Is this condiment the new soy sauce?

Nuoc cham could soon find its way onto every shelf in Western Canada, if Thompson Tran has his way

May 6, 2016

By Max Fawcett / Photo: Kevin Jamieson

You should always listen to your mom—just ask Thompson Tran. He’s executive chef and owner of The Wooden Boat, a Port Moody-based catering company that recently released its own nuoc cham sauce (the magical Vietnamese elixir that includes fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and water).

Tran, who worked in kitchens like Bishop’s and Il Giardino before branching out into catering, started making his own sauce largely because he couldn’t find a decent version on store shelves. But, he says, it was his mother’s encouragement that sealed the deal. “She said, ‘Why not take the best recipes from all your aunts?’ And I did.”

His bottles of nuoc cham first hit shelves back in November, and they’ve been popular right from the start. And while they’re already being sold by a handful of stores, he’s in discussions with players that would take that to a whole new level. “Very large retailers,” he says. “I’m not going to say who.”

What he will say is that his nuoc cham is a perfect substitute for soy sauce. For Tran, who has high blood pressure, the comparatively low sodium content in his product is an added bonus. “Everybody’s always looking for a healthier alternative to the condiments that are out there, and I think nuoc cham is a really great way of enjoying a lot of different foods.” He has big plans for it in 2016, too. “Our goal for this is to be on pretty much most—if not every—shelf in Western Canada.”

Other Uses

Sure, you could use nuoc cham as a dipping sauce—and who could blame you? But Thompson Tran says it’s capable of much more than just that.

As a marinade
Tran suggests roasting at a lower temperature before cranking the heat up at the end to caramelize whatever you’re cooking (chicken and fish are best). “You have to be careful because there’s sugar in it. But for me, it’s a really well-balanced marinade.”

As a salad dressing
Not on a conventional green salad, mind you. “It’s probably one of the best coleslaw dressings I’ve ever had. It goes alongside a hamburger really well—just leave the mayonnaise out.”

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