Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

January 28, 2008 | Chuck
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

I have a lot of friends who love Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham). When they ask me for the recipe, I tell them it's a closely guarded family secret. However, I have finally received permission from my parents to disclose the formula. It took a lot of groveling on my part and even a few tears were shed, but I got their blessing.

Okay, I made the last part up, but wouldn't it be more special if it really was a secret? Anyway, every Vietnamese family has a dipping sauce recipe. The ingredients in nuoc cham are generally the same, but the proportions vary based on personal tastes and regions in Vietnam. According to Vietnamese cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen, "as you move south the sauce gets sweeter, hotter, and more garlicky."

This may explain why I don't like the nuoc cham made in San Francisco restaurants, which are generally too sweet for my tastes. My family is from the middle part of the country and I was born in Da Nang. It all makes sense now.

As you gain experience with this dipping sauce, adjust it to suit your preferences. There's no secret formula. It's just a simple sauce with a great blend of salty, sour, sweet and spicy. For some meals, I like adding or substituting ginger for the garlic (nuoc cham gung). The ginger dipping sauce is great with a meal of roasted duck and sticky rice.

I'm going to post the recipe for my mom's crab and shrimp egg roll (cha gio) shortly, which requires nuoc cham. To whet your appetite, I leave you with this picture.

Dipping Egg Roll

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) Recipe

SND Note: This recipe is how my family likes our nuoc cham. Adjust the ingredients to your tastes, particularly the lime since the juice varies with each fruit. To make a ginger dipping sauce (nuoc cham gung), add 1 tablespoon of minced ginger.

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup fish sauce (Viet Huong Three Crabs brand)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 of a lime, juiced
3-4 cloves of garlic , minced
2-3 Thai chili pepper, minced

1) In a small sealable jar, combine water and sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add fish sauce, vinegar and lime juice and mix. Adjust flavors to taste.

2) Add garlic and chili pepper. The sauce can be stored at room temperature, if served the same day. Otherwise, store it in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2.5 cups

52 Comments on “Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)”

  1. *High five!* A fellow nguoi Trung. :)

    Funny! I was all set to post a nuoc cham recipe too since I’m working on my bun thit nuong post. Previous recipes I just give the ingredients without the proportions. I actually rarely make my own nuoc mam b/c my mom gave me a gigantic jar that I still haven’t finished more than six months later.

    I make mine on the stove though, with the burner on low, to evenly dissolve and mix the sugar.

  2. JEP said:

    Your photos are just amazing! Great post today…look forward to your next one:)

  3. Lydia said:

    Yes, everyone has their own recipe. It took me ages — years, really — to realize that the choice of fish sauce makes all the difference. I only use Three Crabs, too.

  4. I like my Nuoc Cham less sweet too!

  5. I can drink Nuoc Cham! How long does it usually hold up for?

  6. Chuck said:

    WC, [high five!], right back at you. My mom used to make it on the stove top too when I was young. But she switched to the no cook method 10-15 years ago. I just nuke the water a little bit to make the sugar dissolve faster.

    JEP, thanks!

    Lydia, the right fish sauce really makes a difference. I saw a TV show that had fish sauce tasting with different brands of Vietnamese fish sauce (small manufacturers and some homemade) and it was like a wine tasting… different fish sauces for different purposes. That would be an interesting and pungent tasting experience.

    Jaden, right on sista!

    Cakewardrobe, if you store it in the fridge, it can last up to 30 days. I’ve stored some jars much longer and I’m embarrassed to tell you how long. The shelf life can be extended if you don’t put the garlic and chilies in immediately, just add them on the day of use.

  7. Keith said:

    I love nuoc cham on oysters. It’s a beautiful combination. Do some people make theirs with palm sugar?

  8. Heather said:

    Thanks for the recipe! I’ve been making up my own nuoc cham for awhile, but wanted to see if mine was even close (it is – we use the same brand of fish sauce!). I LOVE Vietnamese food!

  9. Chuck said:

    Keith, I have never used palm sugar in nuoc cham, but I’ve seen recipes with it. You’ll have to heat the palm sugar with water in a sauce pan to dissolve it. Let it cool and the rest of the steps is the same. I really like palm sugar and use it all the time in our Thai green curry.

    Heather, no problem. I’m glad you love my peeps’ food!

  10. canarygirl said:

    Oh my this looks so good! I can’t wait to try it…I LOVE LOVE LOVE! Vietnamese spring rolls, and your nuoc cham looks perfect! :)

    Now….I have a recipe for spring rolls that is pretty good, but would you be willing to share yours? Pretty please? :)

  11. josie smith said:

    thank you for sharing this! i’m looking forward to preparing this with my next batch of vietnamese spring rolls :-)

  12. Chuck said:

    Nikki, since you asked so nicely, I’m adding spring rolls (goi cuon) on my list of items to make and share. Now that you mentioned it, Hungry Bear has a craving for it!

