What is the one word that pops in my head when one says Vietnam or Vietnamese? Nuoc Mam or in english fish sauce. This liquid is drained from salted, fermented fish and often used in dipping sauces and takes the place of salt. Nuoc mam is often mixed with garlic, chilli, ginger, sugar, vinegar and fresh lemons or limes to make a very satisfying dipping sauce called Nuoc Cham.
There are a lot of online recipes for Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce) and often they are different because the varying of ingredients. This depends on their taste buds or what they have available in their kitchen. There are also different combinations and colours of fish sauce depending where it is made. Sometimes when I change fish sauce brands it can be quite dark or lighter in colour and the taste can taste a little bit different as well.
Some people (especially westerners) will find Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) smell quite off putting and really smelly (watch out for your Vietnamese neighbours lol) but fish sauce tends to bring out and deepens the flavours of the ingredients just like salt would do. It's just like when you season your meat with salt and pepper. Vietnamese use fish sauce instead. I like to use fish sauce in my cooking pretty much everyday in meat, vegetable meals and especially in brothy clear soups. Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce) is really good with nem nuong, spring rolls, noodles and ban xeo (vietnamese pancakes) just to name a few.
Here is my version. I use water in mine to lessen the saltiness of the sauce but my mum she doesn't use water at all. She uses lots of lime and lemon juice. It tastes really good.
Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce) (makes one cup)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 or 2 red chillis
- 2 tsps of sugar
- 1/4 of lime juice or lemon juice
- 21/2 tbs of water (or extra)
- 2 tbs of nuoc mam (any brand)
Mince garlic, chilli and add with sugar in a bowl. Make into paste. (If you have a mortar and pestle use it since it's easier.) Then Squeeze lime or lemon juice in the paste and mix. Add water and fish sauce and mix well. If the mix is too strong add extra water according to your taste.