Getting the hang of making this Vietnamese dipping sauce (nước chấm) is an important step to making your cuisine just right. Since it’s just about everywhere in Vietnamese cooking, it’s simply referred to as “dipping sauce”.
This is a dipping sauce I grew up with as a kid, with mom and grandma making this pretty often, for the dishes that specifically call for it, or sugarless versions of it just to dip boiled leafy veggies with (rau muống, or water spinach anyone?).
They’d keep a stash of premixed sauce ready in the fridge for regular meals throughout the week, but when a special dish is being made, they’d make a fresh batch for the meal or for the day, and it definitely tastes better.
I used the Three Crabs brand fish sauce. Depending on the kind you use, you will need to adjust the amount used due to sodium levels and flavor which can vary from brand to brand. This nước chấm or fish sauce recipe is all about making it to fit your taste.
What It’s Commonly Eaten With
There are many types of sauces Vietnamese people use for different foods, but this is the main sauce, primarily seasoned with fish sauce. You’ll usually find a bowl of this sauce next to many Vietnamese foods. For example…
- bún thịt nướng (grilled pork with rice noodle and veggies)
- bánh xèo (savory Vietnamese crepes)
- bánh hỏi
- bánh cuốn
- sườn nướng (grilled pork chops, one of my favorites)
- fried fish, and many more!
Salad and rolls:
- Green Mango Salad with Shrimp (Gỏi Xoài)
- spring rolls or summer rolls
- chả giò (egg rolls)
For different dishes there are slight variations on nước chấm, but we will use this as a base recipe that works great for most things. You can adjust it to your own taste if needed depending on what it’s going with.
For example, local Vietnamese restaurants that sell roasted pork belly, will give you containers of this dipping sauce to go in styrofoam cups that are SUPER sweet, at least to my taste.
It verges on the realm of being syrup. But folks must love it for it to be the businesses’ mainstay. I love my sauces but there’s a point where it can obliterate the taste of the other ingredients in your recipe. This is to say that you should experiement with this recipe to land on ratios you like.
Water – Keep in mind that about half the volume of this sauce is water. So if you’re trying to conserve ingredients, or just not make so much that wouldn’t get used, know that the volume of water you start with, will be half of what you end up with in the final sauce.
Citrus – Start by mixing the water with sugar and lime or lemon. This is basically lemonade. If it’s too sweet, add some water. If it’s not sour enough add some more citrus. The flavor and acidity of lemon or limes can vary from fruit to fruit, so use your taste buds.
Following this recipe exactly each time can produce different results since limes or lemons can vary in liquid, pulp, acidity, etc.
But don’t even think about using bottled juice. That stuff tastes slightly muted, and missing that amazing fresh citrus oil scent that doesn’t stick around too long.
Fish sauce – Slowly add the fish sauce in increments until you gradually reach what the recipe calls for, all the while mixing the sauce and tasting it along the way.
After you get used to making this, you can start to tell by the color of the sauce when you are getting close.
Sugar – If you’re trying to dissolve sugar in cold water and it’s too cold it takes a lot longer to fully dissolve, and you can’t adjust ingredients as you go as accurately. Either use a small amount of hot or warm water enough to dissolve the sugar, then fill in the rest with cold or filtered tap water.
Or if you want to get fancy, make a simple syrup by heating equal parts sugar and water in a pot over medium heat until fully dissolved. If you use 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, you’ll end up with about 1.5 cups of simple syrup. You can save the rest for making cocktails!
Optional additions – Add chopped chilies or finely chopped garlic to the sauce if you like. Chiles are a must for me, and garlic is nice too. Finely chopping garlic is a very time consuming task if you’re doing it manually.
If I’m doing it in bulk, I’ll throw them into a mini food processor, but if it’s just a few I love my garlic press as it’s a huge time saver, and easier to wash than the food processor.
If you live in a household in which each person is going to be picky about their nước chấm, having a mellow base dipping sauce is ideal for that. They can adjust in their own bowls if they want extra fish sauce, lime, sugar, chilies or garlic.
You can keep in an airtight jar in the fridge as you work through it, but I prefer to make it fresh for each meal.
