Vietnam’s most versatile and popular sauce is something of an enigma to a lot of us. Its ingredients are so simple, yet mixed together, they create a sauce that goes well with everything from crisp spring rolls to noodle dishes, roast meats, rice dishes…the list goes on and on. While traveling in Vietnam, I’ve witnessed this sauce being made two different ways, one with vinegar and one with fresh lime juice. While I do prefer the fresh lime juice in general, most people outside of Vietnam will probably recognize the Nuoc Mam Pha using vinegar more easily as that is the recipe used by most Vietnamese restaurants in the west.

Makes 1 small bowl

1 cup hot water
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons vinegar (substitute fresh lime juice)
1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek (substitute with fresh red chili peppers, finely chopped)
1 tablespoon finely shredded carrot (optional)


In a medium sized bowl, dissolve the sugar in the hot water. Then add the fish sauce, vinegar and sambal oelek, mixing until thoroughly combined. If using shredded carrots, add at the end. Placed in a clean, properly sealed container, Nuoc Mam Pha can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks.