Nuoc Cham Deconstructed

Nuoc Cham – Dipping Fish Sauce


Lime is the hardest, sharpest and most acidic member of the citrus family. Soy sauce is that rich, savoury, salty seasoning. And sugar is the pure sensation, crystallised pleasure which all people seem to have an innate desire for. The amalgamation of these three taste sensations, which tickles four of the five known receptor types in our mouths (sweet, sour, salt and umami), is the base for the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce and dressing nước chấm. In addition, a blast of chilli and hint of garlic adds heat and flavour to an already outstanding combination. The real secret, however, is to blend such ingredients in the most accurate of proportions, the accuracy of which is determined by your palette…

This version is what sends my palette in to sensory overdrive; it sucks me up in to a whirlwind of oral pleasure, dunks me in to a lagoon of citrus delight and then transports me to a corner of Hanoi whilst punching me with savoury heat, satisfying saltiness and garlicky tartness. Enjoy.


Serves: Used as a dip or a dressing for 4 people.   |   Preparation:  5 minutes   |   Cooking: 30 minutes resting



30ml Fish sauce | Ensure that this is real fish sauce and not synthesised. Check the label on the bottle. If it has ‘flavours’ then it is synthesised.
20ml Lime juice | Yield from one medium lime.
25ml Rice wine vinegar |
1 clove Garlic | Crushed.
½ with seeds Bird’s eye chilli | This can be varied depending on your heat desire. ½ bird’s eye chilli adds a lovely warming tingle.
35g White caster sugar |



How To:

Add the fish sauce, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, garlic, chilli and sugar to a non-reactive* bowl. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Leave to stand for at least half an hour before using; this lets the ingredients become well acquainted.

*A non-reactive bowl is one such as ceramic, glass or stainless steel. Reactive bowls include those made from aluminium, copper and cast iron. When using acidic ingredients, in this case vinegar and lime, the acid in these ingredients can react with untreated surfaces (reactive bowls) and dissolve some of the metal causing the food to take on a metallic taste.



–        This will keep in the fridge for about 5 days if covered.

–        For a bigger batch just increase the proportions relative to each other. I tend to make less but more often as the freshness of the lime can deteriorate over time.


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