Chefs

Tran An's Grandma Sauce Brings Vietnamese Flavor to Home Cooking

Jon Nguyen's Grandma Sauce is the product of a collaboration with his mother — the grandmother of the Tran An chef/owner's son.
Jon Nguyen's Grandma Sauce is the product of a collaboration with his mother — the grandmother of the Tran An chef/owner's son. Photo courtesy of Tran An

Walk into just about any gourmet food store and you'll see an array of sauces designed to help home cooks elevate their food game. There are so many out there, you might find yourself buying a different bottle for every dish you cook.

If, however, you're a minimalist seeking just one bottle to do a range of your culinary heavy lifting, Tran An's Grandma Sauce is the one for you.

The sauce manages to be tart, sweet, garlicky, and pungent in perfect harmony. Made with few ingredients — fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, chilies, vinegar, water, and a touch of sugar — it works equally well as a seafood marinade, a stir-fry sauce, a salad dressing, on scrambled eggs, tossed into noodles, or as a dipping sauce.

Tran An chef/owner Jon Nguyen tells New Times that the sauce is a version of nuoc cham, which can be found in every Vietnamese kitchen. But although every recipe contains the same basic ingredients, the ratio of fish sauce (often called nuoc mam) to vinegar to sugar is what makes every household's recipe unique.


"The Grandma Sauce is one of those staples found in everyone's household," Nguyen says, adding that he has been tweaking his recipe for years. "When I was cheffing in different places, I would make a variation to suit the menu. The recipe changed a bit every place I went."

When he opened Tran An, Nguyen decided to make one he could call his own. He thought he had the perfect recipe — until he asked his mother, Tu Nguyen, to try it out.

"My mom basically told me it was fine — but if I wanted to make it the right way, she would have to step in and help."
click to enlarge Available by the bottle, Tran An's Grandma Sauce dresses up just about any dish — and not just Vietnamese ones. - PHOTO BY RUBEN CABRERA
Available by the bottle, Tran An's Grandma Sauce dresses up just about any dish — and not just Vietnamese ones.
Photo by Ruben Cabrera
The two went to work overhauling the recipe. "I didn't want it to be too spicy, because I didn't want people to be turned off if it had too much heat. Our fish sauce is also a little more acidic and tangy than what you would find in a Vietnamese household, which tends to be more umami," he explains.

The result is his Grandma Sauce — named after his mother, the grandmother of his son. "'Grandma' also sounds better than 'Mother Sauce,'" Nguyen jokes. Tu's image graces every bottle, in honor of her mentorship.

As the base, Nguyen uses Son brand fish sauce. "It's an all-natural fish sauce from Vietnam, packaged in California," he says. Then he adds the other ingredients, bottles it, and sells it for $9.50 a pop at Tran An, at Dyl's (his shop next door), online, and via Uber Eats.

Nguyen calls the sauce a home cook's "cheat code" that can be used on anything. "If you mess up anything in the kitchen, throw some Grandma Sauce on it. It covers up mistakes."

He also says it's a "game changer" for fried rice. He advises adding the sauce to the rice just before it's done to enhance the flavor.

Tran An. 215 NE 82nd St., Miami; 305-905-5006; trananmiami.com.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss