A quick and easy recipe for Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam) made with fish sauce, fresh lime juice, garlic, and sugar. Delicious with spring rolls, grilled meat, or vermicelli bowls!
Table of Contents
What is Nuoc Cham?
Nuoc cham is a Vietnamese dipping sauce similar to a vinaigrette used in various Vietnamese dishes.
This Vietnamese sauce is usually served with spring rolls (both fresh and fried), Vietnamese grilled meats like Vietnamese sausages (nem nuong) and grilled lemongrass pork chops (thit heo nuong xa), and vermicelli noodle bowls.
It's light and refreshing, has a garlicky flavor with a balance of sweet, sour, and salty flavors, and is made with fish sauce, sugar, and fresh lime juice (or vinegar).
Anyone who has tried and loved nuoc cham dipping sauce will probably have a personal preference for how they like it. Some people like it sour and tart, others like it a little more sweet or salty, and some like it super garlicky!
I personally like my nuoc cham slightly on the sweet and sour side with a good balance of garlic but the awesome thing about this sauce is, it is super easy to tweak to your personal preference by just adjusting the fish sauce (the salty), the lime juice/vinegar (the sour) and the sugar (the sweet).
Nuoc Cham (Nuoc Mam) Ingredients
- Fish Sauce - The fish sauce is one of the main ingredients to give this sauce its umami and salty flavor. I personally like to use Squid brand fish sauce (it doesn't have squid it in, it's just in the name) because it's easy to find and it only has 3 ingredients - Anchovy, salt, and sugar. An alternative brand I like to use is Golden Boy fish sauce, which is a bit harder to find but has a much stronger and saltier flavor. Keep in mind that each fish sauce brand has a different level of saltiness, so you need to adjust the recipe to get it to the way you like it. If you are looking to make a vegetarian version of this sauce, you can use soy sauce in place of fish sauce.
- Sugar - This is one of the main ingredients that balance the sauce's sweetness. You can use honey in its place if you don't want to add sugar.
- Garlic - This sauce's main flavor comes from garlic, so you cannot skip or substitute this ingredient.
- Lime - The lime is what gives this nuoc cham recipe its tartness. Alternatively, you can also use white or rice vinegar, or mix a bit of vinegar with the lime juice.
- Hot Water - The water helps combine all the salty, sweet, and tart ingredients together into a more balanced level. It also helps dissolve the sugar as well.
- Thai Chili Pepper (Optional) - Chili gives this Vietnamese dipping sauce a bit of heat. I like to use 1 bird eye chili, and that is plenty of spiciness for me without overpowering the sauce.
- Carrots (Optional) - I use shredded carrots in the sauce to give it a bit of color to make it look nicer.
Lime Juice vs Vinegar
Whenever I make Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam), I personally like to use fresh lime juice because of the additional flavor fresh limes give it. It's a bit more citrus and fruity flavor.
Keep in mind, most Vietnamese dipping sauces made at restaurants usually use white vinegar or rice vinegar, mostly because it's a lot cheaper to produce and it's quicker to make, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
From time to time I will also use vinegar as well when I am out of limes at home, but if you are looking for something closer to what you get at a restaurant, then vinegar would be the ingredient you'd want to use for the tartness.
One of the main differences, I notice between using vinegar and fresh lime juice is the level of sourness and flavor.
Vinegar is slightly less sour compared to fresh lime juice, and lime juice has a slight fruity lime flavor. Use what you have on hand, or what your personal preference is! If you can't decide between the two, you can mix and match both vinegar and lime!
How to Make Nuoc Cham
- Dissolve sugar in hot water
- Add in freshly squeezed lime juice and finely chopped garlic
- Mix in fish sauce and do a taste test
- Adjust with fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar to get the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and tart.
- (Optional) Add a freshly chopped Thai chili for some heat or grated carrots for some color
Tips for Making Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
- Make sure to use hot water whenever you are making Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam) so that the sugar can fully dissolve and not settle to the bottom of the sauce.
- If you are using lime juice for your recipe, use fresh lime juice and not bottled lime juice, there is a big difference in flavor between the two.
- If you want to make it spicy, finely dice 1 Thai chili peppers and mix them in.
