The importance of nuoc mam in Vietnam food culture

Published:  09:43 Friday - December 30, 2011

The importance of nuoc mam in Vietnam food culture

In the daily meals of Vietnamese families, there is a special sauce is indispensable. And nuoc mam is the most important and popular sauce in Vietnamese food. Nuoc mam is always located in the center of tray and a symbol of cohesion.

Vietnam has a coastline which stretches over 1900 miles. Therefore, Vietnamese fish sauce with the specific and well-known saltiness and smell is popular and irreplaceable.  Also, thanks to the preferential treatment from nature, Vietnam has plentiful sources from the sea so the local residents can process sauce from shrimp, sauce from squid, sauce from freshwater crab, and even sauce from fat-full crabs.  Whatever it is made from, the most common taste of Vietnamese people is its unique saltiness, so Vietnamese fish sauce is always strongly delicious.


Only the fresh small fish makes good-quality fish sauce, which is found in clear color and good smell. In Vietnam, fish sauce is very popular and can be any of various mixtures based on the liquid of salted, fermented fish. First, small fish and salt are put in wooden boxes to ferment. Then, it is slowly pressed so as to yield the salty, fishy liquid.

This extremely pungent, strong-flavored and salty liquid can range in color. For the pure fish sauce, fresh anchovy fish sauce is selected and mixed with salt by applying the unique Vietnamese traditional process. Fermentation is started once a year, during the fishing season. After about 3 months in the barrel, the liquid drips from an open spigot, to be poured back into the top of the barrel. Six months under the sunlight will make the fish sauce of much better smell.


The unique characteristic of fish sauce is salty flavor and fishy smell. An interesting characteristic of fish sauce is that it loses its fishy odor once mixed with other ingredients. It is commonly used for cooking and dipping seafood and many other Vietnamese foods as well. In Vietnam, it is generally called nuoc mam (well known by these brand names: nuoc mam Phu Quoc or Phu Quoc fish sauce, and nuoc mam Phan Thiet or Phan Thiet fish sauce).

The taste of fish sauce is salty but flavorful, and very sophisticated, ceremonious, popular, but greatly delicate. How’s that for a description. Though the drop of fish sauce is tiny, its great flavor is really a part of the spirit of the country, of the people. It itself is the flavor of the home country in fadeless memory of every Vietnamese person far away.

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