Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nước Chấm)
Vietnamese fish sauce, also known as nước chấm, is like liquid gold! This can be used as a dipping sauce or dressing. It’s sweet, salty, spicy, sour, umami, and so addictive!
What is Nước Chấm?
Nước chấm translates to dipping sauce in Vietnamese. However it is a sauce of many names.
This sauce can be referred to simply as nước mắm, which is the same word for fish sauce by itself, or nước mắm pha, meaning mixed fish sauce.
It consists of fish sauce, lime or vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chilis. Nước chấm is sweet, salty, spicy, sour, and very umami.
It’s an essential sauce in Vietnamese cuisine and accompanies many traditional Vietnamese dishes such as rice plates (cơm tấm), rice rolls (bánh cuốn), and vermicelli bowls (bún thịt nướng) to name a few.
This can be used as a dipping sauce or dressing. It adds additional depth and complexity to any meal and leaves a lasting impression on your taste buds!
How to Make Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
To create a truly authentic nước chấm, you’ll only need a few ingredients.
Each ingredient contributes to the distinct taste profile of this Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce, offering a perfect balance of sweet, salty, spicy, sour, and umami.
A recipe card is at the end of this post so you can print it out, pin it to Pinterest, or save it for later!
Let’s walk through this simple recipe step-by-step so you can make it easily at home!
Ingredients for Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce
- Fish sauce: The main ingredient. This salty and umami sauce is made by fermenting anchovies. Since this is eaten straight out of the bottle and not used for cooking, it is important to use a high quality fish sauce. The ingredient list should only be salt and anchovies. I recommend Red Boat Fish Sauce or the Three Crabs Brand.
- Sugar: Add granulated sugar to balance out the saltiness. You can also use honey, other sugar substitutes, or sweeteners.
- Lime juice: This is a fresh and zesty sauce that requires an acidic element. I think the best way to get that brightness is to use lime juice. Vinegar is a common substitute.
- Garlic: Garlic is quintessential to Vietnamese food. Raw garlic gives it a nice bite and aroma.
- Chili peppers: Vietnamese people love spice so Thai (bird’s eye) chilis are a must! However if you don’t want this sauce to be spicy, just leave this ingredient out.
- Water: Add water to the sauce to dilute it since the other ingredients have very strong, concentrated flavors. Additionally, the sugar will dissolve quicker if you use warm water.
Step 1: Combine the Ingredients
In a bowl, combine fish sauce, granulated sugar, and warm water. My mom’s recipe uses a 1:1:3 ratio of these three ingredients.
She then adds the remaining ingredients to taste: lime juice, minced garlic, and finely chopped chili peppers.
Traditionally, this sauce calls for Thai (bird’s eye) chili peppers but you can substitute it for your favorite chili pepper. Adjust the amount to your desired level of spiciness.
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Step 2: Blend the Sauce
After you add all the ingredients to a bowl, stir vigorously until the sugar fully dissolves.
Warm water helps the sugar to dissolve quicker. Using cold water will also work but you will have to stir more and/or longer to dissolve the sugar.
You can also add all of the ingredients into a storage container, seal it, and then shake to mix it up.
Step 3: Balance the Flavors
The flavor of Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce is extremely personal. Each region of Vietnam and family recipe is different.
My family prefers it to be tart, more salty, and less sweet. My dad is also diabetic so when we make it for him, we usually use Sweet’N Low instead of sugar.
Lastly, taste test, and adjust the amount of each ingredient to your liking.
The end result should be a nice balance of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.
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Nước chấm is a versatile condiment that elevates a wide range of Vietnamese dishes. Here are a few popular ways to use this sauce:
- Dipping sauce: Serve nước chấm as a dipping sauce alongside items like spring rolls, egg rolls, grilled meats, or lettuce wraps with fresh herbs
- Dressing: Drizzle nước chấm as a dressing over dishes like rice plates, vermicelli noodle bowls, salads, rice rolls, Vietnamese pancake/crepe bánh xèo, or green papaya salad to add a burst of brightness and tang.
- Wing sauce: Vietnamese fish sauce makes for a unique wing sauce. It is one of my favorite ways to eat wings. Toss chicken wings in this and you’ll be wanting to lick your fingers clean!
- Marinade: Use nước chấm as a marinade for meats, seafood, or tofu before grilling or stir-frying to infuse them with a nice balance of Vietnamese flavors.
Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. It will last about 1-2 weeks.
Always use a clean utensil to scoop out the sauce to avoid introducing bacteria to it which will cause it to spoil faster.
Another way to extend the shelf life is to use vinegar instead of fresh lime juice. Additionally, leave out the garlic and chilis. Fresh ingredients spoil quicker.
I often have just the base (fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, water) stored in the fridge which lasts longer on its own and then just add in freshly minced garlic and chilis upon serving.
Discard if the nước chấm appears cloudy.
Save This Recipe for Vietnamese Fish Sauce
Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce is a quick and easy condiment to make that instantly takes any meal to the next level.
Nước chấm is perfectly balanced and turns basic dishes into something exciting for the tastebuds with classic Vietnamese flavors.
I hope you recreate this recipe at home and add this flavorful sauce to your rotation of sauces!
Did you make this recipe? I would love to see! Tag me on IG @feedmi_ or TikTok @feedmi
Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nước Chấm)
- ⅓ cup fish sauce
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 Thai (bird's eye) chilis, sliced
- 1 lime, juiced
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl or container.
- Stir or shake the sealed container until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Taste test and adjust to your liking.
- Serve as a dipping sauce or dressing and enjoy!