- To reduce the spiciness from raw garlic, you can add the minced garlic directly into the lime juice and let it soak for a few minutes before you add the rest of the ingredients.
How Do I Store Nuoc Cham?
How long you can store this is highly dependent on whether you use vinegar in the sauce. If you are using only fresh lime juice, then I would not keep this for more than a week or two, but is best enjoyed fresh. If there is vinegar in it, you can keep it for about 2 months. Make sure you store it in an airtight jar in the fridge. Make sure you store it in an airtight container.
How to Use Nước Chấm (Nuoc Mam)
I like to use this stuff a lot, especially in the summertime so I like to double or triple the batch when I make it. Here are a few things you can serve this with if you have any extra dipping sauce!
- Fresh rice spring rolls (goi cuon)/Deep-fried spring rolls (cha gio) - This dipping sauce goes fantastic on any type of spring roll, both fresh and deep-fried. It takes the greasiness out of deep-fried spring rolls, and it brings the freshness out of soft rice spring rolls! It also pairs beautifully with my hoisin dipping sauce if you're looking to add more than one type of sauce to your appetizer dishes.
- Any type of Vietnamese/Thai grilled meats - this dipping sauce cuts into the heaviness of any grilled or greasy meat dish and gives it a pop in flavor.
- Use it as a lighter alternative to peanut sauce for satay meat skewers
- Use it as a salad dressing - It's light and packed with garlicky flavor. If you're into that then definitely try it as a light vinaigrette for a salad.
- Vermicelli bowls with fresh veggies and herbs (bun) - This dipping sauce, when poured over a vermicelli rice noodle bowl adds amazing umami flavors to any noodle bowl with a balance of sweet, tart, and salty pop.
- Use in on Vietnamese recipes like Banh Xeo and Banh Cuon
- ...the sky is the limit, be creative with it!
You can store it in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks in an airtight jar or container. If you used vinegar instead of fresh lime juice, you can keep it in the fridge for up to a month.
You can't really taste the fish sauce in nuoc cham. Instead, it's a balance of sweet, tangy, and savory and it can sometimes be spicy if you ad chilies to it.
More Vietnamese Recipes You May Like
- Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
- Nem Nuong (Grilled Vietnamese Pork Sausages)
- Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew)
- Vietnamese Grilled Shrimp Vermicelli Noodle Bowl
- Quick and Easy Pickled Daikon Radish
- Canh Chua (Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Soup)
- Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken
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Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham / Nuoc Mam)
Joyce's Recipe Notes
- I like my nuoc cham a bit on the sweeter side so that it has a sweet and sour flavor. If you prefer the sauce more sour/tangy, reduce the sugar by ½ tablespoon
- Most restaurants use vinegar instead of fresh lime juice. To get a nuoc mam closer to the restaurant-style ones, use vinegar instead of fresh lime juice. Keep in mind that fresh lime juice is slightly more tangy than vinegar and has a bit more flavor though.
- To reduce the raw bite from fresh garlic, soak the garlic in the lime juice for 10-15 minutes. The acid mellows out the garlic slightly so it has less of a spicy bite.
- This recipe can be doubled, tripled or quadrupled with no issues
- How long you can store this is highly dependent on whether you use vinegar in the sauce. If you are using only fresh lime juice, then I would not keep this for more than a week or two, but is best enjoyed fresh. If there is vinegar in it, you can keep it for about 2 months. Make sure you store it in an airtight jar in the fridge.
- If you are using lime juice for your recipe, use fresh lime juice and not the bottled stuff, there is a big difference in flavor between the two.
- Peel the garlic and finely chop it. Add it to a small bowl (or jar if you are making a bigger batch)
- Cut the lime in half and squeeze all the lime juice into the bowl (or jar) with the garlic and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. The acid from the lime juice will cut the sharp garlic spicy bite.
- Once 10-15 minutes is up, add the sugar into the garlic/lime juice mix and pour in the hot water. Stir everything together until the sugar dissolves completely.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, add in the fish sauce and mix.
- Voila! Nuoc cham is done! It can be stored in the fridge or used right away! 🙂
*Nutritional information is calculated using online tools and is an estimate*
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