Salty, sour, spicy and sweet is the best description of Nuoc cham, a classic Vietnamese Dipping Sauce. It takes about 5 minutes to make and is the perfect pair with many favorite foods!
A special sauce can turn a good recipe into an amazing recipe just with the addition of those extra special flavors.
Nuoc Cham is one of those!
If you’ve eaten Vietnamese food you’ve tried it.
If you haven’t, you are in for a treat!
What is Nuoc Cham?
This basic Vietnamese dipping sauce is a combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. It’s fast and easy to make.
Like many classic recipes it is often customized in different regions or by families.
We’ve given some options to make it your own too!
How to Say it
Nook cham (or chum)
How to Use it
This dipping sauce can be used both for classic Vietnamese recipe as well as more westernized dishes. Try it with:
- dipping Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Shrimp Salad Rolls as seen in the photos (Gỏi cuốn), Egg Rolls or Gyoza (pot stickers)
- a Marinade for Steak
- a dressing for a cucumber salad, steak salad or Vietnamese noodle bowl
- Dipping sauce for grilled chicken or Thai Chicken Meatballs (as an alternative to Thai Dipping Sauce)
- Drizzle over regular or Coconut Rice
All ingredients are readily available at regular grocery stores. Check the international section for Fish Sauce or Rice Vinegar if it’s not in the regular condiment section.
- Fish Sauce – a staple ingredient in Southeast and East Asian cooking. It’s made from fish or krill that are coated with salt and fermented. It has a distinct salty, fishy flavor that adds depth to many classic recipes.
- Unseasoned Rice Wine Vinegar – also called just Rice Vinegar, this type of vinegar is made from fermented sugar in rice into an alcohol and then into an acid. It is less acidic than other vinegars with a softer, almost sweet flavor. It is a staple in Asian cooking.
- Lime Juice (fresh) – Using freshly squeezed lime juice makes a difference in this dipping sauce recipe. TIP: put the limes in the microwave for 10 seconds before juicing to yeild more juice. Will take approximately 2 limes.
- Granulated Sugar
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Serrano chile or Thai chile (fresh) – Thai chilies can be harder to find so substitute a serrano pepper you cannot find them.
Both chilies and garlic are considered optional to this classic sauce (as are the carrots). I personally love the heat from the chilies and always add them.
Andrea Ngyuen author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors suggests if using both garlic and chilies to mash them with the sugar with a mortar and pestle to release the oils before mixing all ingredients together.
How to Make It
Combine all the ingredients (in a jar is the easiest) and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Can stand at room temperature for up to 8 hours after making. Or store, sealed, in the refrigerator until use.
How Much does the Recipe make?
1 1/4 cups.
Make the Flavor your Own
Each person will make Nuoc Cham slightly differently, emphasizing one of the key flavors over another.
The great thing about making it yourself is you can change the ingredient amounts to get your favorite balance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy.
Change the lime juice (tangy and sour), fish sauce (salty), chilies (spicy) or sugar (sweet) to suit your taste.
How to Store it
Store sealed in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.