Home Knowledge Nuoc Cham Vs. Nuoc Mam – Comparison Guide

Nuoc Cham Vs. Nuoc Mam – Comparison Guide

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A bowl of nuoc mam next to fresh chili and lime

If you enjoy eating at Vietnamese restaurants you may have noticed their love of dipping sauces. Dishes like spring rolls are always served with small bowls of spicy sauce. A common question asked by people outside of Vietnam is what’s the difference between nuoc cham and nuoc mam? Keep reading to get the complete answer.

How do nuoc cham and nuoc mam differ?

Nuoc cham is the generic term for sauce and could range from soy sauce to fish sauce, chili sauce, or anything in between. Nuoc mam is a popular type of fish sauce served in Vietnamese cuisine that can be pungent, sweet, sour, and spicy in flavor. It is often made by combining fish sauce with water, lime juice, minced garlic, and chili.

How to make nuoc mam

This is a recipe to make a flavorful Southeast Asian dipping sauce that takes minutes to prepare with no cooking required.

Preparation time: 5 mins
Cook time: 0 mins

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup water
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1 Thai chili, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic minced

Method

  1. Mix water and sugar in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add fish sauce and lime juice and stir until combined.
  3. Sprinkle the sauce with chili and garlic before serving.

Notes:

  • To help dissolve the sugar, you can heat the water in a microwave for 30 seconds before mixing.
  • Slowly add the citrus juice and fish sauce and taste test as you go to ensure it doesn’t have overwhelming flavor.
  • When serving this sauce with seafood like eel, include lemongrass to brighten the dish.
  • Other ingredients like white radish, green papaya, or shredded pickled carrot can also be served with nuoc mam.

Did you know? Nước mắm pha means mixed fish sauce. It is the commonest type of dipping sauce that uses fish sauce as its base and includes lime juice or vinegar, water, and sugar. A vegetarian version of this sauce can be made by replacing fish sauce with Maggi seasoning sauce.

What to serve with nuoc mam pha

Rice paper rolls (Bánh cuốn): ingredients like pork, prawn, carrot, cucumber, and lettuce are wrapped in sheets of rice noodles.
Spring rolls (Chả giò): spring roll pastry is filled with ingredients like ground pork shoulder and then deep-fried until crispy.
Noodles (Bún): cold rice vermicelli noodles topped with grilled pork.
Rice pancakes (Bánh xèo): pan-fried savory crepes made from water, rice flour, and turmeric, then filled with ingredients like shrimp, bean sprouts, or pork.

Noodle dish with nuoc chamCommonly asked questions

What is in Vietnamese fish sauce?

Supermarket sold fish sauce generally contains water, anchovies, and sea salt. The version sold in restaurants is more elaborate and often includes water, lime juice, sugar, chili, and garlic.

How does hoisin sauce and fish sauce differ?

Fish sauce is a salty sauce made from sea salt, anchovies, and water which has a watery texture. Hoisin sauce is a thick consistency and is made from soybean paste, garlic, sugar, and many other ingredients. While both sauces are salty, hoisin has an additional sweet undertone to it.

How do I store nuoc mam?

Nuoc mam is best enjoyed fresh but if you have leftovers then it should last one to two weeks in the refrigerator. Store the sauce in an airtight jar or container at the back of the fridge. Nuoc mam that is made with vinegar rather than lime juice will last longer than. You can expect it to last one to two months before it losing quality.

Summing up

Although it may seem that nuoc cham and nuoc mam are the same thing, each has a different meaning and should not be used interchangeably. Nuoc cham is a broader term referring to all types of sauces while nuoc mam is a specific type of dipping sauce that incorporates fish sauce with a range of other ingredients.

What is your favorite Vietnamese dish? Please let us know in the comments below.