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Mar 25, 2010 09:44 PM

Help identifying sauce used in Vietnamese cuisine


I'm new to the board and I have a question that has nagged me for a long time. Growing up I had a Vietnamese friend who's father used to make us bowls of rice and either chicken or pork. It was delicious and he would never tell me what the sauce was.
It was clear, not amber colored at all like most fish sauces and I don't remember any kind of fishy or overly salty taste like most fish sauces I've tried has.

Any help in uncovering this mystery would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. my guess is nuoc nam (google it), which while uses fish sauce, it is mixed with a few other things as well.

    but I'm no expert.

    6 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      Nuoc nam is just Vietnamese fish sauce.

      The sauce could have been any one of 100s of sauces.

      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Isn't the Vietnamese name for fish sauce nuoc mam? It's nam pla in Thai. Never heard of nuoc nam. Anyhow, my guess is that hill food was talking about nuoc cham.

        My most basic nuoc cham recipe is just equal parts lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and water. Maybe the OP could give that a try.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          nuoc mam is indeed fish sauce. (the pure stuff)
          nuoc cham is a generic term for dipping (fish) sauces. (things added)

          the OP's description is too vague. i think OP had the basic nuoc cham you mentioned above (plus garlic and crushed fresh chilis). Vietnamese nuoc cham is quite mild. warm water is used.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            cham, yeah I think that is what I was thinking of but as I said I'm no expert.

            1. re: alanbarnes

              Oh my goodness. Yes, I made a mistake - its nuoc mam - while getting Dana Zsofia out the door this morning. Cut one of my fingers off.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Leave the digits intact, already. I was just confused because both you and hill food referred to something in a way I'd never seen before. And you're not the only ones - Google "nuoc nam" and you get tons of results. Here I was hoping to learn something new. Or maybe I did - that the eminent Dr. Fujisaka is fallible like the rest of us. ;-)

        2. Maybe it was scallion oil.

          1. On a basic VN home stir fry you will find meat and veg are stir fried in hot oil, then sugar, water, and fish sauce are added can add a dash of Maggi Seasoning as well. The end result is clearish and liquidy. The fish sauce doesn't make the dish "fishy" tasting, it just gives saltiness and depth of flavor.

            3 Replies
            1. re: luckyfatima

              If he meant the sauce was separate from the protein and poured over the rice, it was nuoc cham. Nuoc cham is light amber, though. One doesn't have to add chiles, garlic, carrots, radish, in it, it can also just be nuoc mam, sugar, lime juice, and water.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                I've never seen anyone pour a sauce over rice in Vietnam.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  The meat is pan cooked or grilled, placed on top of the rice in a small pho-bowl sized bowl. Then the nuoc cham is poured on top of both the rice and meat. The eater mixes this with chopsticks to distribute the seasoning sauce on the rice as well. Seen it many times never in Vietnam but in Vietnamese-American homes. One would mix nuoc cham on the rice in com tam and com + protein dishes on a flat plate as well.

            2. A year or two ago, I asked a Vietnamese friend to come over and show me some basic recipes. He made a sauce to pour over the braised pork chops we made. Here are the notes I took:

              dressing/dipping sauce to pour over meat, noodles, veg

              3 tbsp. white sugar
              juice of one lime
              splash water - can add more to taste later
              2-3 tbsp. fish sauce
              sambal chili paste or sriracha to taste

              taste, and add water/lime/chili as needed
              can be used for pouring on practically any herbal vietnamese dishes


              1. Alot of Vietnamese use Golden Mountain as a sauce over rice or in soup.