Nước Chấm is magical, like a glutamic acid-spitting komodo dragon capable of granting culinary wishes. That kind of magical. The Vietnamese understand this. It’s high time we white folk caught on.
I‘ve often been known to exaggerate, but I’m deathly serious when I tell you that this simple dipping sauce will change the way you eat. And by that, I mean you’ll find yourself preparing food with the sole purpose of being drown in the sauce. Nuoc Cham is the quintessential Vietnamese dipping sauce. It’s a simple mixture of fish sauce (nước mắm), water, lime juice, sugar, garlic and chilies. Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, with umami kick. What more can you ask for? I prefer to split the lime with rice wine. It is less traditional, but I like the balance that it brings. I also use a bit less sugar than you often see.
If you commonly shy away from fish sauce, I implore you to give this a try. It’s so much more. And it’s anything but fishy. We recently conducted a tasting of fish sauce brands, Red Boat surfaced as our brand of choice.
- 120 mL (approx. 1/2 cup) fish sauce (Red Boat brand)
- 30 mL (approx. 1/8 cup) water, or coconut water, hot
- 30 mL (approx. 1/8 cup) rice wine vinegar
- 30 mL (approx. 1/8 cup) lime juice
- 30 grams (approx. 1/8 cup) sugar
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 to 3 bird's eye chilies, red, thinly sliced
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil
- Spring onions, very thinly sliced
- Slice chilies thinly. Split and deseed for less heat. Combine sugar with hot water to dissolve. Add remainder of ingredients and stir to combine.
- Sesame oil and/or spring onions make great, non-traditional additions. Coconut water is an excellent substitution for water as well. Always taste your chilies before adding; some are hot, some are not.