My homemade fish sauce recipe, called Nước chấm, is the ideal Vietnamese dipping sauce. It is tangy, sweet, and balanced with a little sourness to it.

Vietnamese dipping sauce is so versatile that you can use it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, pour it over rice-based dishes like Vermicelli noodle bowls or broken rice dishes, use it as a vinaigrette for salads, or even as a marinade.

It’s light and refreshing, yet is so full of flavor and can brighten up any dish. Even with its complex flavor, Nuoc Cham is an easy recipe with a few simple ingredients so anyone can make it.

homemade fish sauce recipe
Homemade fish sauce recipe ingredients

Fish sauce nostalgia

My childhood home was always filled with the pungent and fishy aroma of my mom’s homemade Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce. To be honest, at that age, I didn’t have the appreciation that I do now for my mom’s home cooking, since I was preoccupied by the embarrassment of how my house smelled when my friends came over.

Not only that, for some reason, I always had a hard time pronouncing Nuoc Cham. Maybe it was my adolescent subconscious trying to rebel. Now that I’m older, I look back at those memories of my mom’s home cooking fondly; the bouquet of aromas that filled the kitchen as my mom cooked my favorite dishes, the visual buffet before the actual buffet, and the satisfying food coma afterwards.

Since many of my mom’s favorite recipes were accompanied by her Vietnamese dipping sauce, I created my own homemade fish sauce recipe based off her recipe, so now my kitchen can smell like hers. I’m still trying to decide if this is a good thing or not.

What is Nước chấm aka Vietnamese dipping sauce?

Vietnamese dipping sauce, also known as Nước chấm, is the most well known dipping sauce in Vietnamese cuisine. If you’ve never actually tasted it, chances are you smelled it first. It smells sharp and pungent and difficult to bear. Don’t worry though, once you taste it, you’ll get used to the smell and maybe even look forward to it next time.

Nuoc Cham is a staple food and condiment in many countries in Southeast Asia, especially to Vietnamese people. It is the companion to many Vietnamese foods, Thai dishes, and other Asian cuisine, such as spring rolls, summer rolls, vermicelli bowls, and skewers.

This classic homemade fish sauce recipe is so easy to make and its simple ingredients are easily found in your pantry or your local Asian market.

What are some good dishes to go with fish sauce?

Vietnamese dipping sauce pairs very well with a lot of different main dishes, some of which I’ll list below:

  • Spring rolls, summer rolls, or fried egg rolls
  • Vermicelli noodle bowls (bun thit nuong)
  • Savory Vietnamese crepes (banh xeo)
  • Vietnamese rice rolls (banh cuon)


Nuoc cham is one of those Vietnamese recipes that can be highly individualistic and everyone has their own version of the recipe that caters to their taste buds and personal preference. Some people may like it more sweet, salty, sour, spicy… get it.

If you are using it as a dressing over a salad or rice-based dishes, double the water amount in order to dilute it so it’s not too salty. Otherwise, as a dipping sauce, the ratios in this recipe is perfect.

Regardless of your preference, this easy and simple recipe can serve as a base and you can experiment with the ingredients to make this delicious sauce your own! Push your culinary boundaries!

What you need

Fish sauce: as mentioned above, this is the most important ingredient and while there are many different brands, I like using Flying Lion Fish Sauce. Each brand has differing amounts of saltiness so adjust the recipe accordingly to your preference.

Lime: This is what gives Nuoc Cham it’s refreshing tartness and acidity. If you prefer, you can also substitute lime or lemon with vinegar, usually white vinegar or rice vinegar. You’ll find that most restaurants will use vinegar in their Vietnamese dipping sauces since it’s much easier and cheaper. So if you really like your local neighborhood restaurant’s Vietnamese dipping sauce, you’ll likely want to switch out the lime for vinegar. Although there is no right or wrong way to do it, I would advise against using bottled lime or lemon juice as it does not have the same flavor or fresh citrusy taste.

Sugar: This helps to cut the acidity from the citrus or vinegar and add layer of sweetness to the final sauce.

Water: I recommend using hot water as it will help dissolve the sugar more easily.

Garlic cloves: This gives the sauce a lovely fragrance and flavor and is a personal must for me.

Thai chili: This is an optional ingredient for those looking for a spicy kick. I recommend using Thai chili peppers, specifically bird’s eye chili.

