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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This classic Nước Chấm (or Nước Mắm Chấm, Nước Mắm Pha) is the ultimate dipping fish sauce in Vietnamese Cuisine. It has an ideal balance of saltiness, umami, tanginess, and sweetness.

Making my Nước Chấm is really a breeze. The best part? I’ll provide you with both a local home method and a restaurant tip to prepare a large batch of Nước Chấm that can be stored in the fridge for up to two months without any changes in flavor.

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

🙋‍♀️ What is Nước Chấm?

In Vietnamese, Nước chấm refers to “dipping sauce” in general. There are many kinds of Nước chấm in Vietnam. This dipping fish sauce recipe is the most classic and popular Nước chấm. It could serve as a dipping sauce or as a salad dressing for most of Vietnamese bun bowls (noodle salad dishes).

In Vietnam, Pure fish sauce (Nước Mắm) is also used as a dipping sauce since some Vietnamese (like my parents) prefer their dipping fish sauce without any sweetness.

A bowl of Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm chấm) with chili, garlic and a flower made from Chili as decoration.
Nước Mắm Chấm 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 unique recipe. The proportions also vary depending on the saltiness of the fish sauce and the acidity of the citrus or vinegar used. Just feel free to adapt the ratio to suit your taste.

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

Close-up of a bowl filled with Hanoi-style dipping fish sauce, garnished with sliced carrots, kohlrabi.
Nước Chấm (Northern Style)

🌟 How to serve Nước Chấm

In Vietnam, 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 served with many Vietnamese dishes (especially Southern dishes):

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

🛒 Ingredients

  • Fish sauce: use high-quality fish sauce
  • 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)

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

That’s why they use a knife and cutting board, a garlic press or a mini chopper to finely mince the garlic and chili, then incorporate them into the bowl of prepared fish sauce.

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.

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 = 250ml).

  • 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

How to make Vietnamese dipping fish sauce

🌟 FAQ


What is the difference between Vietnamese nước mắm and nước chấm?

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

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.

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 4 votes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Course Condiments
Cuisine Vietnamese

Equipment

  • 1 Saucepan
  • 1 jar
  • 1 Spoon

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup fish sauce (125ml)
  • ½ cup sugar (125ml)
  • 1 cup water (250ml)
  • 1 tbsp Vinegar (5%)
  • Minced garlic
  • Minced chili

Instructions
 

  • 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)

2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Fish sauce is a staple in my kitchen because it adds a
    delightful complexity to my dishes without overpowering the other flavors.

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