Sometimes you’ll see people put their own twists on this recipe. It’s all about making it your own. I’ve seen some recipes that swap out sugar for some other juices.
In restaurants this is made in big batches. They’ll typically use vinegar for bite instead of lemons since it’s easier and cheaper.
Also, restaurants will not always want to bother finely chopping garlic for your dipping sauce. This is one you can easily add yourself at home.
If you’re looking to try this sauce out I recommend trying my recipe for Vietnamese grilled pork and rice noodle bowls. Let me know what you think about the sauce in a comment below, and thanks for reading!
Other common fish sauce questions…
What is in Vietnamese fish sauce?
Vietnamese fish sauce in its unadulterated form is made from anchovies, sea salt, and water. This is what you’ll typically find in bottles of fish sauce sold at supermarkets.
At Vietnamese restaurants, they also offer a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, water, sugar, citrus, and other optional ingredients like garlic or Thai chiles (like the recipe in this post!). This will be served in a small bowl on the side. If you see a bottle of this stuff on the side of your table, it is most likely the pure fish sauce they portioned out from a larger bottle.
What is nước chấm sauce?
Nước chấm is a Vietnamese dipping sauce that is made from a blend of fish sauce, water, sugar, and citrus (again, the same one you see in the recipe on this post!). You have the option of adding garlic or Thai chiles depending on your flavor preference. You can find this dipping sauce with dishes like chả giò (egg rolls), spring rolls or summer rolls, bánh xèo, bánh cuốn, bún thịt nướng (grilled pork with rice noodle and veggies), and more.
How do you make fish sauce from scratch?
How from scratch are we talkin? 🙂
Recently, I visited a fish sauce factory in Phu Quoc, Vietnam where most of the best fish sauce is produced to see how they made their fermented sauce. The basic ingredient list is anchovies, water, and sea salt, but the process and timeline to create such pungent sauce at home for a months-long project is difficult to achieve. To learn more about fish sauce, read my fish sauce post.
While people ask this, it’s more likely you’re trying to make the prepared dipping fish sauce–the one I have the recipe for below. I do, however, like making Nước chấm sauce at home using store bought fish sauce.
How long does nước chấm last?
While you can fridge nước chấm for about a week, I would recommend using it as soon as possible or making it fresh to enjoy the fresh zing of citrus that doesn’t last long. The flavor will lessen the longer it stays in the fridge.
Is hoisin sauce the same as fish sauce?
No, it’s very different. Fish sauce is made of anchovies, sea salt, and water, whereas hoisin is a thick sauce made from fermented soybean paste, sugar, garlic, and more. While fish sauce has a strong pungent flavor, hoisin has a blend of saltiness and sweetness.
Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce Recipe (Nước Chấm/Nước Mắm Chấm)
- 6 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tbsp freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 bird's eye / Thai chile finely sliced
- Combine water and sugar in a bowl. Optional: heat 1/3 of the water, then mix in to make dissolving the sugar easier, then add the rest of the water.
- Add lime or lemon juice in increments until you like how it tastes. A good guide is it should taste like lemonade/limeade.
- Add fish sauce in small increments until you like how it tastes. It should be a little strong since it will be paired with unseasoned food.
- Top with garlic and chilies then serve.
49 comments on “Vietnamese Fish Sauce Recipe (Nước Chấm)”
My mom makes a simple syrup, boiling the sugar and water first and for some reason it taste so much better because the sugar completely dissolves.
Hi Huy, delicious recipes. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you Alicia, I’m glad you find them useful!
It’s so great to find your wonderful (and alluring) blog.
There are so many different recipes for dipping sauce in Vietnam. The one I like best is smashing some garlic, chilli with sugar, add lime juice, add some water (only if I want diluted sauce for Bún or Rolls), then some fish sauce. I like to crush garlic and chilli at first because it adds a strong taste to the sauce, which is really great when combining with other food.
Just want to share my favorite recipe with you.
Keep doing great work 😀
Hey Trung, smashing the garlic and chile instead of cutting them sounds easy, and a good way to avoid eating them if you just wanted to impart flavor. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Your blog is SUCH a gem, and I am so happy to have stumbled across it! You have some amazing Vietnamese dishes here (and have covered all of my favs, like bun bo hue & banh xeo)!
