When chefs in Vietnam and around the world talk about Vietnamese cuisine, they agree that dipping sauce is one of the signatures of Vietnamese cuisine. Especially, it applies to rice paper rolls dipping sauce. It reflects not only the eating culture of Vietnam but also the eating culture of each Vietnamese family. It makes Vietnamese cuisine different from the neighbours’ and other countries’ cuisines around the world.
If you visit Vietnam for the very first time, you will be surprised by the dipping sauce. Each main dish on a table has its own dipping sauce. But it does not stop there. For the same food, the dipping sauce is different in each region in Vietnam, from the North to the Central and then the South. It is even more interesting in the way that in the same region, the same food, the same name of a dipping sauce, each family has its own specific version of the sauce.
Rice Paper Rolls dipping sauce is special too.
Dipping sauce for rice paper rolls (nước chấm gỏi cuốn – nuoc cham goi cuon) is not an exception from the above. It is more important than a normal side dish. Rice paper rolls dipping sauce becomes a deciding factor for the main food.
When the main fresh ingredients to make the roll recipe are the same on the table, the rolls dipping sauce demonstrates the level of excellence. Professional chefs in many contests only focus on the dipping sauce to win the competitions. The competency and creativity stay in the dipping sauce. It contributes to the success of the rolls when the roll is a single course or in a banquet.
The representation of the eating culture of Vietnamese regions.
Only when you travel along with Vietnam country, enjoy the same salad rolls, and pay attention to the details, you will see the difference between regions or provinces in the same dipping sauce. Although the ingredients are the same, the method and the combination of flavours are different. You will see the varies in cutting and processing in the recipes for the sour, spicy, salty, and sweet ingredients.
Rice paper rolls dipping sauce in Southern areas is sweeter, in Central provinces is saltier and spicier, while in Northern area is more balanced sweet and sour flavour. Click here to see an example of fish sauce dipping sauce from the Southern area, or watch this video for the simply authentic dipping fish sauce from Vietnam Central provinces.
In a foreign country, if you walk into a Vietnamese restaurant, you can tell the original region of the owner by looking at the dipping sauce. Sometimes if you are lucky, you will get the right loved authentic dipping sauce from the restaurant. It is when the owner recognizes where you are from Vietnam through your truly-provincial Vietnamese accent.
Dipping sauce shows love in a family.
Vietnamese family members eat the rice paper rolls with their own flavours. Each member makes their own rolls from the shared ingredients on the table. It happens the same to the dipping sauce. In many families, dipping sauce for father is different from his children. This reflects the love and care in the family. The housewife knows exactly the loved sauces of each member.
Diversity of the rice paper rolls dipping sauce
The authentic dipping sauce for the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls is the fish sauce. When the summer rolls become very popular, many types of dipping sauce have been created to make the main rolls more delicious. That is hoisin sauce which is the fermented soybean paste. It has a characteristic colour and flavour. The other one that's also very popular is soy sauce, mainly for vegetarian or vegan. Sometimes it is a simple choice for people who do not like fish sauce.
Dipping fish sauce
As the most authentic and popular dipping sauce in Vietnam, the fish sauce becomes standard dipping sauce for rice paper rolls. Authentic dipping fish sauce has two to four basic components: saltiness, spiciness, sourness and sweetness. Harmonising these four flavours creates many variations for the dipping sauce. Fish sauce contributes the saltiness; chilli contributes the spiciness. Lemon juice or vinegar makes sourness. Sugar contributes to sweetness. Sometimes coconut juice or finely chopped carrot is used to add on the sweet level. See this sweet dipping fish sauce from a Vietnamese family, or watch this video for two-flavour authentic dipping sauce.
The main colour theme of the dipping fish sauce is the warm brown to the red colour, decorated more by the red chilli. To make the sauce get more appealing colours, many families add green chilli, orange carrot, and pickled purple onions.
To make the dipping fish sauce having more flavours, many cooks and chefs have added herbs and Western flavours to it. This creative way turns the original colour of dipping fish sauce to a differently beautiful sauce, such as rainbow or green colour.