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.
Mắm Tôm is particularly popular in Northern Vietnamese cuisine and it is featured in many dishes such as Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm (Rice Noodles with Fried Tofu and Shrimp Paste) or Chả Cá Lã Vọng (Hanoi Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill).
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. 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.
If you find Mắm Tôm too intense, try the dipping fish sauce instead:
🙋♀️ 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:
- Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm (Rice Noodles with Fried Tofu and Fermented Shrimp Paste Dipping Sauce)
- 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:
- 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.
For making Mắm Tôm shrimp paste, you’ll require just a handful of ingredients:
- 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.
- 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.
- MSG: optional, but it can help balance the flavor. Sugar alone can also work fine.
- 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.
- In a pan, heat some oil, add the sliced shallots, and cook until they turn slightly golden.
- 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.
🌟 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.
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Mắm Tôm Shrimp Paste (Authentic Way To Prepare)
- 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)
- 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.
- Don’t confuse Mắm Tôm with Mắm Ruốc. Look for a product from a Vietnamese brand with the word “Mắm Tôm” on the label.