Hey Connie, thank you so much for the kind words! More recipes both Vietnamese and non, on the way 🙂
Thanks for this simple recipe! I make a batch with just the lime, water, and sugar, and we add garlic/chilli per individual’s taste.
I look forward to using the other recipes on your site! 🙂
Yup it can be pretty easy once you know how it’s supposed to taste. I was completely lost without trying a recipe, despite having eaten this a lot.
Thanks for sharing and let me know if you have any questions about recipes you try!
On a trip to Vietnam past May I simply fell in love with everything the Vietnamese kitchen has to offer. Stumbling over your blog after my travels have ended may have been one of the best things to happen to me since!
Also, this recipe is one of the essentials, I feel. There’s barely any food that isn’t served with this sauce in (south) Vietnam.
Greetings from Germany!
Glad to hear you enjoyed Vietnam Ben! Yeah many dishes would be lacking without this sauce.
Thank you very much for this fish sauce recipe. It is very delicious to eat with spring rolls. Simple and easy! My wife and I are great fans of Vietnamese dishes and we will definitely try out the other recipes on your blog. Great job, Huy!
Made Bun Sai Gon and used this recipe scaled x4 and it worked perfectly. Question: how long do you think this would keep for in the fridge?
my dipping sauce recipe is 1 garlic clove crushed
4 tbs sugar
2/3 cup hot water
1 tbs lime juice
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs white vinegar
half cup grated carrot
Thanks for sharing! This recipe saved me from a previous one I found on google which was horrible! ie. 1/2 cup fish sauce + 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar. Being the first time Nuoc nam attempt, I blindly followed it and had to chuck away because the fish sauce pretty much overpowered the whole thing!!
Thank you for the tips to start with the water/lemon/sugar and add the fish sauce to taste as everyone has different preferences 🙂
I’m a very happy girl for a first time attempt to make rice vermicelli salad!
I make a similar sauce I just cheat by combining seasoned rice vinegar, sweet chilli sauce and fish sauce…it’s the closest I have ever been able to get to the ones that I have eaten at any of the many Restaurants I’ve eaten it and believe me there’s been many
Having toured around Vietnam and eating a lot of vietnamese in Sydney, and tried a bunch of recipes from different books, this is by far THE BEST recipe for this dipping sauce I have ever tasted. the lime totally makes it.
What an awesome compliment Debbie, I’m glad you liked it! I often notice different ratios being used, and even sub for lemons for specific dishes can work well too.
I usually use freshly squeezed lime, water, sugar, garlic, and a small pepper. I think it’s common sense not to use the pre-squeezed lime/lemon juice out of those plastic squeeze bottles, but having read your post…I can’t help but wonder if there is any validity to it? If restaurants use vinegar…then what’s so bad about using the bottled juice? You inspired me to test this out. I think I will make a batch out of the bottled juice for my family and do a taste test. Fantastic recipe, by the way!
Hello! I’ve tried to make this sauce many times with no luck and friends tell me it’s the brand of fish sauce I use… I’m wondering what brand of fish sauce you use?
She is using the 3 Crabs Brand (the bottle will have three crabs 🦀 illustrated on the label)! I notice in one of the first pictures it shows the bottle, partially. I hope this helps!
Hi, I just wanted to say that I love your writing style. It is usual for me to get frustrated with blogs.. I just want the recipe, but you’re writing has an authentic feel to it and I loved it. And the recipe is presented simply too. Thank you 💕💐💐
Wow. This was incredibly informative, and with a tasty result!
I was sufficiently naive to think, oh, fish sauce? I like it! So I bought some, put it in a bowl, and about gagged. This was a long time ago. But this recipe is excellent, and worked really well. Thank you!!
Moved out and need to re-learn my people’s recipes on my own now. Thanks a bunch~
Hope these recipes can help you on that front! 🙂
wonderful explanation of the nuts and bolts of this staple sauce. I wish other recipes were so helpful! I’ve passed it on to my Korean friend who does rice paper rolls but didn’t know nuoc cham.
