Vietnamese tomato sauce is unlike any other tomato sauce I know. It’s so savoury, yet has a hint of sweetness. The traditional recipe is called “Đậu hũ nhồi thịt sốt cà chua” and is made with tofu. I’ve swapped the tofu to bring you Vietnamese meatballs in tomato sauce.

This is one of my favourite Vietnamese home-cooking dishes. It’s ridiculously simple to make, and stores well in the fridge. In asian meals, you often have a few dishes to share with some rice, but this dish works perfectly well without side accompaniments.

I ate this dish at least twice a week for lunch when I lived in Cambodia. I was around 10 years old, and my lunch would be delivered from home at lunch time in a metal tin. The food was always hot and it was nice to have that home touch. I think that’s a lot more common in Asia, having a warm home meal at lunch. I never got on with packed sandwiches and an apple in England!

The dish really is simple, and the sauce goes well with so many things. I use meatballs in this recipe, but it works with fish, tofu, and all sorts. The sauce is very runny, which is common with Vietnamese dishes. Don’t get worried if you think it’s not thickening! It’s meant to be eaten in a bowl with rice, and everything just slides down.


Ingredients for meatballs and tomato sauce

Here are all the ingredients you’re going to need.

  • Mince meat – I use tukey because it’s slightly more healthy
  • 5 medium ripe tomatoes.
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • fish sauce
  • sugar
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • spring onions
  • cornflour/cornstarch
  • shallots (or small red onion)
  • salt and pepper
  • Cooked rice for serving

all the ingredients for vietnamese meatballsFirst thing we need to do is make the meatballs. Put the mince in a bowl. Finely chop up some of the shallots,ginger, spring onions, and the garlic. Add it all to the bowl, along with some cornstarch. Some people like to add an egg at this point, to help it all stick together, but I did
n’t bother. A lot of people like to add lemongrass, but I forgot to buy any.

Mix it all up, and make them into little balls using your hands. This part is messy, but I think it’s fun. meatballs all lined up

Next I add some oil into a pan and cook the meatballs a little to brown them on all sides. I take them out and put them to the side. Then, I’ll chop up more shallots and brown those in the pan.

You can cut the tomatoes into quarters, but some people like it more diced. Add that to the pan, along with a tablespoon of the tomato paste. Add a whole bunch of watcher. I never measure how much water I put in, maybe a cup and a half? I think most people advice on putting in less, but I figure you can always reduce if there’s too much. You want enough so that the liquid covers the meatballs later on.

Add more chopped ginger and garlic into the pan. I then pour in about a tablespoon’s worth of fishsauce. People hate the smell of fish sauce, but I promise you it’s an important step! It won’t taste the same without it. I also add about a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Tomatoes in the pan all ready to go

Bring it all to the boil. Once it’s boiled, put the meatballs back in and let the whole thing simmer. I let it simmer for about 25 minutes, checking up occasionally to see how the meat and tomatoes look. The tomatoes should be super squishy, with the skin easily peeling away.

stewed sauce and meatballs ready to gostewed sauce and meatballs ready to go

Serve everything up with some rice. I put some chopped spring onion on the top for the crunch and flavour. Some people like to add the spring onions whilst the food is still stewing for that extra flavour.

finished product of vietnamese meatballs and tomato sauce