (Nuoc Cham)

Recipe listed with permission from

Authentic Vietnamese Cooking, Food from a Family Table, By Corinne Trang, Simon & Schuster, December 1999, Hardback, 256 pages, more then 50 black & white photographs, Glossary of ingredients ISBN: 0-684-86444-4.  To purchase book click the icon…

Yields: 2 Cups


I've been making Nuoc Cham ever since I can remember. In fact, it was perhaps the first Vietnamese recipe I learned to make as a child. Nobody liked chopping the garlic, so I was stuck doing it. I became such an expert at making this sauce that every time we cooked, my mother would ask me to make it. The one difficult thing was to please both my mother and father simultaneously. She liked it sour, while he preferred it sweet. I resolved this quandary by creating a finely balanced version that allowed all of the various flavors to come out, and I continue to use it to this day.

A meal without Nuoc Cham is no meal at all. Served as a dipping sauce with many dishes such as cha gio, spring rolls; Banh Xeo, sizzling "sound" crepes; and grilled meats and seafood; it is perhaps the most important sauce you will learn to make. There are several variations on this recipe. If you like your sauce spicier, mince rather than slice the chilies and garlic. Sometimes distilled rice wine vinegar is used to round out the flavor. My aunt Loan likes to slice and add shallots, saying they make the sauce sweeter. Try it different ways, mild or hot, more sweet or sour, with or without shallots. All are interesting. Preceding is my favorite version, which balances the sweet, sour, and spicy levels. I suggest you make 2 cups, as it goes quickly. Any left over can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.



5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
⅓ cup fish sauce (Nuoc Mam)
½ cup lime or lemon juice (from about 3 limes or 2 lemons)
1 large garlic clove crushed, peeled, and sliced or minced
1 tsp or more bird's eye or Thai chilies seeded, and sliced or minced
1 tsp shallot peeled, sliced thin, rinsed, and drained (optional)


Cooking Method

Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime or lemon juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. 

  • Add the garlic, chili, and shallot (if using), and let stand for 30 minutes before serving.

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