What's nuoc nam?

The spelling is a guess, but it’s a Vietnamese food or ingredient. The people at the Asia market had never heard of it, so any suggestions for possible substitutes would be appreciated also.

The recipe is in Japanese and it was written as “nu-ku na-mu”.

It’s actually “nuoc mam”, pronounced roughly “nook mum”. I think it translates to “fish water”.

It is an extremely disgusting watery sauce that is made by placing small fish in barrels of salted water and letting them stoke under the sun for several weeks. The resulting liquid is spiked with various spices like garlic, red pepper, and lemon grass (I think), in an effort to kill to godawful smell of the stuff.

If you still want it, the most popular brand seems to be “Lucky”. I think they refer to it simply as fish sauce - it looks like soy sauce and comes in a similar bottle, but brother, it ain’t soy sauce.

Cultural aside: My wife was born in Vietnam. I won’t let her have the stuff in the house.

Good God, that was fast! Thanks City Gent.

So it’s just basic fish sauce/ shottsuru. Shouldn’t be too hard to find, even in Dublin!

City Gent got the basics right, but he’s wrong that it’s nasty. Don’t try it straight out of the bottle, that’s too much for anyone, but it adds delightful flavor to asian dishes that’s not fishy at all. Used properly, it’s a heady adventure into new taste delights!

Fish sauce is the quintessential ingredient of all Vietnamese cooking. It’s what gives the food it’s special flavor. I’m in the wrong forum to say what I think of City Gent, but prohibiting a Vietnamese woman from having fish sauce in her own home is equivalent to prohibiting an Italian woman from having pasta.

Bloody Hell! My Vietnamese girlfriend would murder me if I even considered not letting her have fish sauce in the house. Actually no, she’d just laugh in my face, say “did I hear you say you won’t let me?”, and proceed to buy the biggest bottle she can find.

Fish sauce is wonderful stuff. The Vietnamese use it on pretty much everything. This is not so weird when you consider that fish sauce and chilli are the South East Asian equivalents of salt and pepper respectively.

Anyway, it’s marvellous stuff.

There are a number of different styles: nuoc mam is the strained liquid from the fish paste (made typically of small fish, such as baby rabbitfish) and lotsa salt. The Thai version adds some palm sugar generally. In the Philippines, they use fish sauce - a la Vietnamese type, called patis - and bagoong, which is the unstrained version (one from small shrimp is called alamang). The latter is often eaten straight as a condiment on rice, green mangoes, etc… The former often mixed into a vinegar dipping sauce. Both are used in cooking as well.

Probably it was important as both a source of protein and salt that could be easily transported and stored, crucially important for nutrition for uplanders. Sometimes, in the uplands with the Igorot montagnards, we’d only have rice and bagoong to eat - maybe a little lime juice mixed in.

I am in agreement with every post, save the first one. Here’s a recipe for a sauce you can use for dipping spring rolls, or sandwiches, over salads or stir-fries, or anything really–hell, if I ate breakfast, I’d pour it on my muesli. Some proportions might need to be adjusted to taste, it’s adapted from a much larger recipe, but this is the recipe I give to my students, and I think it works out pretty well.

Nuoc Cham (Fish Sauce)

1 Tablespoon Ground Garlic
1/2 Cup Nuoc Mam
1/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
Water to make 2 Cups
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
Zest of 1/2 Orange
Chili Paste to taste (a few teaspoons, at least)

Cook garlic in fish sauce until fragrant, add sugar and rice wine vinegar and cook until sugar dissolves. Strain mixture into 1/2 quart cambro, add lemon juice and enough water to make 2 cups, add zests and chili paste, cover and label with name, date and cooks initials, store in cooler, garnish with shredded carrot and or daikon.

2 Cups

P. S. City Gent: Here’s a recipe your wife might like.

Tender, Loving Spouse.

Marinate husband in Nam Pla until the neighbors complain, then and only then, roast at 350 degrees until tender. Serve with relish.


Greg, could I get your phone number, so that next time I need advice on how to solve a family conflict I can ask you? I said she was born in Vietnam, but I didn’t say she was Vietnamese (she’s half.) Furthermore, it’s a rather sweeping stereotype to say that all Vietnamese must have nuoc mam to live happily.

Mrs. CG has made an entirely rational decision that she’d rather confine her nuoc mam activities to restaurants than see me gag and retch when she opens that jar. I don’t make her smell cheese, she doesn’t make me smell nuoc mam.

The stuff is repulsive to most Westerners. It smells like something you’d find dead on the beach at low tide on a hot, sunny day. I submit that pasta has never elicited such a reaction from anyone.

Ah, but you didn’t say she had made a rational decision not to have fish sauce in the house. You said that you wouldn’t let her have it. I’m sorry if I assumed too much.

On the other hand, I don’t accept your claim that most Westerners find fish sauce repulsive. I don’t and many of the other respondants don’t. A number of my friends, who aren’t even half Vietnamese, like it too. There’s even one who can’t stand fish, but loves fish sauce, though I admit she’s never smelled it straight out of the bottle. It has a strong smell, but so does garlic. That doesn’t mean it’s not good with food.

You mention a jar though, which makes me think we’re talking about different stuff. Anyway, if you hate the stuff, you hate it. However, if you just have an irrational predjudice against it, you could be in for a treat if you just become more open-minded. Like many things Vietnamese, it might take some getting used to, but it’s generally worth the trouble. Now cheese on the other hand …

I have introduced many many many (I’m talking well over a couple hundred here) of my american friends & acquaintances to Vietnamese food, and I don’t remember any of them finding nuoc mam to be anything other than tasty. I’m not saying that there aren’t a few people on the planet that might dislike the flavor, I’m just suggesting that City Gent’s comment:

would be more accurate if we change “most” to “a few”.

The only person I ever saw have a negative reaction to it was unfortunate enough (not knowing any better) to have used it pure, right out of the bottle. She splashed it on her food like you might do with with weak soy sauce in a cheap chinese carry out. Pouring nuoc mam directly on your food is like dousing your salad with pure vinegar. Vinegar is a component of sald dressing, just as nuoc mam is a component of several tangy dressings in Viet Nam.

Her mom makes it in a jar…the fish sauce base comes from the store, then she puts garlic, red pepper, little carrot strings, and other things in it. It gets sort of a orangey hue after a few months in the pantry.

I actually do eat Vietnamese food at restaurants fairly often, and undoubtedly there’s nuoc mam in it. What I can’t take is the smell straight out of the jar - that’s why it is not welcome in the Gent house. I did eat it on noodles a few times until I realized that it smells like rotten fish. It just staaaaanks.