Vietnamese Dipping Sauce – Nuoc Cham

Nuoc cham in Vietnamese means a general dipping sauce, however, in this case we’re speaking of nuoc mam pha or “mixed fish sauce” which is the most widely common used sauce.  If you’re familiar with Vietnamese food, you’ll find that nuoc mam pha is served with the majority of our dishes in different variations.  The flavor varies depending on the preparer’s individual preference but the main ingredients are generally the same.  Some people substitute lime/lemon for vinegar and vice versa.  I personally prefer the fresh tanginess of lime in my nuoc mam pha.  Here’s the basic recipe and you can always add more of a particular ingredient according to your taste.

  • 1 part lime/lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1/2 part minced garlic
  • 1-2 chopped thai chili
  • 1 part fish sauce
  • 1 part sugar
  • 2 parts water

Some people prepare the sauce on a hot stove to dissolve the sugar more quickly, then leave to cool before adding the rest of the ingredients.  The flavor is pungent, sweet yet sour, and sometimes hot… my favorite!


I combine the garlic and chili together in a mortar and pound into a smooth paste – add a little sugar to keep it from splattering.Transfer to a bowl and add fish sauce, water, lime and sugar.