In my family we use brown sugar, and I’ve seen recipes that use palm sugar – which I think would be better.
your implied comment that fresh lemon is better than not-fresh lime juice was really useful. We usually have to use lemon in NZ (can’t grow decent limes) – I pick the lemons off my own tree – can’t get fresher than that…
I’m glad it was helpful Gordon! Yeah I love the smell of fresh citrus, packaged stuff can’t really match it.
Thanks so much for sharing. it is not easy to get the balance just right. I think dipping sauce is one of the most difficult things to make perfectly. I love the idea of making the syrup or lime soda first and then adding the remaining ingredients in increments. Winner for me. thanks again.
Thanks for sharing Skate! Yeah its best to taste as you go to account for the specific fish sauce, and your preference.
Hi! Would be great for you to have a 2x, 3x and so on conversion . Great recipe!
Hi Thuy, I wish it was more obvious too, but on the “servings” are at the top of the recipe card, you hover that and a slider will appear–you can drag that to scale up or down the recipe!
This is my go to nuoc cham recipe! 🙂 I am low carb keto, and I sub out the sugar for monkfruit and it’s perfect! Thanks for sharing and I enjoy reading your blog. Just followed your journey on instagram as well!
There is a Vietnamese bakery about 5 minutes walking distance from my home, and the woman who owns it makes wonderful fried Vietnamese egg rolls. She told me the ingredients for this dipping fish sauce, but I had no idea how to make it. This is my 3rd time making your recipe, and it is SOOOOOO GOOD! Thank you for sharing it. I will definitely be browsing more of your recipes in the future!
Awesome Rebecca, now you can have it at home any time ya like! 🙂
Note to self:
Just use 1tbs of fish sauce. Used 1/2 tsp minced garlic and 1/4 tbs of red pepper flakes. It turned out just like the restaurant kind.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, recipes and methods. Your website is absolutely full of inspiration, and I am ever so happy that I found it! 😊
Glad you like it, thanks Susanna!
Just brightened up a Covid lockdown evening in Auckland, New Zealand. Thanks! 2x Thai chilles for us 🙂 Really yummy on a baked snapper with a Vietnamese lemongrass marinade (Cha ca inspired whole fish).
Awesome Vaughan, thanks for sharing!
You have no idea how many versions of this that I tried just to get the taste as close as the restaurant version of this and this is the ONE. it’s so good I have to do a cheat day to get extra rice. I tried your pork chop recipe as well. That alone with no sauce is great. Followed the recipe as is. With this sauce, it’s trouble I tell you. Thanks for this awesome recipe.
Glad to hear you liked it Ted! 🙂
I have been making this for decades using the various recipes when I did not just pull it out of my head for proportions. This makes sense to make the lemonade first.
While at my local Dat Moi Market in Southern California. I kept seeing the fried onions and smelling them.
Yesterday at home I tried this.
Sugar in pan and melt until Carmel and light to medium brown and then tossed in minced shallots and removed from flame. Let them get on together for a few minutes and zested lime and tangerine peel. Squeezed the juices, water and let come to room temp. The sugar was not as sweet so I added more. Then the fish sauce to taste, garlic, chili and scallion. This might be my Nuac Cham through my 60’s until I take another fork in the road.
Thank you for reading.
Wow thanks for sharing your version Vaughn that sounds great!
I have been searching for this recipe for years! I’ve done YouTube videos and other blogs, but for some reason, this recipe just gets it right each time. Absolutely delicious! I love the citrus and sweet notes in it. I make it more often now that I know how. Thank you so much for sharing and detailing why each ingredient works and what to substitute with.
Love this recipe. So easy and perfect. Will be making this sauce for a long time. Thank you so much for sharing.
Can you use palm sugar (coconut sugar) instead of regular sugar?
You can but it will impart additional palm sugar flavor!
Why does my sauce look so dark compared to yours? Is there a light colored fish sauce that I can use? My Fish sauce is dark and it is not as appealing as your clear-looking sauce. Thank you.
Yeah some brands will vary in color, feel free to test out others! Lately I’ve been leaning towards natural, no additive ones and am not too concerned about how it looks.