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Vegan Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)

Do you like fish sauce? If you’re vegetarian or vegan then this Vegan Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce) recipe is for you!

And if you don’t like fish sauce, wait! This vegan fish sauce is also perfect for you!

Why?

This Vegan Nuoc Mam recipe doesn’t have any fish in it. There are no anchovies, no fishy extracts and no strong fermented fish smell. It’s perfect for those who haven’t tried fish sauce because of the smell. A few of my friends love the flavour of fish sauce but the smell was too much for them. Once I introduced them to this recipe, they have been using it for everything!

The recipe will make the fish sauce (nuoc mam) similar to the ones found in the bottles at Asian grocery stores. I refer to this as the ‘base’ fish sauce. It’s used primarily to cook and season food.

A glass jar of vegan fish sauce with salt  sprinkled on top of the wooden table
A fish sauce substitute – vegan!

You can also use it as a Vietnamese dipping sauce. However, Vietnamese dipping sauces are usually another creation of their own. Check out my recipe here which shows you how to make a Viet dipping sauce (nuoc cham) recipe.

Fish sauce is a staple Vietnamese sauce. The nuoc mam sauce is used in everything. Firstly, the base can be used to flavour and season foods simmering on the stove. When turned into a nuoc cham sauce, It’s used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, cold rolls, Vietnamese pancakes (banh xeo) and so on. It also serves as a dressing for Vietnamese salads (goi) and vermicelli (bun) bowls.

When I became plant based I missed fish sauce so much. My Vietnamese dishes weren’t the same. I used soy sauce as an alternative but it wasn’t the same. Fish sauce brings significant flavours to a dish. The sauce has layers of different tastes ranging from sweet, salty to sour – so yummy!

A tablespoon of salt with salt sprinkled on a wooden table
Fish sauce brings an array of flavours, namely salty tones that enhance lots of Vietnamese dishes

So I was very happy when I came up with this fish sauce vegetarian substitute. Kudos to my Mum and sister who helped me! Now I regularly use it in my Vietnamese vegetarian recipes.

Vegan Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce) Recipe

This Viet fish sauce is vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

We’ll be using pineapple and rock sugar as the sweetener base. I prefer using fresh pineapples but you can use canned pineapples too – drain the syrup water first.

An induction cooker with pineapple chunks and rock sugar used to make vegan nuoc mam
Include all of the pineapple flesh including the core

Chinese rock sugar can be found at Asian grocery stores. They are irregular lumps of crystallised, refined sugar. Rock sugar provides a sweetness that isn’t as overwhelming and strong as white or brown sugar. It has no caramel tones and is perfect to create the sweet base of the fish sauce. Middle eastern countries use it in their tea for this reason.

Multiple crystallised rocks of refined sugar on a scale
Rock sugar is commonly used to sweeten up tea in Middle Eastern countries

We add in some drops of soy sauce to achieve the golden amber of normal fish sauce. The soy sauce will enhance the saltiness and umami flavour of the sauce. However its flavour is not the point of the ingredient, we add it to give it a nice colouring. Make sure you mix the sauce well after every drop to ensure you get your perfect colour without overdoing it (high school chemistry titrations anyone?).

The soy sauce gives the fish sauce a beautiful golden aroma

Unlike many other sauces, fish sauce is an individual taste. Some like it salty, others like it sweeter. This is reflected in the varying tastes across the brands of fish sauce. This recipe gives you the perfect base to adjust it according to your liking. Add more salt, sugar or soy sauce. But just make sure to add it while it’s still hot so that the granules dissolve.

Ingredients

  • 1.5L water
  • 1 pineapple, roughly chopped (or canned pineapples)
  • 270g rock sugar
  • 60g salt
  • Several drops of soy sauce – depends on how dark you like it to look.

How to Make Vegan Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)

  1. Heat the water, pineapple chuncks and rock sugar on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce the heat o low-medium. Cover with a lid and simmer for 90 minutes. Reduce the heat further if necessary.
  3. Drain the liquid into a bowl through a sieve.
  4. Add in salt and soy sauce while it’s still hot. Stir after every drop of soy sauce to find an amber colour to your liking.
  5. Let it cool and store in air-tight jar for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Any ideas on how to use these leftover pineapples? They’re super sweet, soaked in rock sugar water!

Scientific Health Benefits

I love talking about the health benefits of the ingredients in my recipes. It’s interesting to learn about the latest science and is a motive to eat healthy. Unfortunately I can’t really say much about this recipe due to the ingredients. The healthiest thing in there were the pineapple chunks… but we didn’t even eat them!

But it also leads to an important discussion about ‘healthy eating’ and my approach as an individual and health professional.

Although I would say that my diet on the whole is healthy, I am not perfect. I grew up eating meat for 22 years. I have successfully transitioned into a plant-based diet. Now my next goal is to become fully whole foods, plant based. But again, as a kid growing up in this 21st century, I grew up eating a lot of processed foods. AND IT’S EVERYWHERE! Whole foods is hard.

Also, coming from a Vietnamese background, Vietnamese food is part of me. Although fish sauce or vegan fish sauce isn’t classified as too healthy, it lets me enjoy my culture with myself, my friends and my family. So as with anything, you have to weight up the benefits and negatives. My quality of life is much better if I enjoy this ‘unhealthy’ treat once in a while especially if it means I can eat my favourite Vietnamese dishes with my closest ones.

So as a health professional and a personal trainer, I encourage people to adopt a plant based diet with mainly whole foods. However, the journey to that is difficult. It’s ok to eat unhealthy once in a while and in moderation. If that particular ‘unhealthy’ food sits somewhere close to your heart? Go for it! As long as you make up the other 90% with healthy eating and exercise.

By Karen (MBBS VI, PT)

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'm a certified personal trainer and medical student with one more year (finally!) of study until I'm a doctor. I believe in a preventative and holistic approach to medicine which means I love sharing my passion for fitness and nutrition with you guys! I hope that we all can strive to be a better version of ourselves everyday.

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