Nước Mắm

Over the past few months, I’ve kept hearing about this new brand of nước mắm, Red Boat Fish Sauce, that’s imported from Phú-Quốc Island in Vietnam. The majority of  nước mắm that we get here in the U.S. is either from Thailand or Hong Kong.  These versions are diluted with water and contains preservatives and MSG, while Red Boat is an “all-natural, first press, ‘extra virgin’ Vietnamese fish sauce.” This means that the only ingredients are anchovies and salt, and that makes me extremely happy.

I’ve always tried to stay away from foods that contain preservatives in my attempt to live healthier, and recently, to lose weight.  Being half Vietnamese, and having my mom live with me for the first three months of my baby’s life, it has been very hard to not consume quite a bit of the heavily diluted, preservative laden nước mắm.  So, recently my mom and I decided to order a few bottles of Red Boat Fish Sauce online since the closest store* that carries the product is an hour and a half away.

Once our shipment of five bottles came in, we opened one up to take a good whiff and noticed that it was not as pungent and fishy smelling as the other brands.  After an initial comparison taste test between Red Boat and the other nước mắms we had in our cabinet, we concluded that Red Boat, with its well-rounded depth of flavor, was by far more superior than the others.  It will definitely become a staple in our household, as well as my mom’s and aunts’, whom we gifted the remaining bottles to.

Yesterday, I decided to devote the majority of my food posts to my cousin, James, who loves to eat like the rest of our family, but for some odd reason did not inherit our cooking gene.  He needs to learn how to make the basics if he wants to survive on something other than instant ramen and Taco Bell, especially now that he’s about to graduate from college and enter the so called “real world.” So, here are a few recipes that he, as well as the rest of you, can make that uses nước mắm.

Nước Chấm 1

  • 1 tbs Red Boat Fish Sauce (or any other fish sauce you may have on hand)
  • 1 1/2 tbs sugar
  • 1 bird’s eye chili

Coarsely crush the chili in a bowl, and add the fish sauce and sugar.  Stir well until nice an syrupy.  Dip sour green fruits, like green mango, papaya, or apples in the sauce and enjoy as a snack.


Nước Chấm 2

  • 1 cup Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 bird’s eye chili, chopped or 2 tbs of Tương Ớt (ground garlic chili pepper paste, see recipe below)

Combine ingredients into a small sauce pan and heat until boiling.  Let sauce cool to room temperature before serving.  Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.  If you do not cook the sauce, you should enjoy it immediately.

Optional additions:

  • Finely diced ginger (makes a great dipping sauce for fish)
  • Shredded carrots, jicama, and/or daikon radish (good dipping sauce for Chả Giò)


 Tương Ớt

  • 2 cups of bird’s eye chili (serrano or jalapeno peppers work well in this recipe too!)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbs vinegar
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 tbs Red Boat Fish Sauce
Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor.  Grind until well combined.  Store the garlic chili paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  You can also cook or freeze the paste to store longer.  
Chả Giò
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb shrimp and/or crab meat, minced
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 whole onion, finely diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs Red Boat fish sauce
  • 1 tbs ground pepper
  • 1 large jicama, shredded (optional)
  • Package of rice paper for frying or egg roll wrapper.
  • Oil
Add all ingredients into a large bowl.  Mix with gloved or cleaned hands until well combined.  Roll a large heaping tbs or two in rice paper or egg roll wrapper.  Fry in 1/2 inch of oil on medium heat until golden brown on all sides.  Place on a rack to slightly cool before serving with Nước Chấm, lettuce, and fresh Vietnamese herbs. Clean or replace oil frequently when cooking a new batch.


*Note – You Bay Area people are lucky since there are a plethora of stores you can easily purchase Red Boat Fish Sauce from, perhaps it’s because the owners are from San Jose.  Hopefully more stores in Southern California will start carrying this brand.


2 thoughts on “Nước Mắm”

  1. Yum! I love your blog, it’s great to read about your adventures in baby-land! Also, I love to cook and will try ANYTHING so keep the recipes coming! I have never had Vietnamese food so you will have to educate me one of these days!

Leave a Reply