Mắm Tôm (Fermented Shrimp Paste) is a strong and pungent condiment in Vietnamese cuisine. Much like Blue Cheese or Durian, Mắm Tôm is not for those with a timid palate, but once you acquire a taste for it, you may become hooked.

a bowl of Mam Tom (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste)

Mắm Tôm is particularly popular in Northern Vietnamese cuisine. In this post, I will guide you on how to select the right Mắm Tôm (as not all shrimp paste is the same) and how to prepare it in an authentic Vietnamese style.

“Mắm” in Vietnamese Cuisine

In Vietnamese cuisine, Mắm refers to products made from fermented seafood (anchovy fish and shrimp are the most popular). They can be used as dipping sauces or seasonings.

This is not a new concept in Southeast Asia. Fermented fish or shrimp paste is widely used in the cuisines of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and other Southeast Asian countries.

Nước Mắm (fish sauce) is merely the starting point in the world of “Mắm” in Vietnam. It’s commonly used for seasoning or making dipping sauces like the classic Nước Chấm or Nước Mắm Gừng (ginger fish sauce).

If you enjoy nước mắm, you can continue to explore more robust options like Mắm Tôm, Mắm Ruốc, or Mắm Nêm to challenge your palate further.

A small white bowl filled with Vietnamese dipping fish sauce, with minced garlic and chili
Nuoc Mam Dipping Sauce

🙋‍♀️ What is Mắm Tôm?

Mắm Tôm is a popular fermented shrimp paste in Northern Vietnamese cuisine. It should not be confused with Mắm Ruốc, another type of fermented shrimp paste originating from Huế, which is an essential ingredient in Bún Bò Huế (Hue Spicy Beef Noodles).

Mắm Tôm is a popular dipping sauce for many Northern dishes such as:

  • Chả Cá Lã Vọng (Hanoi Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill)
  • Thịt luộc (Boiled Pork Belly)

Or it could be used as a seasoning for:

  • Canh Bún (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup with Water Spinach)
  • Bún Riêu Cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)

To ensure you select authentic Mắm Tôm, opt for a Vietnamese brand with the label “Mắm Tôm.” Maybe you should go to the Vietnamese markets rather than a general Asian market to get the correct product.

A jar of Mam Tom

🍲 Ingredients

For making Mắm Tôm shrimp paste, you’ll require just a handful of ingredients:

Ingredients for Mắm Tôm: Mắm Tôm Shrimp Paste, Calamansi, Chili, Shallots
  • Mắm Tôm: The essential fermented shrimp paste from a Vietnamese brand.
  • Sugar: Used to balance the flavors.
  • Calamansi: it’s the traditional choice for preparing Mắm Tôm in Hanoi, but you can also substitute it with lime, lemon, or vinegar, ranked from preferred to less preferred options.
  • Chili: To add a spicy kick to your dipping sauce.
  • MSG: optional, but it can help balance the flavor. Sugar alone can also work fine.
  • Shallots and cooking oil: Fried shallots and shallot oil serve to diminish the strong aroma of the shrimp paste and also enhance the overall flavor of the dipping sauce.
sliced shallots on a cutting board

📝 Instructions

  • In a bowl, mix shrimp paste with sugar, MSG (optional) and calamansi juice. Whisk until everything combines. Good Mắm tôm shrimp paste should produce a lot of froth when whisked.
a bowl of mam tom
  • In a pan, heat some oil, add the sliced shallots, and cook until they turn slightly golden.
frying the shallots
  • Add the fried shallots and some hot oil to the bowl of Mắm Tôm. Mix well.
  • Add some slices of chili, and your mắm tôm is ready to enjoy now.
a bowl of Mam Tom (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste)

🌟 Mắm Tôm Substitutes

Well, I’m quite strict when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine , which is why I can’t see any perfect substitutes for Mắm Tôm. However, if you can’t find authentic Mắm Tôm, you could use any fermented shrimp paste you have on hand.

If you can’t eat shrimp paste at all, you could use Nước Mắm aka Vietnamese fish sauce.

🌟 Helpful Tips

  • Don’t confuse Mắm Tôm with Mắm Ruốc. Seek out a product from a Vietnamese brand with the word “Mắm Tôm” on the label.
  • If you can’t handle Mắm Tôm as a dipping sauce, consider trying Nước Mắm Chấm (Northern Style or Southern Style). There’s no shame in it, as many Vietnamese people also find it challenging to handle.
  • Since Mắm Tôm has a strong aroma, it’s a good idea to have some chewing gum ready to freshen your breath after the meal.

🍜 More Northern Vietnamese dishes

a plate of Pho Xao Gion, a Vietnamese dish featuring crispy fried Pho noodles topped with stir-fried beef and a medley of fresh herbs and vegetables

Phở Áp Chảo (Crispy Pan-fried Phở)

Going beyond the traditional Beef Pho (Phở Bò) or Chicken Pho (Phở Gà), this Phở Áp Chảo is a new creation from Hanoi. The combination of crispy pan-fried pho noodles and delectable stir-fried beef is simply a hit. If you enjoy Mì Xào Giòn (fried egg noodles) or Hủ Tiếu Xào (stir-fried flat rice noodles with beef), I’m pretty sure you’ll be a fan of this Phở Áp Chảo.

Vietnamese Egg Coffee (Ca Phe Trung)

Vietnamese Egg Coffee

During your Hanoi food tour, you can’t miss Vietnamese egg coffee aka Cà Phê Trứng. Created by Mr. Giảng, a dedicated local barista, Vietnamese Egg Coffee has captured the hearts of many coffee fans around the world, much like its fellow Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cà Phê Sữa Đá).

Thit Kho Tau (Northern-style Vietnamese Caramelized Pork & Eggs)

Northern Thịt Kho Tàu (Braised Pork & Eggs)

The Southern Thịt Kho is quite popular, but have you tried the Northern version? It offers a different vibe since the eggs are fried before braising (similar to Chinese Tiger Eggs). It pairs perfectly with steamed sticky rice to create a favorite Hanoian breakfast combo.

Did you find this recipe helpful?

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a bowl of Mam Tom (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste)

Mắm Tôm Shrimp Paste (Authentic Way To Prepare)

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Mắm Tôm is a potent condiment in Vietnamese cuisine. Similar Blue Cheese or Durian, it's not for the faint of heart, but once you acquire a taste for it, you might become hooked.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Course Condiments
Cuisine Vietnamese
Servings 1 person

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tbsp Mắm Tôm (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
  • 1 tbsp sugar (to your taste)
  • 2 calamansi (Only juice)
  • ¼ tsp MSG (Optional)
  • 1 tbsp sliced shallots
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • Chili (sliced) (to your taste)

Instructions
 

  • In a bowl, combine shrimp paste, sugar, msg (optional), and calamansi juice. Whisk until well blended. Quality Mắm Tôm should froth up when whisked.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add the sliced shallots, and cook until they take on a light golden hue.
  • Mix the fried shallots and some of the hot oil with the Mắm Tôm mixture.
  • Lastly, add some chili slices, and yourshrimp paste is ready to enjoy.

Notes

  • Don’t confuse Mắm Tôm with Mắm Ruốc. Look for a product from a Vietnamese brand with the word “Mắm Tôm” on the label.
  • If Mắm Tôm as a dipping sauce is too strong, try Nước Mắm Chấm (Northern Style or Southern Style); many Vietnamese also find it intense.
  • Because of its strong aroma, don’t forget to chew gum to freshen your breath after the meal.
  • Calamansi is traditional for Mắm Tôm in Hanoi, but you can also use lime, lemon, or vinegar, in order of preference.
     
 
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