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In Massachusetts, the Vietnamese population is over 47,000, with the largest communities in Dorchester, Quincy, and Worcester (and the concentration of restaurants there as well). For these immigrants and their children, food is the connection to their culture. For non-Vietnamese, the food is an exciting array of Asian dishes not quite like any of its neighbors. It’s time for a primer. “The first thing you’ve got to learn about Vietnamese cuisine is the fish sauce,” says Vietnam-born, award-winning author Andrew Pham, who recently taught a writing class at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill. Fish sauce, called nuoc mam, is an indispensable ingredient of the Vietnamese pantry. Mixed with lime, sugar, and water, it becomes nuoc cham, a popular dipping sauce on all tables.