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Thuy Pham’s Nước Mắm Chấm Is the Dipping Sauce That Works With Basically Everything

Thuy Pham, the chef behind Mama Dút, has figured out a meat-free version of nước mắm chấm she always keeps in her fridge

Seared tofu sits on a white plate next to a mound of rice and a cup of nước mắm chấm
Thuy Pham’s version of nước mắm chấm
Courtesy of Thuy Pham

Cooking at home, while easy for some, feels bizarre to those of us who live on a steady stream of takeout. Recently, Eater Portland has been hitting up local chefs for their go-to condiments, weeknight recipes, and fridge essentials, to get an idea of how to handle cooking while stuck at home. For more recipes and cooking advice, check out Eater at Home.


When Thuy Pham — the owner of buzzy, vegan Vietnamese deli Mama Dút — was nine, her mother taught her to make nước mắm chấm, a fish sauce dipping sauce fragrant with chiles, citrus, and garlic. “This is like, the one and only recipe my mom has ever given me,” she says, with a laugh. “Because she didn’t trust me to do anything except pour some sauces together in a bowl, I was relegated to picking vegetables and making sauce.” As Pham got older and became vegan, she had to tweak the recipe to cut out the animal products, but the recipe generally remains the same: a combination of salt, spice, sweetness, and sour.

When it comes to nước mắm chấm, Pham uses it on basically everything. It goes in vermicelli noodle bowls, as a dipping sauce for salad rolls. It marinates tofu, the same way her mom used to marinate chicken wings in the traditional fish sauce version. It works on salads, or as a dipping sauce for pretty much any protein — meat eaters can sear steaks and dip nước mắm chấm directly in that. “My mom doesn’t like A1, so whenever she makes steak, she makes this sauce,” she says. “It’s the Vietnamese ketchup.”

Vegan Nước Mắm Chấm

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup vegan fish sauce (Mama Dút makes a version, but Pham also likes the pineapple-made fish sauce spotted in many Asian markets)
3 cups water, lukewarm, lukewarm
The juice of 1 to 2 limes (adjust to your taste)
1 tablespoon of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of sambal or any other chili sauce — a combination of bird’s eye chili, garlic, and salt will also work

Instructions:

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until the sugar dissolves.

The Fireside’s Cameron Dunlap Thinks You Should Get Really Into Salted Maple Butter [EPDX]
Portland Chefs, Bakers, and Pitmasters on the Stuff They Put on Everything [EPDX]
Inside Mama Dút, the Buzzy Vegan Vietnamese Pop-Up-Turned-Deli [EPDX]
Eater at Home [E]

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