For me, in every meal in Vietnam, the most important thing is the dipping sauce. I feel like if some dish is a bit under seasoned, a nice bowl of dipping sauce can always ‘rescue’ it, and vice-versa if a dish is nice but the dipping sauce doesn’t have a harmony between the spices (too salty or too sour), the deliciousness of the dish is more or less reduced (of course this is only my personal opinion, maybe I’m a bit too nitpicking as well )
For the above mentioned reason, being able to make a delicious bowl of dipping sauce is very very important to me. A ‘perfect’ bowl of dipping sauce for me has to satisfy 2 requirements: a harmony of taste between sweetness, acidity, saltiness and spiciness and it has to look ‘nice’, the garlic and chili is chopped nicely and float on top of the sauce. Back when I was still learning how to cook, my dipping sauce was a mess, the garlic and chili always sink to the bottom, and the taste is either too sour or too salty, and after I tried to savage the sauce by adding things, I would ended up with…a bucket of sauce that is enough for a whole town
Since I have had a lot of troubles learning how to make dipping sauce, so even though it is a very ordinary dish, I still want to share my experience on this blog and hopefully it will be useful to some people. At the end of the post, I will introduce some variations of the sauce for different types of dish and also a vegan version as well.
Công thức tiếng Việt: Cách pha nước chấm
* Ingredients and how-to
- Fish sauce
- Garlic and chili
As above mentioned, a delicious bowl of dipping sauce for me has to have a harmony between acidity, spicy, sweet and saltiness. However there is no fixed ratio for this dipping sauce, since each lemon or vinegar has a different level of acidity, each brand of fish sauce has a different level of saltiness, and of course each person has their own taste preference as well.
The easiest and most can-not-go-wrong method is one that I learnt from my aunt, which is the lemon juice method. You start with a nice bowl of lemon juice (using lemon, water and sugar), sweet and sour to your taste, and then start adding the fish sauce little by little until the saltiness is to your liking. Finally you just add the chopped garlic and chili and it’s done. So simple right
I use lime because I like the taste and smell of it, but of course you can use lemon or vinegar and follow the exact same step.
Now to the looking ‘nice’ part. Before I always grind the garlic and chili with the sugar, so when the dipping sauce was first done the chili and garlic would float on top, but after a very short while they will all sink to the bottom. It’s not until recently that I realized by grinding the garlic and chili, they absorb liquid much faster, and of course they will sink as a result
Now I always hand chop my garlic, same goes with the chili (after I’ve discarded the seed), and add them at the end after I’ve added the fish sauce, that way they stay floating on top for much longer.
* Variations for different dishes
Finely grind or process some roasted peanut, adding them little by little into the dipping sauce until you achieve a nice and thick consistency (almost like a paste). The peanut will add a very rich taste to the sweet, salty and acidity taste of the dipping sauce, which is very delicious and goes so well with summer rolls.
Add thinly sliced lemongrass, finely grind or process some ginger (you should not use a knife for this, since by grinding we can get the juice from the ginger, which deepen the taste of the sauce and also give it a really nice fragrance) , and some thinly sliced lemon leaves. The quantity is up to your taste and the amount of sauce you have.
Rice noodles with spring rolls and other fried food (crispy dumplings, savoury fritters, etc)
It’s the same as a normal dipping sauce, but you add much more water, so that you can still feel the saltiness, sweetness and acidity but very mild, almost drinkable :p. Peel and thinly slice some carrots. Peel and slice some turnip cabbage into small thin squares, add some salt to draw out the water for about 15-20 minutes, then wash and squeeze out the excess liquid. Mix both the carrot and turnip cabbage with the dipping sauce.
* Bonus: Vegan dipping sauce
I learnt this recipe from a friend of mine who usually eat vegan, the taste is very close to a savory dipping sauce, and it’s very good.
- Soy sauce
Finely process the pineapple. Heat with some water on medium heat until the pineapple is soft and the water is infused with its taste. Pour into a bowl and add sugar and lemon according to the sweetness of the pineapple, until it’s sweet and sour to your liking. Adding salt bit by bit until the saltiness is to your liking. Finally add 1-2 drops of soy sauce to achieve that color of savory dipping sauce. Add garlic and chili and you’re done
You can of course replace the pineapple with water if you don’t have any, it won’t be as fragrant but would still be good. The quantity is of course up to how much dipping sauce you want to make.