Chile Sauce


In 2007, a waiter at a fancy, French-owned hotel in Saigon gifted me a great tip: Cholimex chile sauce. I’d had it with pho several mornings in a row and the moderately spicy-sweet sauce was perfect with the soup. Not as hot as Stateside sriracha, the Viet chile sauce went exceptionally well with Vietnamese food (as it should!). When the waiter showed me the bottle, he said, “I buy several six-packs for relatives whenever I go to America. It’s sold all over town. Sister, go to Ben Thanh market.”

I did and brought home a half-dozen bottles, mostly for me and my mom. They are long gone and Cholimex has yet to distribute in America. No problem. I came up with my own version. The tomato lends texture, balances the chile heat, and adds a slight, bright fruitiness. Choose fleshy, firm medium-hot chiles for a condiment with character.


  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 medium (3 to 4 oz | 90 to 115 g) Roma tomato 
  • 6 ounces (180 g) Fresno chiles (about 8 medium) 
  • Brimming 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, preferably organic 
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar 
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water, plus more as needed

The Pho CookbookThe Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen


Coarsely chop the garlic and tomato. Transfer to a 1 1/2-quart (1.5 l) saucepan, including the tomato juices and seeds.

Stem and quarter the chiles lengthwise. Because you want a moderate amount of heat, seed half of the chile pieces, reserving those unwanted parts in case the chiles are wimpy.

With the skin side facing up, coarsely cut all of the chiles crosswise into pieces the size of your thumbnail. Use one of the leftover stem pieces and your knife to usher them into the pan.

Add the salt, sugar, vinegar, and water. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the chiles have softened. Taste midway. If it’s too mild, add some of the reserved chile seeds and spongy placenta to the pan. When done, slide to a cool burner, let sit for 3 to 5 minutes, then puree in a blender. Expect skin bits and seeds to remain.

Pass through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the mixture with a spatula; discard the solids. Allow to cool and concentrate, uncovered, for about 1 hour before tasting and tweaking. If needed, add salt by the pinch, sugar by the 1/4 teaspoon, vinegar by the 1/2 teaspoon, or water by the tablespoon.

Texturally, the sauce should resemble a pourable sriracha. The flavor should be pleasantly sweet and spicy. You will want to eat the chile sauce by the spoonful but know that you should not. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 months. Enjoy at room temperature.

Notes: Organic cane sugar perfectly balances and brightens the chile heat without being cloying. As an experiment, substitute 1/2 ounce (15 g) yellow Chinese rock sugar, which you may already have for preparing broth. If the chile sauce has too many rough edges, round them out with a touch of maple syrup.

When Fresno chiles aren’t available, or if they’re just not very hot, try red or green jalapeño. Consider combining different kinds of chiles, too.

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Reprinted with permission from The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography credit: John Lee © 2017


Cook time: 
Makes about 3/4 cup (180 ml)

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