Every good Vietnamese cook needs to master this dipping sauce. It's used in many dishes to bring all the elements together. However, it can be easily botched, especially if your taste buds are not well versed in balancing subtle nuances between sour, sweet, salty and spicy. Additionally, flavoring with fish sauce is tough if you're not used to working with it everyday, not to mention the fact that fish sauce qualities differ from brand to brand and sometimes from lot to lot!
Growing up, I was given the task of being our family's dipping saucier. We are a serious group of eaters prone to chiding the cook for poor food preparation. So out of self-preservation, I devised the method below that's served me well over the years. Rather than mix everything together at once, I've broken up the process to simplify matters for the taste buds.