Nước Chấm (or Nước Mắm Chấm, Nước Mắm Pha) is the holy grail of dipping sauces in Vietnamese cooking with the perfect blend of salty, tangy, umami and sweet flavors.

I’ve got you both a home-style method and a pro tip from restaurants to prepare a big batch of Nước Chấm that’ll stay fresh in your fridge for a solid two months without losing any deliciousness.

A small white bowl filled with Vietnamese dipping fish sauce, with minced garlic and chili

Nước Chấm Demystified

In Vietnamese, Nước Chấm generally refers to “dipping sauce.” This recipe for dipping fish sauce is one of the most classic and popular variations of Nước Chấm.

Honestly, in Vietnam, we don’t really use the term “Nước Chấm” for this dipping sauce.

Locals typically call it fish sauce with garlic & chili (nước mắm tỏi ớt) or sweet & sour fish sauce (nước mắm chua ngọt).

Moreover, in my home country, pure fish sauce (Nước Mắm) is not only used for seasoning but also for dipping, such as when served alongside the fish in Canh Chua (sweet & sour soup).

A bowl of Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm chấm) with chili, garlic and a flower made from Chili as decoration.
The dipping fish sauce from my mom (only pure fish sauce, chili and garlic, no sugar or vinegar at all)

Southern vs. Northern Nước Chấm

There isn’t a fixed ratio for Nước Chấm; each Vietnamese family may have their own recipe. The ratios vary depending on the fish sauce and the citrus/vinegar.

A small white bowl filled with Vietnamese dipping fish sauce, with minced garlic and chili

This recipe leans towards the Southern flavor with a slightly sweet taste.

Southern Nước Chấm is sometimes garnished with Đồ Chua (pickled carrot & daikon).

The Northern Nước Chấm tends to be less sweet and more tangy. It serves as the dipping sauce for Nem Rán (Hanoi Fried Spring Rolls) and Bún Chả Hà Nội (rice noodles with grilled pork patties).

Bun Cha Dipping Sauce
Northern dipping fish sauce

How to serve Nước Chấm

This Nước Chấm is very versatile. It can serve as a dipping sauce or as a dressing for Vietnamese rice noodle salad. You could find a bowl of Nước Chấm alongside many Vietnamese dishes like:

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As a dipping sauce:

Delicious and refreshing Gỏi Cuốn - Vietnamese fresh spring rolls filled with succulent shrimp, tender slices of pork belly, crisp lettuce, rice vermicelli, and fragrant fresh herbs. Wrapped in translucent rice paper, these vibrant rolls are served with a tantalizing dipping sauce.
Gỏi Cuốn (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)
Bánh Xèo - Vietnamese sizzling crepes with shrimp, pork, and mung bean sprouts, served with fresh herbs and dipping sauce.
Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Sizzling Pancakes)
Banh Cuon (Vietnamese steamed rolls)
Bánh Cuốn (Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls)
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As rice noodle salad dressing:

Delicious Vietnamese Bun Bo Xao - A flavorful noodle salad dish with tender stir-fried beef, fresh herbs, and rice noodles, topped with peanuts and served with Vietnamese dipping sauce.
Bún Bò Xào (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad)
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Bowl
Bún Gà Nướng (Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Salad)

Ingredients

  • Fish sauce: use high-quality fish sauce. I like Red Boat.
  • Vinegar or lime juice: Lime juice provides a refreshing citrus flavor (which I prefer), while vinegar is often used to make Nước Chấm in Vietnamese restaurants because it’s cheaper and can help extend the shelf life of the dipping sauce.
  • Garlic and chili: They are also essential ingredients for Nước Mắm Chấm.
  • Sugar & Water

Instructions (home vs. restaurant)

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Home way

At home, some Vietnamese often use a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic and chili, which helps release more aroma from the garlic. Then, they mix in the fish sauce, water, and lime juice/vinegar.

However, many people prefer a bowl of Nước chấm with finely minced garlic and chili floating on the top, as it looks more enticing.

A small white bowl filled with Vietnamese dipping fish sauce, with minced garlic and chili

You could use a garlic press or an electric mini chopper to finely mince the garlic and chili, then incorporate them into the bowl of prepared fish sauce.

If you can handle spiciness, go for Thai chilies. Otherwise, choose Goat Horn peppers, which are much milder.

I recommend the ratio: 1 fish sauce : 1 sugar : 2 water. The lime/lemon juice can be adjusted at the end.

