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Friday, October 17, 2008

Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)

Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste) 2

Most people think of the more well-known Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce) when it comes to flavoring and dipping Vietnamese food. Mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste) is its much more pungent cousin. It's more popular in North and Central Vietnam, while Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce) is more popular in the South. And if you're South-Central like me, you grow up eating both!

According to Vietscape, ruoc are small shrimp caught during the rainy season. They are dried in the sun for three months, then mixed with salt, ground into a powder, and placed in a jar to pickle in the sun for another month-and-a-half. Sugar is then added to that mixture and left to ferment for another month. The mixture is then dried again in the sun for 10 days.

These dried blocks are how I typically see belacan, the Malaysian version of shrimp paste sold in Asian grocery stores. Different versions of shrimp paste exist in many other Southeast Asian cuisines as well.

Vietnamese mam ruoc tends to be light pinkish-gray and is a thick paste rather than a block. All that drying and pickling and drying and pickling again results in a very thick, very concentrated, very salty, shrimp flavor. In some recipes such as Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup), there really is no other substitute. It's also the "secret ingredient" in my recipe for baechu kimchi (Korean pickled napa cabbage).

As a dipping sauce, its pungency can be diluted with lime juice. Add chili peppers, garlic, and sugar to round out the taste. You can dip raw or boiled vegetables, hot pot ingredients, rice paper rolls, or anything you wish really. My ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother), the oldest '88, and I used to dip plain rice paper with mam ruoc.

Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste) 1

The following amounts are just a guideline, please adjust according to your own taste. If you're unfamiliar with mam ruoc, start out with a very small amount such as 1/4 tsp and adjust from there.

Mam Ruoc Cham (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste Dipping Sauce)

You'll need:
2 tsps mam ruoc
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, ground into a paste
1 chili pepper
2 tsps sugar

In a mortar and pestle, grind the 2 cloves of garlic with 1 chili pepper and 2 tsps of sugar until a paste is formed. Add 2 tsps mam ruoc and the juice of 1 lime. Mix thoroughly.


My other Vietnamese dipping sauces:
Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce)
Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce)
Nuoc Mam Gung (Vietnamese Ginger Fish Sauce)

Who else loves mam ruoc?
Tia Nguyen said her last meal would be Thai eggplants dipped into mam ruoc.

1 year ago today, crimini, king oyster, monkey head, and shiitake mushrooms in my cream of four mushroom soup.



  1. Mmm! I always have a jar of shrimp paste in my fridge. I think the kind I have is Thai, and it's quite gray with no pink in it.

    The only thing I use it for is that I mix in a spoonful with diced chilies and eat it with green mangoes or, if I can't easily get some, granny smith apples.

    I also use it to terrorize my boyfriend who can't stand the smell. He finds it absolutely insane that one would eat fruit with fermented shrimp paste.

    Thanks for the recipe! Now I have another use for it.

  2. As a dipping sauce I like to add mashed canned pineapple as I find it gives it the right fragrant sweet/sour combo!

  3. in hanoi we have mam tom. which is very similar. :) I love mam ruoc as well! So nice!

  4. Yumm. I'll mix mam ruoc in a ground pork, onion, and egg mixture that I'll steam or cook on the stove. Tastes great with rice and sliced cucumbers.

    But my favorite is mam ruoc with crunchy white peaches. I don't dilute it. I get a dollop of it and dip the peach slices right into it. Nothing says summer like this to me. Grew up on this and just like make it spicy's bf, it absolutely disgusts my husband. :) I'll break him one day...got him hooked on my mom's bun nuoc leo. Can't be that much harder...

  5. I load up my bun rieu with mam ruoc, and...I sometimes grab a spoonful and eat it plain out of the jar. Well, yes my mom complains all the time when I do it, but I'm a sucker for salt.

  6. I like to add some mam ruoc in my Bun Rieu bowl, yummy ! otherwise to dip some sour apple slices !


  7. This is one Vietnamese ingredient I have yet to experiment with. Any tips for picking out a good shrimp paste (brand, ingredient list, etc)?

  8. MIS,
    I think the Thai and Cambodian versions are much darker. A dollop of mam ruoc added to various noodle soups is good too.

    I add crushed pineapple to mam nem, never occurred to me to add it to mam ruoc too.

    Not similar, same thing. Just different names. You wacky Northerners. ;) There's another kind of mam tom with whole shrimp, so I didn't want to confuse the two.

    I just made cha last week. How funny! I add mam ruoc to my tropical fruit salads too.

    That's hardcore lady! I can't eat a spoonful of it straight-up. Too salty for me.

    I like it in my bun rieu too. It's great with lots of seafood soups.

    Vietnamese versions are a grayish-pink, so look for that color as the darker versions are Thai or Cambodian. Slightly different flavor profile, although it's still shrimp paste. Other than that, I just buy different ones at random and see if I like it. It'll take you a long time to get through a jar though!

  9. Thais also make a similar fermented shrimp paste dip (called naam phrik kappi), but the paste we use is from a block. My mom says that the secret is to add tiny green eggplants (about the size of marbles). Their flavor supposedly mellows out the pungency of the shrimp paste. In any case, I think fermented shrimp pastes are definitely something one has to get used to. I used to hate it when I was younger, but wouldn't live without it now!

  10. Hmmm when I make the dip I add crush pineapple in heavy syrup. You ever try it that way?

  11. Darlene,
    We have mam ruoc ca phao, which is shrimp paste with the tiny eggplants. :) It is an acquired taste, but those of us who love it, really love it.

    I prefer adding crushed pineapple to my mam nem.

  12. has anyone seen how this stuff is made? do you think as they leave it to ferment in the last month that bugs gets into it? is there any regulation on how sanitary this stuff is? don't get me wrong i love all mam but i am a little worried about contamination from bugs and rodents....

  13. Lynn Ann,
    I have no idea. I haven't gotten sick from eating mam yet so I don't over-think about it.

  14. Hello WC! JS and I want to make the Hanoi-style fish with turmeric and dill, but have trouble finding mam ruoc. Is there another kind of shrimp paste we can use as a substitute? We saw a lot of different types of fermented fish pastes, actually.

  15. TS,
    You can try the Filipino shrimp bagoong or Malaysian belacan. I think those are dry so you'll have to add some water to reconstitute them. Or maybe you can find mam ruoc in the same aisle as bagoong? Good luck!

  16. Oh, ok! I guess we'll have to look for a shrimp bagoong that's the same light, pinkish color. We do have belacan as well. I guess it just needs to have that special shrimpy funk. =) But, we'll keep an eye open for the mam ruoc.

  17. TS,
    Maybe next time you come to SoCal, I can sneak you some to bring back. :P

  18. Do you know how to make "banh khoai"? And the sauce for Banh khoai?

  19. Joe,
    You mean the banh khoai that look like little open-faced banh xeo? Can't you just make small banh xeo? I've never eaten them so I'm not sure what kind of sauce goes with it. I eat nuoc mam and mam nem with my banh xeo.


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