Shredded carrots: another optional ingredient that adds a nice little crunch to the dipping sauce.

Homemade fish sauce recipe
Homemade fish sauce recipe

How to make fish sauce

  1. Cut 1 lime in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl.
  2. Peel 1 clove of garlic and mince into fine pieces. Add into the bowl with lime juice.
  3. Dice the bird’s eye chili and add to the bowl with the lime juice and garlic (optional).
  4. Add warm/hot water to the bowl and stir in the sugar until fully dissolved.
  5. Add in fish sauce, gradually tasting as you go, until it’s to your preference.
  6. Add in shredded carrots right before serving (optional).

How long does it last?

Although it doesn’t have an exact expiration date, you can store Nuoc Cham in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. If you do plan to store it, I would recommend leaving the carrots out, and adding them in right before you plan to use the Nuoc Cham to keep the carrots fresh. Also make sure to use clean utensils each time if you plan to spoon it out.

If you would like to freeze it, you can store Nuoc Cham in an airtight container and freeze it up to 3 months.


Nuoc cham vs nuoc mam

Although Nuoc Cham is an umbrella term that can technically refer to a variety of Vietnamese dipping sauces, we will be referring to Nuoc Cham as our Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce recipe.

In its simplest form, Nuoc Cham is usually made with fish sauce, fresh lime juice or lemon juice, sugar, and garlic.

On the other hand, Nuoc Mam literally translates to “fish sauce” and is the main, most common ingredient in the Nuoc Cham. Fish sauce is what gives Nuoc Cham its savory umami flavor and can add a depth of flavor to many different types of foods. Fish sauce is so popular and widely used in Vietnam that it’s estimated that 95% of households in Vietnam use fish sauce on a daily basis.

Nuoc mam is usually made with anchovies that have been prepared through a fermentation process using sea salt and water, though another type of fish like mackerel and scabbard fish can also be used. The two areas in Vietnam most well known for producing Nuoc Mam are Phu Quoc and Phan Thiet. There are many different brands of fish sauce and a lot of debate on which brand has the best fish sauce. The brand Red Boat tends to get consistently good reviews, but it can be a bit on the pricey side. For the most bang for your buck without sacrificing flavor, my mom likes to use the Flying Lion Fish Sauce brand.

Colloquially, some people may use the two different terms interchangeably, so just be aware they are technically different from each other.

Can I make this fish sauce vegan?

Yes, you can! A good alternative to traditional fish sauce in this recipe is vegan fish sauce. There are several brands to choose from, like 24Vegan’s Plant Based Fish Sauce or Ocean Halo’s Vegan Fish Sauce.

People have asked about substituting fish sauce with soy sauce or coconut aminos as well. Soy sauce is made from fermented soy beans and wheat and while it will provide the much desired umami, it will also have a very different flavor profile from fish sauce. You may want add a little white vinegar and salt to the soy sauce to add a bit of bite to it, and adjust the recipe to accommodate the soy sauce.

Coconut aminos are made from fermented coconut blossom nectar and can also be used to substitute fish sauce, but like soy sauce, will lack the brininess of fish sauce and have a different flavor profile.

I would recommend against using maple syrup instead of fish sauce. The flavor will taste very different and not authentic.

Homemade Fish Sauce Recipe (Easy Vietnamese Nuoc Cham)

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Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 30
My homemade fish sauce, or nuoc cham, is the best Vietnamese sauce. Tangy, sweet, and a little sour. Dip with spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, and skewers. 


  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime ((or lemon or vinegar))
  • 4 tablespoons warm/hot water
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 1 bird’s eye chili (diced (optional))
  • 1 tablespoon shredded carrots (optional)


  • Cut 1 lime in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl.
  • Peel 1 clove of garlic and mince into fine pieces. Add into the bowl with lime juice.
  • Dice the bird's eye chili and add to the bowl with the lime juice and garlic (optional).
  • Add warm/hot water to the bowl and stir in the sugar until fully dissolved.
  • Add in fish sauce, gradually tasting as you go, until it’s to your preference.
  • Add in shredded carrots right before serving (optional).
Author: rbanh
Calories: 30kcal
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Asian, Vietnamese
Keyword: fish sauce


Serving: 1 serving | Calories: 30kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 709mg | Potassium: 47mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 638IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 8mg | Iron: 1mg

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