Nước mắm (pronounced like “nuh-k mah-m”), or fish sauce, is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. It’s used a lot in cooking and serving in various forms. In cooking, you’d probably use pure fish sauce. You’d use this type of fish sauce as seasoning for soups and braised dishes. In serving, you’re more likely to use a prepared form of fish sauce, which is made of pure fish sauce mixed with other things to make it more mild and less pungent. This type you’ll use to have with egg rolls/spring rolls, noodle bowls, and various rice flour-based dishes. I’ve heard a lot of people call it nước chấm or nước mắm pha, but honestly, I’ve always referred to it as nước mắm. People are likely to understand which kind you’re referring to if there’s context.
Here’s a recipe my mom shared with me for all your nước mắm dipping purposes! I’m giving you this recipe in proportions instead of specific measurements so you can make as much or as little as you need. Personally, I don’t use massive amounts of this stuff on a regular basis, so the last time I made it, I used a regular shot glass for my measurement tool.
Nước mắm for dipping sauce
- 1 part pure fish sauce (I used Squid brand)
- 1 part white sugar
- 1/4 part white vinegar
- 2 parts water
- Combine all ingredients into a small saucepan and place on the stove over medium-high heat.
- Bring the mixture to just barely a boil, then take off the stove. Skim off any foam that has formed on the liquid.
- Allow to cool, then store in a glass jar in the fridge.
How long does prepared fish sauce last in the fridge? To be honest, I have no idea. I think I’ve seen our jar back home stay in the fridge for a couple months before, and it’s been perfectly fine. We use it every so often and don’t make huge amounts so I can’t say I know how long it’s good for since I’ve never tested it.
Just FYI, the smell of fish sauce is STRONG so you might want to turn your kitchen fan on high and open the windows. Because it smells so strong, make sure you’re storing in a glass jar and not plastic or you’ll never be able to use that plastic ever again.
Questions? Comments? What are some of your favorite dishes to use fish sauce in (both prepared and pure)? Let me know in the comments below!