Vietnamese Sauces

Vietnamese sauce recipes commence with an important element of Vietnamese cuisine – nuoc cham or the Vietnamese dipping sauce. Nuoc cham is a fish sauce-based dipping sauce, served with spring rolls in Vietnamese restaurants and with a number of other dishes.

Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Chili Sauce for Dipping)


  • 2 Dried red chilies
  • 2 Cloves garlic
  • 1/2 ts Sugar
  • 2 tb Fish sauce
  • 1 tb Vinegar
  • 1 tb Lemon juice


The red stuff can be had in stores. It comes in a clear plastic bottle with a green lid and a red rooster on the plastic. Or in smaller glass jars. It’s called “Tuong ot toi Viet Nam” (tung ot toy) and is nothing more than red chiles mashed up with a bit of garlic. You could easily make it by smashing up a handful of the little red hot peppers and a couple of cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle. There’s a similar Filipino sauce called “Sambal Oeleck”++virtually the same but with the addition of vinegar. Here’s my favorite recipe for nuoc cham. I have some variants if you’d like to see those too. I use it on a lot of stuff++it’s very good with poached or white cooked chicken, thousand year eggs, shrimp chips.

Mince chilies and garlic finely and place in a mortar. Mash with the heel of a cleaver or pestle. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add fish sauce, vinegar and lemon juice, stirring between each addition. This makes enough for 2 to 4 people. I almost always double the recipe just to make sure there’s enough. I’ve kept it for long periods of time but unless you freeze it, it’s past it’s prime after a few days.

From “Great Asia Steambook” by Irene Wong. Published by Taylor and Ng, distributed by Random House. 1977. ISBN 0-912738-11-1.

This is a basic chili sauce used for a dip for chicken or whatever. Variations of this are found in Cambodia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. You can fiddle with it endlessly. This is a good starting point. The proportions shown here produce what I consider a mildly warm dip. I generally use two to six times as many chilies, depending on their strength and how hot I want it.

VARIATIONS: Use green serrano chilies instead of dried red ones, thinly slice a red or green chili into rounds and toss them in, lime juice instead of the lemon juice or palm sugar instead of granulated. If you make it in a food processor, don’t over process. It should have small chunks of each ingredient rather than being a homogeneous liquid. The taste is sour and hot, very puckery. It’s great with poached or steamed chicken, duck or game hens. Much better with basically bland dishes rather than something like curry which has it’s own blend of spices. Good with Chinese white-cut chicken or Steamed Ginger Chicken with Black Bean sauce. It’s truly addictive and I often serve it with meals that are not Oriental in origin. Should be good with a firm- fleshed white fish or boiled shrimp or crab. Fish sauce is a liquid made with anchovies and salt. It’s not really fishy tasting. Look for it in the oriental section of supermarkets or at markets catering to Asian clientele. Tiparos is a good brand made in the Philippines. I prefer Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, but they’ll probably be harder to find. A timesaver is to combine large quantities of the liquid ingredients and store them in the fridge. Then, when you want some Nuoc Cham, just chop up the chilies and garlic, pound them with the sugar and add them to the liquid.

Vietnamese Lemongrass Marinade


  • 1/4 c Lemongrass, chopped -(4-6 stalks) or
  • 1/4 c Dried lemongrass or
  • 6 Strips lemon zest
  • 3 Garlic clove(s) -minced (1 tbs)
  • 2 (to 3) shallots -minced (3 tbs)
  • 2 Serrano, jalape=A4o or -Thai chilies, minced
  • 2 ts Brown sugar -or to taste
  • 3 tb Fish sauce
  • 3 tb Lime juice
  • 1 ts Vietnamese or Thai -hot sauce or chili oil -or Tabasco sauce


Cut off the top 2/3 of each lemongrass stalk, trim off the outside leaves and roots, and slice the core thinly.

Pur=82e the lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chilies, and brown sugar to a fine paste. Work in the fish sauce, lime juice, and hot sauce. Marinate fish or thinly sliced poultry or beef for 1-2 hours, turning once or twice.

Makes enough for 1=AB-2 pounds seafood, poultry, or meat.

High-Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking by Steven Raichlen

Nuoc Leo (Peanut Sauce)


  • 1 Clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 tb Vegetable oil
  • 1 sm Piece of pork liver (see -note below), minced
  • 1 tb Ground pork
  • 1 ts Tomato paste
  • 1/4 c Tuong
  • 1/2 c Water
  • 1 1/2 ts Peanut butter
  • 1 tb Granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tb Sesame seeds
  • 10 Roasted peanuts, coarsely -chopped [I use unsalted -Planter’s roasted Peanuts.]
  • Thin strips of hot pepper -for garnish


I prefer the following version. It’s a bit more complex, but one of the ingredients might be a bit hard to find++tuong, a kind of soy bean paste used in Vietnam. A good Vietnamese market will have it.

Using medium heat, fry the garlic in the oil. Add the liver and pork. Lower the heat and add the tomato paste; stir and add the tuong. Stir again and add the water and peanut butter. Raise the heat to medium and add the sugar. Boil for 1 minute and transfer to a bowl.

