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Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
In Vietnamese cooking, one very important staple is nước chấm, prepared Vietnamese fish sauce. Though the name is somewhat confusing. Nước chấm, directly translated, means ‘dipping sauce’ and can refer to a number of sauces used in Vietnamese cooking. The most common one, and the one we are discussing here, is more correctly called nước mắm pha.
Nước chấm is the sweet and spicy dipping sauce served with a variety of Vietnamese dishes, including bánh xèo (Vietnamese crepes), Bún chả (grilled pork and vermicelli noodles), gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), cơm Tấm (broken rice with pork and vegetables), and tons of other Vietnamese dishes. Of course there are a million differnet ways to make this sauce, all a tiny bit different, but the basic ingredients are fish sauce (nước mắm), lime, sugar, vinegar, and water.
If you’ve ever had Vietnamese food, then you are probably already familiar with nước chấm. It can be very polarizing, you either hate it or love it. The strong fishy flavor of the fish sauce (nước mắm) can be a bit overwhelming for those who aren’t familiar with it. But, if you grew up Vietnamese like me, you can’t imagine what it’s like to NOT have it around. It’s used in so much of our cuisine, it’s hard to say what could even be used as a substitute for that particular flavor that only fish sauce provides.
But nước chấm is more than just fish sauce. It’s a blend of sweet & salty, savory & spicy, and a hint of tartness. I’m sure every household has its own recipe, handed down from one generation to the next. This is one that I was taught and use frequently in our cooking. It’s a super quick and simple version for when you realize you’ve run out right before dinner and you can’t eat without it. Don’t worry, it still has all the balanced flavors of traditional nước chấm, I just take a few shortcuts to get there.
The ingredients for our version are simple: fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili garlic sauce, and the secret shortcut: lemon-lime soda.
The really great thing about this recipe is that it’s actually easy to find all the ingredients! Even if you live in a small town without an Asian market, you won’t necessarily HAVE to make a trek to find one. You will likely find everything you need (though perhaps not always the brand of choice) at a regular grocery store. Or, you can find Squid brand fish sauce and Huy Fong Chili Garlic sauce on Amazon for a reasonable price.
Making the Sauce
To make the sauce, simply mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Use caution when adding the sugar, as it will tend to cause the sauce to foam a little. Feel free to add more sugar if you like it a little sweeter or more chili sauce if you like it spicier. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator. Our’s usually keeps for at least month or longer.
- 1/2 cup fish sauce We use Squid Brand
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp garlic chili paste
- 12 oz Lemon Lime soda Sprite works well
- 1/2 cup water
- Add all the ingredients to a large bowl, and mix until the sugar is dissolved
- Add more sugar, or chili paste, to taste