    Josie, if you like peanuts, I prefer a peanut dipping sauce with my spring rolls. The sauce is a mixture of crunchy peanut butter, thick hoisin sauce, stock and a few other ingredients. I’ll try to post it in a few weeks.

  13. canarygirl said:

    ooooooh thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! :)

  14. canarygirl said:

    Chuck, thank you and thank your mom for a fabulous sauce recipe! I just made it, and it is just delicous! :) Look for a post maybe tomorrow on ma’blogz…Awesome, man. Seriously. :)

  15. Chuck said:

    Canarygirl, yeah! I’m glad you like the recipe!

  16. Keven said:

    Delicious. Its simple to make, but yet good recipes like that allow me to worry about other things. Thanks!

  17. Sharyl said:

    I love Vietnamese food! I’ve always wondered how they make the dipping sauce coz I loooove it! I even dip my Banh Mi in it. Now I have a recipe for grilled pork banh mi and nuoc cham (now i know what it’s called), I just can’t wait to try them out. Thank you!

  18. Q said:

    It was a very good recipe! I like it!! :)

  19. Leah said:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this recipe. I was recently in Seattle and had a wonderful dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. My husband and I both loved the nuoc cham. And tonight I was able to recreate it.
    I am looking forward to trying more of your recipes.

  20. Tracy said:

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I can’t wait to try it. Before I do, can you please tell me if white vinegar is white rice wine vinegar or just distilled vinegar? Thank you!

  21. Chuck said:

    Tracy, it’s just regular old, distilled vinegar. Hope you like it.

  22. YUM, YUM! off to the market, can’t wait to make it.
    Thanks for the recipe!

  23. Glucose Graviton said:

    Thanks for the post.

    I’ve scoured the net for recipes of Nuoc Cham and found the ratios in this version the clearest and tastiest. I’ve supplemented palm sugar for sugar and added diced cucumber and used sweet habanero chili (a non spicy Venezuelan version of the chili but with the same flavor which suits the pallet of my amigos.)

  24. Kelly said:

    Thank you thank you for this recipe

    I have had a hard time finding one that I liked and now I have. I made it tonight and served it over a salad of thinly shredded cabbage, carrot, mint, cilantro and shrimp. A refreshing, light and tasty dinner.

    ps. You are right – the quality of fish sauce does make a huge difference

  25. Ken said:

    This is a really great basic Nuoc Cham recipe but there are few different tweaks you can do that will really raise the flavor of this sauce. For one, adding a half cup of brown sugar and reducing it for 20 minutes will give it a molasses like consistency that really goes great with fried fish. You can check out more recipes and applications Vietnamese food and Nuoc Cham is really easy to make and versatile to use. Just like sauce, Nuoc Cham should be on your table as a staple condiment.

  26. Carol said:

    Thank’s Chuck for the Dipping Sauce recipe it looks just like what my friend always made and it was wonderful.

  27. Simone said:

    Love it! Absolutely delish! Thank you so much for sharing!

  28. Simone said:

    Love it! Absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for sharing!

  29. Indigo said:

    i was searching for the right dressing for a green papaya salad recipe i was trying out… TOTAL SUCCESS!!! it was one of those things where you throw it all together and hope it will turn out ok – this was spot on, exactly the taste i was looking for. awesome, awesome sauce!!!!

  30. BlueRibbonCookies said:

    I wasn’t sure what the delicious sauce I had at our local Asian restaurant. Your blog as one of the first that sounded like what I had …. wow! Nice work! I’ve been sipping it with a spoon!!! This is so, so easy to make! I subbed in some honey for some of the sugar (we’re beekeepers) and that worked, too. I will try the Three Crabs brand fish sauce in my next batch (can’t tell what brand I have – the label is all in Korean) I will try other recipes on your blog. Thanks, again.

    P.S. If you are looking for ideas, can you work on a recipe for authentic green chili salsa – made with serranos, tomatillios and cilantro??

  31. The flavours are spot on. Thanks for posting. It tastes just like my mums.

  32. Eftymia said:

    It so easy! I’ll make it tonight, to pair some vegan spring rolls, for an Olympic Ceremony party. Thank you so much for sharing!

  33. Renren said:

    I made this dip for a pot luck and it turned out great! As others have said it wasn’t too sweet and I was scared of the amount of fish sauce and vinegar but it is a really great combo. Phew! I also added a few glugs of siracha sauce since I did not have chiles available.

  34. bryan said:

    would use this site more if it allowed me to print only the recipe without printing 3 pages of everyone’s comments. (If there is a “printer friendly” option it is well hidden)

  35. Dara said:

    Thank you for sharing your spring roll and dipping sauce recipe. It is awesome! Everyone enjoyed it!

  36. bryan said:

    would like to print out recipe but could not find printable version. Too many comments to print out as is…..did I miss something?

  37. Arja said:

    Thank you for your recipe of Nuoc Cham. It’s really tasty especially since it’s not too sweet. Me and my sister really love vietnamise food and there are many others as well who share our enthusiasm here in the nothern Europe Finland.


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