Add the sesame seeds to a medium-hot frying pan, stirring constantly until browned. This should take 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sesame seeds to the nuoc leo, along with the chopped peanuts.

The sauce can be garnished with thin strips of hot pepper.

NOTE: Beef or chicken liver can be substituted, but pork liver is preferred. The piece should be the size of a large chicken liver.

From “The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam“, Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman

Dipping Sauce for Pork Sticks


  • 1/2 c Soy sauce
  • 5 tb Lemon juice, fresh
  • 3 tb Water
  • 2 Clove garlic, minced
  • 2 ts Sugar
  • 1 ts Oyster sauce
  • 1 ts Ginger, fresh, minced
  • 1/8 ts Cayenne pepper


Combine all ingredients in small pan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Let cool. Sauce will keep 2 weeks in refrigerator.

Fermented Anchovy Dip (Mam Nem)



  • 2 tablespoons fermented anchovy sauce or paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons crushed pineapple
  • 1/4 stalk lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 red chili, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of pepper


Combine all the ingredients and stir well. Season to taste with pepper and sugar.

Fish Sauce Dip (Nuoc Mam Cham)


  • 1/4 cup water or fresh coconut juice
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 red chili, seeded, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce


Boil water or coconut juice with vinegar and sugar; allow to cool. Combine chili, garlic, and lime juice, and add to the coconut mixture. Stir in the fish sauce.

Try adding shredded radish and carrot pickles as a variation on nuoc mam cham.

Yellow Bean Sauce (Nuoc Tuong)


  • 1 cup yellow beans, boiled and drained
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground peanuts
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium red chili
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


Combine all ingredients, except oil, in a food processor. Blend until finely chopped and well combined. Heat oil in pan, stir-fry all ingredients and simmer for 2 minutes. Cool before serving.

Soy Sauce Dip (Tuong Toi Ot)


  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 medium red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges and squeezed


Combine all ingredients and mix well. Add a squeeze of fresh lime to taste.

Ginger Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham Gung)


  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 fresh red chile pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)


Combine the garlic, sugar, chile and ginger in a small bowl or mortar. Crush the mixture to a paste.2Add the lime juice and fish sauce and stir to blend.

Tomato Sauce (Sot Ca Chua)


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock or fresh coconut juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


Heat oil and saute garlic until slightly browned. Add tomatoes, then stir for 5 minutes, adding stock or coconut juice. Bring the combination to a boil, add a small amount of water. Mix thoroughly, reduce heat, then season to taste with salt and sugar. Simmer until reduced by one-third or until desired thickness is achieved.

Scallion Oil (Hanh La Phi)

Scallion oil, made with thinly sliced scallions and vegetable oil, is commonly brushed over grilled meats, seafood, and steamed meat pÔtÚs, or drizzled over rice or noodles. There are several ways of making it. For example, you can heat the oil first, turn it off, and then add the scallions. Or you can add the scallions to the hot oil and keep the combined ingredients over the flame for just a minute or so. Feel free to experiment. Scallion oil can be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

Makes about 1 cup


  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 scallions, root ends and tough green tops removed, thinly sliced


Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the scallions and fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then transfer to a heatproof jar.

Toi phi dau, fried garlic oil, is especially complementary to seafood soups such as canh ca nau dua, pineapple and fish soup, and hu tieu do bien, noodle with seafood soup. Reminiscent of roasted garlic in flavor and aroma, it should be used sparingly, as a little will go a long way. Heat 3-4 cup vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 8 peeled and minced large cloves of garlic and fry until light golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Allow to cool briefly and transfer the fried garlic and oil to a heat-resistant jar. Allow to cool completely before sealing with a lid. Fried garlic oil will keep about a week refrigerated.

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

Yield: 1 servings
This is a sauce that’s used in Vietnamese cuisine. It’s used in a variety of recipes and turns out to be the “secret” ingredient that gives barbecued Vietnamese stuff that unique taste when used as a marinade for strips of beef, chicken or pork. I use it in Satay recipes. The result is a subtle, delicious taste. It also gives a nice glazed finish to stuff. Its use shouldn’t be limited to Asian cuisine. In fact, I suspect that this is originally a French influence…


  • 1/3 c Sugar
  • 1/4 c Nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish -sauce)
  • 4 Shallots, thinly sliced Freshly ground pepper


Cook the sugar in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, swirling the pan constantly, until brown. It will smoke slightly. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir the fish sauce into the caramel, being careful to guard against splattering (the mixture will bubble vigorously).

Return the mixture to low heat and gently boil, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the shallots and ground pepper to taste; stir to combine. Use in recipes where required. [Or, as I noted, as a marinade for BBQ stuff. S.C..]

NOTE: Cool this sauce thoroughly before using. If cold food is added to a caramel sauce that is hot, the sugar will harden instantly and you’ll end up with a dish full of candy chips.

Yield: 1/3 cup.

Vietnamese-Style Spicy Fish Sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 red hot chile pepper, chopped;
  • or substitute with 1 tsp. bottled red chile paste
  • 1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Pound the chopped garlic and chile with a mortar and pestle and reduce them to a fine paste. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, sugar and water. Stir well to blend.

If desired, add a small amount of shredded carrot and daikon.