In this article, we will explore the world of Vietnamese dipping sauces, a vibrant aspect of Vietnamese cuisine. From the iconic nuoc cham to other regional specialties, these sauces add depth to countless Vietnamese dishes, creating a culinary journey worth savoring.
1. A glance at Vietnamese dipping sauce
From North to South, the daily traditional meal of Vietnamese people typically consists of three main components: soup, main dishes, and vegetables, all accompanied by a bowl of dipping sauce. Over time, Vietnamese dipping sauces have seamlessly integrated into the natural flow of Vietnamese cuisine, transcending their status as a mere accompaniment. For Vietnamese people, dipping sauce is not just a flavor enhancer for Vietnamese food; it is also a symbol of unity, forging connections among those who share the table.
The array of dipping sauces in Vietnam is so diverse, setting Vietnamese dishes apart from those of other nations. The sauces can take various forms, such as fish sauce with chili and garlic, shrimp paste, fish sauce with ginger, soy sauce, lime salt, Vietnamese dipping sauce for spring rolls, and more. Vietnamese people pair dipping sauces with almost every dish, and there are dozens of Vietnamese dipping sauce recipes tailored to each dish. While some share common ingredients like fish sauce, garlic, sugar, vinegar, or lime, the proportions of regional variations make each sauce unique.
2. Popular types of Vietnamese dipping sauces
Below are some popular dipping sauces in Vietnamese cuisine, along with simple recipes and suitable dishes.
2.1. Classic Vietnamese dipping sauce
The classic dipping sauce, or fish sauce with chili and garlic, is a simple and popular dipping sauce in Vietnamese cuisine. With basic ingredients like fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili, this dipping sauce offers a harmonious blend of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy elements. It pairs well with dishes such as Vietnamese spring rolls, Vietnamese summer rolls, Vietnamese pancakes, and grilled pork with vermicelli.
To make this sauce:
- Dissolve sugar in water. You can bring it to a boil for faster dissolution. Add fish sauce to the mixture.
- Finely chop garlic and chili. Squeeze lime juice. Soak the minced garlic and chili in the lime juice.
- When the dipping sauce is at room temperature, pour the garlic-chili-lime mixture into it. Stir well and serve with the main dish.
2.2. Vietnamese dipping sauce with green chili and salt
A simple blend of green chili and salt creates a Vietnamese seafood dipping sauce with an impressive flavor profile. The ingredients include green chili, sugar, salt, condensed milk, lime juice, and young lime leaves. This dipping sauce offers a complex mix of sweet, spicy, and aromatic flavors that complement seafood dishes and mask any fishy odors.
To make this sauce:
- Combine salt, chili, sugar, and lime leaves. Put them in a food processor and blend until finely minced.
- Add lime juice and condensed milk. Continue blending until the mixture is well-combined and smooth.
2.3. Vietnamese fermented anchovy dipping sauce
Mam nem is the soul of many delicious dishes in Central Vietnam, such as vermicelli with mam nem, pork spring rolls, banh beo, etc. Mam nem is very salty. Thus, when used as a dipping sauce, it is often combined with other ingredients like pineapple, garlic, chili, galangal, lemongrass, sugar, ginger, and more to mellow the flavor and enhance the aroma.
The recipe for Vietnamese fermented anchovy dipping sauce, or Vietnamese dipping sauce with mam nem, is simple:
- Mix mam nem with sugar and water. Stir and simmer until the mixture boils.
- Add minced garlic, minced lemongrass, and pineapple juice to the mixture. Stir until all the ingredients blend together.
- Adjust the seasoning to your taste and enjoy with your favorite dishes.
2.4. Vietnamese hoisin dipping sauce with peanut
Hoisin sauce with peanut is a smart combination of Vietnamese dipping sauces. This flavorful and creamy sauce is a perfect Vietnamese dipping sauce for summer rolls. It is very easy to make and requires ingredients like garlic, hoisin sauce, and peanut butter.
How to make Vietnamese hoisin sauce with peanut:
- Heat oil in a pan. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add water and peanut butter, then whisk until smooth. Add hoisin sauce. Stir well and bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Transfer to a bowl and garnish with toasted peanuts for presentation.
