Open the fridge in any Vietnamese household and you are sure to find a jar of nước mắm. I’m not talking about the pure bottled stuff, but rather the mix that accompanies many dishes on our dining table. It is often served as a dipping sauce for chả giò (eggrolls) or as a sauce drizzled over dishes, such as cơm tấm bì (broken rice with shredded pork) or bánh xèo (savory crêpes ). Though the base sauce is only composed of a few simple ingredients (lime juice + sugar + water + nước mắm), achieving a harmonious balance among these contradictory ingredients is not an easy feat for the untrained palate. Getting it just right requires a bit of finesse that comes with practice.

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