Vietnam has many kinds of sauces (mắm) which are made from different natural ingredients. Here are a few of the most popular:
1. Mam Tom (Shrimp Paste Sauce)
Mam Tom is the specialty of the North, with an unique taste. It is made from shrimp or “moi” (super tiny shrimp) and salt. After the fermentation process, the sauce is dark purple and smells so strong that “the smell of shrimp paste” (Mui Mam Tom) has became a buzzword in daily life. Many people love shrimp paste but there are also people who run away because of its smell 😉
Mam Tom can be used as a sauce, mixed with rice wine/water and lemon, to reduce the strong smell. It is must-have ingredient of famous tasty “Bun Dau Mam Tom” (vermicelli, mam tom, crispy fried tofu and herbs-optional), “Gia Cay” (Smoked Ham Hock with Mam Tom and Rieng – alpinia, a kind of ginger) or “Rua Man” (Steamed dog meat with mam tom, rice flour, and lemongrass).
2. Mam Cay
If someone can not stand the smell of Mam Tom, then they will be more turned off by Mam Cay. This sauce is made from Cay, small crabs live mainly in coastal areas. Mam Cay is lot more smelly than Mam Tom, if you pass the initial inferiority, many of us have recognized that Mam Cay is not only delicious but also addictive (Well, sort of, at first, raise your courage!) Sweet potato leaves with Mam Cay dipping sauce is simple and frequent dish of people in Northern Coastal region.
3. Mam Cai (or Mam Nem)
Mam Cai is also made from fish like common fish sauce, but the process is totally different. Common fish sauce is the juice of fish and salt after fermentation, Mam Cai uses whole fish bodies. After fish is salted and fermented, it is mixed with few additional ingredients such as thính (a powder made from toasted rice), pineapple, sugar… to create a special taste.
The sauce usually has two forms: whole fish (anchovies) and pureed form (sardine, scad…). Mam Cai is typical sauce in the Central of Vietnam.
4. Mam Ruoc
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.
5. Mam Tom Chua (Sour Shrimp Sauce)
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 (has dark purple color and smooth surface), Sour shrimp sauce has orange color while shrimps still keep its original shape. The sweet and sour taste, and slightly spicy, with galangal, and chili, creates pleasant taste, which is easier to eat than Mam Tom. This is the best sauce for boiled pork (thit lon/heo luoc).
6. Mam Ruoi (Clam worm sauce)
Mam Ruoi is famous tasty sauce in Vietnam. However, the fish processing in Northern coastal provinces is completely different with the one in Tra Vinh, Me Kong Delta.
Northerners make Mam Ruoi as thick blended sauce with the citrus peel, ginger, roasted salt, rice wine and thính (roasted rice powder). It has been a favorite special sauce of Hanoi’s residents. Even the author of “Cuisine of Hanoi” – writer Vu Bang, also praised that the Mam Ruoi and prawns must be served water dropwort (rau cần) and crown daisy (cải cúc), without this two critical vegetables, then it is incomplete Mam Ruoi’s meal. Without it, it is like a beautiful but ungainly woman: very dull.
Tra Vinh’s residents often make clam worms into sauce. The recipe is quite very simple, including clam worms, salt and water, but the finished product is a kind of special sauce which was loved by royal families of Nguyen dynasty. Therefore, Mam Ruoi in Tra Vinh is also called regal sauce.
7. Mekong Delta’s fish sauce
In Mekong Delta (a.k.a Western Region), any kind of fish can be made into fish sauces. Typical fishes are snakehead fish (cá lóc/cá quả), the moustached danio (cá linh), snakeskin gourami (cá sặc), Prahok …
Snakehead fish sauce is a typical sauce of Chau Doc region, An Giang province, and it is one of main ingredients of famous fish rice noodle in Chau Doc. Fish sauce hotpot (Lẩu mắm) in Can Tho is incomplete without yellow and flavorful moustached danio fish sauce (mắm cá linh). Prahok is specialty of Khmer, with strong aroma, it is must-have spices in food of Khmer people, in Soc Trang province, Tra Vinh province, etc.
8. Mam Thai
Mam Thai is also a specialty of Mekong Delta. It is modified from Mắm Ruột (a sauce which is made from delicious and expensive Guts of Snakehead fish) by mixing minced Snakehead fish meat sauce with pickled shredded papaya, then marinading sugar and spice. There are various ways to enjoy the dish but the most delicious one is a full platter of fresh noodles, vegetables, boiled meat, rice paper.
Original article : Depplus
This article is translated by me, I’m happy to hear any feedback about translation, or about these sauces 😉 Thank you!