Chili Lime Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Chanh)

5 from 24 votes

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

This Vietnamese dipping sauce is on the table at almost every meal and adds a pungent, salty, umami punch to all kinds of dishes.

Asian chili lime sauce in jar.

Some sort of dipping sauce (nuoc mam) based on fermented fish is on the table for most meals throughout Vietnam from North to South, and also throughout much of Southeast Asia. The umami/salty/briny flavor perks up pretty much every dish.

There are hundreds of versions, and this version (Nuoc Mam Chanh, meaning “fish sauce for dipping”) is one of the most ubiquitous. It might also be called Nuoc Mam Pha, which means “mixed fish sauce,” or Nuoc Cham. Sometimes it’s just referred to as nuoc mam, which is Vietnamese for “fish sauce,” but might also refer to this fish sauce dipping sauce with its handful of other ingredients.

Vietnamese cooks use versions of these sauces as dressings as well, such as in this Vietnamese Cucumber Salad and this Green Mango Salad with Shrimp. And you would never serve a fried Vietnamese spring roll without a good fish sauce-based dipping sauce. This chili lime dipping sauce is often used to dress or served for dipping with foods that are not dramatically seasoned or salted, so it’s meant to pack a punch.

Woman dipping Vietnamese Spring Rolls in nuoc mam sauce.
Nuoc Mom with Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Nuoc Mam Chanh: This Vietnamese dipping sauce is on the table at almost every meal, and adds a pungent, salty, umami punch to all kinds of dishes.

Tweet This

Varieties of Southeast Asian Fish Sauce

The various Vietnamese sauces might have different names, but most of them contain fish sauce, water, sugar, and lime juice or some other acidic ingredient or juice. Many, like this recipe, have chili peppers and garlic. Others might have added ingredients like dried shrimp, lemongrass, ginger, or cilantro. Shredded carrot is a popular addition in the West of Vietnam.

Author Corrine Trang says in her book Essentials of Asian Cuisine that in Cambodia, this sauce is called tuk trey. Trang says that in the North of Vietnam, they prefer their foods milder, so they slice the garlic and chili peppers. In the South, cooks mince these pungent and spicy ingredients for a more pronounced flavor.

Nuoc Mam Chanh Ingredients

Fish sauce, garlic, lime, chili peppers, and other ingredients for fish dipping sauce.
  • Garlic – Mince the garlic for a stronger flavor; leave it in thin slices for a milder flavor.
  • Thai bird chilies or serrano chilies – Leave the seeds in for a bit more heat.
  • Sugar – Sweetness is an important component of Vietnamese cooking.
  • Fish sauce – Lots of brands are available from Vietnam and Thailand. This sauce is made from fermented fish, usually anchovies, and the best are made with select anchovies. The anchovies are layered with salt in wooden barrels and left to ferment for many months, with several pressings. Trang recommends Souble Partto, Oyster, and Tiparos brands, and I also like the readily available Red Boat. Note that different brands and pressing will have different levels of pungency and saltiness.
  • Fresh lime juice – You will really taste the difference if you use fresh. Lemon juice is another option.
  • Water – Smoothes out the strong flavors.

Nuoc Mam Tips and Variations

  • You can use lemon juice instead of lime.
  • Author Andrea Nguyen, author of Vietnamese Food Every Day, says she prepares her nuoc mam in stages to “dial in the flavor” and ensure the proper balance between the different components.
  • Add one or more of the following (which technically may turn it into a slightly different sauce, but it’s a wonderful way to experiment with Southeast Asian dipping sauces):
Three variations of nuoc cham (chili lime sauce) in glass jars.

Make Ahead Nuoc Cham

Nguyen says that lime juice can start to turn bitter when stored overnight, so she recommends mixing the other ingredients of the sauce and then adding the lime juice just before using. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge. The sauce may change a bit in flavor, but it will be good for up to a week.

How to Make Nuoc Mam Chanh

  1. Finely mince the veggies: Chop the garlic and chilies with the sugar. You can use a mortar and pestle (best option), chop them finely by hand, or grind them up in a small food processor.
  2. Mix the sauce, rest, and serve: Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, and water. Let the flavors develop for at least 30 minutes.
Woman placing Vietnamese Spring Roll on green lettuce.

More Simple Asian Recipes

Pin this now to find it later

Pin It
5 from 24 votes

Chili Lime Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Chanh)

This Vietnamese dipping sauce is on the table at almost every meal and adds a pungent, salty, umami punch to all kinds of dishes.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 10 People
Save this recipe!
We’ll send it to your email, plus you’ll get new recipes every week!

Ingredients 

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 Thai bird chilies (or 2 serrano chilies)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons water

Instructions 

  • Chop the garlic and chilies with the sugar. You can use a mortar and pestle (best option), chop them finely by hand, or grind them up in a small food processor.
  • Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, and water. Let the flavors develop for at least 30 minutes.

Notes

This can be stored in a tightly sealed container for a week in the fridge.

Nutrition

Calories: 232kcal, Carbohydrates: 56g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 0.1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 0.03g, Sodium: 4256mg, Potassium: 668mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 46g, Vitamin A: 1315IU, Vitamin C: 210mg, Calcium: 61mg, Iron: 2mg
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

You May Also Like:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




3 Comments

  1. Helen at the lazy gastronome says:

    I love this sauce. We had it with some spring rolls but it can go with anything. I want to try it with some chicken next.

  2. Emily says:

    This was so tasty! I love having this on hand, and it was a breeze to make with a mortar and pestle!

  3. Tiffany says:

    This sauce is perfect for my family. My kids like things more on the bland side so I need things like this for my husband to spice his food up a bit. Thanks!