In Vietnam the sauces are all made out of fish and they are the glue that keeps the meal together. No Vietnamese dish is truly a dish without an accompanying sauce, and it’s really the sauce which gives the food it’s unique flavor profiles. Of course all the sauces in Vietnam are a variation off of the most ubiquitous sauce of them all, the fish sauce. No Vietnamese street food or Cuisine would be complete without it. The fish sauce is made from fermented fish juice and salt, and while that sounds rather unappetizing, it’s actually quite good. All the fish sauces are mixed with sugar and spices after they are fermented and so it creates a delicious and sweet tasting sauce. Enjoy these sauces below with your Vietnamese meals and see what makes the fish sauce such a popular and unique addition to Vietnamese Cuisine.
Mam Tom is a specialty sauce found in the Northern part of Vietnam, and it comes with an unique taste. It is made from shrimp or “moi” (super tiny shrimp) and salt. After the fermentation process, the sauce becomes dark purple and smells very strongly of fermented fish. Many people love shrimp paste but there are also people who run away because of its smell.
Mắm Cái (Mắm Nêm)
Mam Cai is typical sauce in the Central highlands of Vietnam. Mam Cai is also made from fish like the more popular fish sauce, but the process is totally different. The common varietyof fish sauce is made from the juice of fish mixed with salt and fermented, whereas Mam Cai uses whole fish bodies in the fermentation process. After the fish is salted and fermented, it is mixed with few additional ingredients such as thính (a powder made from toasted rice), pineapple, and sugar. This helps to create a special taste. It creates a strong flavor which is very popular with many dishes.
Mam Ruoc has different color and taste from Mam Tom, though it is made from “Ruoc” – small shrimps. Mam Ruoc has light fishy but fragrant smell, not too salty. This dish is indispensable in daily meals of Hue people. It also has a rather sweet aftertaste and is the perfect complement with fish and seafood dishes. It also doesn’t have the horrible smell of Mam Tom.
Mắm Tôm Chua
Another specialty of Hue, a sauce which is also made from shrimps, is mam tom chua (sour shrimp sauce). It is made by fermented fresh shrimps. Unlike Mam Tom – normal shrimp sauce (which has a dark purple color and smooth surface), Sour shrimp sauce has an orange color and the shrimps still keep their original shape. The taste is sweet and sour, and slightly spicy, with galangal, and chili, this creates a pleasant taste which is much easier to eat than Mam Tom. This is the best sauce for boiled pork (thit heo luoc).
Mam Thai is also a specialty from the Mekong Delta. It is modified from Mắm Ruột (a sauce which is made from the delicious and expensive Guts of Snakehead fish) by mixing minced Snakehead fish meat sauce with pickled shredded papaya, then marinading it with sugar and spices. There are various ways to enjoy the dish but the most delicious one is with a full platter of fresh noodles, vegetables, boiled meat, and rice paper.
So next time your out enjoying some delicious street food don’t forget the sauce, because no dish here is complete without it’s accompanying sauce. So sit back and be prepared to be amazed by what can be done with a little fish sauce and some sugar and spices, not to mention a shrimp or two.