However, there’s rarely a set ratio for homemade Nước Chấm, as it largely varies depending on the ingredients used, such as the type of fish sauce and the acidity of the lime or lemon.

Vietnamese moms have their own ultimate method for making Nước Chấm without any ratios:

  • Prepare a well-balanced lemonade with a harmonious blend of sweet and citrus flavors. I recommend using warm water since it helps dissolve the sugar better.
  • Slowly add the fish sauce until you achieve a dipping sauce with a well-rounded blend of sweetness, tanginess, and saltiness.

This method may sound a bit complicated, but it’s actually simple once you try it. It allows you to adjust the ingredient amounts depending on what you have that day.

With practice, you can even judge if your Nước Chấm is ready simply by observing its color.

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Restaurant/Large batch way

In restaurants, vinegar is often used instead of lime/lemon juice for several reasons: it provides consistent flavor, is more cost-effective, and helps extend the shelf life of the fish sauce.

The fixed ratio for the fish sauce blend is: 1 cup fish sauce : 1 cup sugar : 2 cups water : 2 tablespoons 5% vinegar (1cup = 240ml).

  • Combine the fish sauce, sugar, and water. Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer the fish sauce for 3 minutes. Skim off all the scum on the surface of the sauce.
  • Add vinegar and let the mixture cool to cool completely before storing it in the refrigerator. It can be kept for up to two months.
  • Garlic and chili are added each time using this fish sauce.
a jar of Vietnamese dipping fish sauce
It can be stored up to two months

Instructional Video

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How to make Vietnamese dipping fish sauce

Local Variations in Vietnam

Here’s the quintessential recipe for this beloved Vietnamese dipping sauce, perfect for beginners. But if you’re looking to take it up a notch, let me share some local tips:

  • For Vietnamese salads (Gỏi) and Cơm Tấm (broken rice dish), we use concentrated sweet & sour fish sauce (Nước Mắm Kẹo). Normal Nước Chấm would make the salad too watery.
    • To make it, simmer the fish sauce mixture longer.
  • Adding some pineapple chunks while simmering could enhance both flavor and color.
  • Substitute water with coconut water (best choice), Coco Rico, or Sprite & 7UP , adjusting sugar accordingly.
  • In Nha Trang, my hometown, we often add both tomato and pineapple to balance the robust fish sauce flavor and impart a rich umami taste.

FAQs

Nước Chấm (Vietnamese dipping fish sauce)

What is the difference between nuoc mam and nuoc cham?

In Vietnam, Nước Mắm (fish sauce) refers to pure fish sauce with only salty and umami flavors. Nước Chấm, on the other hand, is a prepared dipping fish sauce, combining fish sauce with vinegar (or lime juice), sugar, chili, and garlic

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What is the best fish sauce from Vietnam?

If you travel Vietnam, you could buy fish sauce made in Phú Quốc, Nha Trang, or Phan Thiết. Pay attention to the degrees (°N) on the label (should be around 30°N - 40°N). Besides, the best is the first press fish sauce.

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Where to buy fish sauce in Vietnam?

In Vietnam, you can buy fish sauce in local markets, supermarkets, and specialty stores. My recommended brands are Thanh Hà, Khải Hoàn, and Hạnh Phúc. Outside the country, the best brand so far is Red Boat.

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Other Asian Dipping Sauces

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A small white bowl filled with Vietnamese dipping fish sauce, with minced garlic and chili

Classic Nước Chấm – Vietnamese Fish Sauce Recipe

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Vietnamese dipping fish sauce (nước mắm chấm) is a classic condiment, perfect for enhancing Vietnamese dishes. Easy to make with simple ingredients, it refrigerates well for two months.
5 from 7 votes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course Condiments
Cuisine Vietnamese

Ingredients
  

  • ½ US cup high-quality fish sauce (120ml)
  • ½ US cup sugar (120ml)
  • 1 US cup water (240ml)
  • 1 tbsp Vinegar (5%)
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 1 Thai Chili

Instructions
 

  • Mince the garlic and chili.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the fish sauce, sugar, and water.
  • Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Skim off all the scums from the surface of the sauce.
  • Add vinegar. Remove the saucepan from heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer the sauce to a clean jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid. It could be stored up to 2 months.
  • Add minced garlic and minced chili each time you use the sauce.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
5/5 - (38 votes)

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Fischsauce
9 months ago

5 stars
Fish sauce is a staple in my kitchen because it adds a
delightful complexity to my dishes without overpowering the other flavors.