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One of the secret pleasures of Asian dining is the sauces. I love our local Thai restaurant with its sticky, sweet [and succulent] dipping sauce.

In Adam’s Big Pot, Chef Adam Liaw provides the Vietnamese version of this sauce. You can use it at home for spring rolls but actually its application is almost unlimited. On chicken, on steak, on fish. Heck, I’d even put just a little on my BLT to add sparkling flavor. It’s lovely as a salad dressing. Healthier than butter on that baked potato!

You can make a batch of this and put it in your fridge. It will last there for a month, but I’m sure it will be long gone before then.

The recipe calls for birds-eye chiles which you can find in Asian markets. Substitutes include serranos [less heat] or habaneros or Scotch bonnets [more heat].

Nuoc Cham [Vietnamese Dipping Sauce]

Yield: about 1 ½ cups


  • ½ cup lime juice or lemon juice (or a mixture of juice and rice vinegar)
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • About ½ cup fish sauce
  • 2 bird’s-eye chilies, finely chopped (seeds removed if you wish)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • ¾ cup water, to dilute


Mix together the juice, vinegar (if using) and sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste the mixture. It should taste pleasant and have a good balance of sweet and sour, like a well-made lemonade. (Vinegars and fruit have varying levels of acidity so you may need to add a little more sugar).

Add the fish sauce gradually, tasting as you go until the mixture changes noticeably from sweet to quite savory.

Add a little more fish sauce then stir through the chilies and garlic. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before using.

If using immediately, dilute the Nuoc Cham with the water and serve, otherwise store it in the fridge undiluted. It will keep for about one month in the fridge.

TIP: you have a mortar and pestle you can use it to get even more flavor into this sauce by pounding the chili and garlic together first, then making the Nuoc Cham in.


Source: Adam’s Big Pot by Adam Liaw [Hamlyn, 2017]