Monday, March 21, 2011

Nuoc Mam Pha - Let's start at the very beginning

Fish sauce or Nuoc Mam might not be the basic building block in the same way that A, B, C or Do Re Mi are to a good song but it is a definite staple of Vietnamese cuisine. In its purest form, this dark, golden liquid smells and tastes so strong that it is rarely put straight onto one's meal. It's as if someone took a bunch of fish, threw them in a barrel and squeezed until all the smelly fishy juice oozes out, ready to be thrown into all your favourite Asian curries and soups. Oh, that's actually how it's made, isn't it?

My aunt told me about how she was able to learn a lot from Ba Ngoai while she lived with her and her surprise as to how much Nuoc Mam they went through during this. This makes me think of my Ba Ngoai as somewhat Julia Child-esque in her culinary style and I can't help but to smile a little (although I would never put Nuoc Mam on my toast...). My aunt then noted that this is why Ba Ngoai's soups and dishes always tasted so darn good. We currently have half a bottle in our pantry so I better pick up a crate.

The form in which Nuoc Mam is served with dishes as a dipping sauce, or as a sort of dressing, is in its delicious mixed form and every family has their own special recipe. Most Vietnamese restaurants tend to add more sugar, making them extra sweet and yummy. So here's a family recipe for anyone who wasn't fortunate enough to have one passed down to you:

Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam Pha) Recipe

Printable Recipe

- 1/4 cup Fish Sauce (We seem to like Squid brand)
- 1 1/4 cup Water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice or vinegar (Or mix of the two)
- Couple cloves of crushed garlic
- Chili Garlic Sauce to taste

Preparation: Mix everything together and stir well (with a chop stick?). Serve. Should make about 3/4 of a mason jar of this size. Refrigerate.

A few notes:
-  It's basically a 5:1 ratio of water to everything else.
 - Adjust as necessary to fit your taste, one of the great idealogies of the Vietnamese eating experience that will be discussed in the future!

Look at the difference in colour.
Having finally started on this journey, I hope to cook, eat and write about something (not necessarily Vietnamese) at least once a week, if not more.

That will bring us back to... d'oh!


  1. a caucasian friend told me one time that she loves "nuoc mam" so much and often drinks the left over after her meal :) and Ba Ngoai used to put concentrated nuoc mam in her spaghetti sauce!

  2. Oh that's right! The same with Uncle Rob! He loves to drink the leftovers.

    Also, that is a very interesting addition to spaghetti sauce. This is exactly why I'm doing this, I love learning all these bits of information.