Nước chấm, a beloved staple in Vietnamese cuisine, is a testament to our culinary heritage. It’s not just a sauce; it’s a cultural symbol. We use it in a myriad of ways, from seasoning to marinating, dipping to pickling. It’s our version of ketchup, but with a unique twist. Translating to ‘dipping sauce ‘, it’s most commonly used in this way, but it’s also a versatile flavour enhancer that can elevate the taste of many dishes, surprising your taste buds with a delightful blend of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes. 

What is Nước chấm?

The base of most Nước chấm sauces is fish sauce, a fermented product made from anchovies. Unfortunately, our sauce isn’t suitable for vegetarians or vegans, but we’re constantly developing new products and innovative ideas to bring Vietnamese flavours to everyone. Fish sauce is mixed with various spices to give it its unique umami flavour. Nước chấm can vary depending on the region of Vietnam the recipe came from and can even be subtly different between families. The recipe comes from my grandparents, the original Vietnamese Boat People. 

Minor alterations depending on the dish 

Nước chấm’s versatility is a testament to its adaptability. It’s not just a sauce, it’s a canvas for your culinary creativity. Beyond dipping, it can be used as a salad dressing or as a finishing touch to soups and noodle dishes.  It allows for customisation and personal expression, adding another layer of interactivity to the Vietnamese dining experience. It’s not uncommon for the sauce to be altered slightly for the dish it’s being paired with, giving you the freedom to tailor its taste to your liking. 

For instance, Nước chấm served with spring or summer rolls might need a little more citrus.  On the other hand, Nước chấm for grilled meats might be spicier and more savoury to complement the richness of the meat.

When you use it with duck, it’s best to add extra ginger and chilli to cut out some of the meat’s fatty flavours. With fish, extra ginger with added citrus and coriander is perfect. If you’re familiar with using tofu, you must do a lot with it as it’s pretty bland! I’d add extra onion, garlic and chilli for a real flavour boost. 

Where did it come from?

Although Nước chấm is definitely a product of Vietnam, it is also used across Asia with slightly different variations. But the main ingredient, fish sauce, can be traced back to Ancient Rome, where it’s even been referred to in 4th-century texts! It has also been found in ancient Spain, Portugal, and Northern Africa. 

There’s no evidence to suggest that it found its way from Europe to Asia, but it’s a worldwide phenomenon! 

Top 5 things to use Nước chấm for 

  1. Spring and Summer Roll 

A spring roll uses a pastry wrap and is deep-fried. Traditionally, it’s filled with chopped ingredients like minced pork, prawns, imitation crap, wood ear mushrooms, carrot and radish/ Kohlrabi. I like to pour in the sauce and wrap it in lettuce with extra cucumber. You can, of course, dunk it like a French fry in ketchup! 

Summer rolls is a name given to Gỏi cuốn by Westerners and adopted by us as the translation isn’t too far off. Sometimes, this can also be called a salad roll. It’s always cold and combines cucumber, carrot, and lettuce with many herbs. Traditionally, it also includes prawns or pork and pork rind but can be made with tofu. All wrapped in a rice paper roll. Like the spring roll, dip and enjoy!   

  1. Vietnamese BBQ 

In a Vietnamese BBQ, the meat is grilled, which in our house is typically indoors, and traditionally, it is then placed in a bowl of Nước chấm and served with loads of fresh soft lettuce, a variety of herbs and pickled vegetables.  

  1. Vietnamese Pancake 

It’s wafer-thin and very crispy. It’s typically made with coconut milk and turmeric, which gives it its bright orange colour. It’s filled with spring onions, prawns, pork belly, and bean sprouts. It’s a delicious snack in Vietnam, but it can definitely be a meal in itself! This rich, savoury dish is perfect with the dipping sauce, which cuts through the fried pancake with a sour and savoury explosion. 

  1. Fish Cake/Prawn Cakes 

Unlike a Western fishcake, no potato and no breadcrumbs are involved here. It’s just mashed-up fish mixed with rice flour and fried. This gives them a unique, bouncy and chewy texture and is often found in Banh Mi or served with Vermicelli noodles. They’re delicious! Herbs like dill, lemongrass and chilli are so crucial for this dish. Like you’d want tartar sauce for a Western fishcake, you’ll want Nước chấm to dip your Vietnamese fish cakes into. 

  1. Noodle Salad 

Loads of vegetables chopped finely, vermicelli or flat rice noodles cooked, cooled, and then tossed in the Nước chấm sauce for the best salad dressing. You can then lift the dish with the sweetness of mango or papaya. It’s pretty standard to find peanuts and sesame being sprinkled on top. 

Where to get Nước chấm? 

If you want to try our wonderful Nước chấm sauce, which is full of chilli and garlic, you can grab a bottle now from our store