2.5. Vietnamese ginger dipping sauce
Among various Vietnamese dipping sauces, ginger sauce is used for various seafood dishes. It combines the saltiness of fish sauce, the acidity of vinegar, the sweetness of sugar, and the pungency of ginger to balance the seafood's flavors and aid digestion.
To make this sauce:
- Grind ginger, garlic, and chili.
- Combine sugar, water, vinegar, fish sauce, and minced ginger in a pot. Bring to a boil on the stove.
- Once cooled, add the minced garlic and chili.
2.6. Vietnamese tamarind dipping sauce
As one of the popular Vietnamese dipping sauces, tamarind sauce is widely used in the South to accompany grilled fish, fruit, and fried meat. It includes ingredients like fish sauce, tamarind pulp, sugar, vegetable oil, minced garlic, and shallots. This dipping sauce offers a sweet and tangy flavor.
To make this sauce:
- Heat vegetable oil in a pan, add minced garlic and shallots, and sauté until fragrant.
- Add tamarind pulp, sugar, and fish sauce. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly.
- Let it cool and serve as a delightful accompaniment to various dishes.
2.7. Hue-style dipping sauce
Standing out from other Vietnamese dipping sauces is Hue-style dipping sauce, which is mainly used for dishes in Hue like banh beo, banh nam, banh khoai, etc. This dipping sauce looks similar to fish sauce but has a milder flavor, is a bit sweeter, and requires more elaborate preparation. Ingredients include sugar, shrimp broth, fish sauce, lime juice, minced garlic, and chili.
To make this sauce:
- Dissolve sugar in shrimp broth until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Add some fish sauce and vinegar or lime juice.
- When the mixture cools, add minced garlic and chili. Enjoy with various Hue-style dishes.
2.8. Vietnamese dipping sauce for grilled pork vermicelli
Vietnam is famous for its delicious and diverse Vietnamese vermicelli noodles, especially grilled pork vermicelli (bun cha) which comes along with a dedicated dipping sauce that elevates its delightful flavors. This dipping sauce has a rich and gentle aroma that is hard to find anywhere else. What makes the dipping sauce for bun cha special is the inclusion of pickled papaya and carrots, which effectively relieve any greasiness. The recipe for bun cha dipping sauce is simple, similar to the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce with fish sauce. However, replace vinegar/lime juice with kumquat juice and add pickled papaya and carrots when the sauce cools.
2.9. Vietnamese fermented shrimp dipping sauce
Mam tom is a distinctive dipping sauce from the northern provinces of Vietnam. It is fermented from small sea shrimps and salt over a period of "sun exposure" for up to a year, giving it a salty and pungent flavor. When used as a dipping sauce, mam tom is typically mixed with lime juice until it froths. Depending on one's taste, additional ingredients like sugar, chili, and garlic can be added. At this point, mam tom takes on a stimulating aroma, with a harmonious blend of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy elements. Mam tom is often paired with boiled meat, fried tofu, fish cakes, boiled vegetables, and especially bun dau mam tom, a delicacy of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam.
3. Are there any vegetarian or vegan Vietnamese dipping sauces?
In addition to various recipes for Vietnamese dipping sauces mentioned above, Vietnamese cuisine also includes a vegetarian dipping sauce. Made with soy sauce, lime juice, water, garlic, sugar, and optional chili, this dipping sauce has a balanced flavor profile, making it suitable for various vegetarian dishes such as salad noodles and spring rolls.
To make this sauce:
- Dissolve sugar in water, then add soy sauce.
- Adjust the taste with lime juice.
- Add in garlic and chili. Stir well and enjoy.
Furthermore, you can also replace fish sauce in Vietnamese dipping sauces with vegetarian fish sauce. Vegetarian fish sauce is readily available in Vietnam, or you can try making your own vegetarian fish sauce using ingredients like pineapple, coconut milk, cashews, mushrooms, etc.
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Vietnamese dipping sauces are not just condiments; they are the heart and soul of Vietnamese gastronomy. From the bustling streets of Hanoi to the tranquil shores of Phu Quoc, these sauces are a constant source of flavor and culture.