how to make vietnamese nuoc mam dipping fish sauce

Good nuoc mam makes or breaks a Vietnamese dish !!!  Vietnamese dipping sauce is so versatile !  There are so many ways to use it.  You can use it for dipping, cooking, marinating, or dressing a vermicelli dish or salad (goi).  The component of the sauce is a few ingredients, but to master it takes a few practices :-)  why ?  because the type of fish sauce, sugar, chillies, can alter the taste and you will have to play around to see what you like, what you should add more,  less, etc.

Here's the 1-2-3 of it:

1 part* fish sauce, 1 part lime
2 part* water
3 part* white granulated sugar (if use organic sugar or cane sugar use 4 part, never use brown sugar)

If you don't have lime, white vinegar will do, or even lemon.  But sour green lime is the best !

*part here means your instrument of measurement (spoon, cup, etc).  For example, if you use 2 table spoons of fish sauce then add 2 spoons of lime juice, 4 spoons of water and 6 of sugar, etc.

ADD minced garlic and red chilies to your liking.

To make enough for 4-6 adults , I would use 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 thai chilies, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 6 tablespoon of water and 9 table spoon of sugar.


1.  In a bowl, measure and add the fish sauce and water together.

2.  Chop up the garlic and the chilies into small pieces.

3.  Measure the sugar and put it aside.

4. In a mortar, put in 1/4 of the sugar (leave the rest a side), add in the garlic, and the red chili/ies.  Pound them with the pestle into a paste.  This brings out the flavours in the garlic and the chillies !  Wonderful aroma :-D

5.  Using a spoon, scrape out the paste and put it in the fish sauce/water mixture. 

6.  Squeeze the lime, measure it and add to the liquid.

7.  Add the remaining sugar. 

8.  Stir the sauce until all the sugar dissolved. 

Taste and see if the flavor is to your liking.  It should be not too salty, more sweet, slightly sour, and flavourful (from the garlic and chillies).

When it comes to fish sauce, I always use Viet Huong 3 Crabs brand fish sauce.  It's light, not too salty, not too smelly :)  Great for making dipping sauce, to cook or to add to broth. 

Viet Huong fish sauce $6-$8, available at all major Asian supermarkets

Red Boat 40N fish sauce, $10+ at major markets
Another brand I like is Red Boat fish sauce.  This one is authentic fish sauce with no added ingredients or MSG.  I found the smell is quite pungent (what it supposed to be I guess) and it's a bit on the salty side so I usually add more sugar and lime to balance out the taste.

Here's an excerpt from their website:

"Red Boat is an all-natural, first press, “extra virgin” Vietnamese fish sauce. It does not contain added water, preservatives or MSG. Made from a two hundred year-old, chemical free, artisanal process, Red Boat uses only the freshest cá com (black anchovy), salted minutes after leaving the sea then slow aged for over a year in traditional wooden barrels. Red Boat anchovies are sourced exclusively from the crystal clear waters off the Phu Quoc Island archipelago."

Other popular brand you will find at the Asian markets are Golden Boy fish sauce and Squid brand fish sauce.  I don't like them as I found there's too much salt in there and little fish taste (little to no fish smell).  They are ok for cooking, not so great for making dipping sauce.  However if that's all you got around, I would use 1 part more sugar.  For example, if you use 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, use 4 tablespoon of white sugar.  Play around and adjust it to your liking.  Have fun making it !