Vietnamese meat treats

nem-chuaI am fortunate to live in a city with many different ethnic neighborhoods, and an excellent restaurant “scene.”  Within walking distance of my home there is Little Italy, a Mexican neighborhood, Chinatown (long walk,) Greektown, a college neighborhood, the meat and fish wholesale district, and an area known as “restaurant row.” 

In an attempt to get to know the culinary options available just outside my own door I have started venturing out on the weekends to explore the various areas.  I’ll add some posts about those adventures later, right now I’d like to mention two food items I picked up last weekend when I went out to the Vietnamese neighborhood for a soup and sandwich lunch of pho and banh mi.

The first is called Nem Chua


I am pretty adventurous when it comes to what I will eat and have a tendency to leap before I look.  My shopping style is equally careless.  I see something I want, I get it, and then I ask what it is and how much it costs (much to my wife’s chagrin.  This is best demonstrated by the time she sent me to pick up a few items at Whole Foods and I returned $300 lighter, including a $25 jar of almond butter which we ate maybe 2 tablespoons of and $30 jar of powdered greens superfood, which was throw out immediately after discovering it tasted like fish food)  

Nem Chua is a bundle of fermented pork meat and skin with garlic and pepper which is eaten raw.   The ingredients listed are:pork, pork skin, garlic, Thai pepper, black pepper, sugar.  I don’t know what makes it safe or how it ferments, all of the information I’ve read contains a mysterious Nem Chua powder (powder for fermenting pork) “available at Asian grocery stores.”  I’m hoping that it contains some type of curing salt (this is a reasonable guess based on how red the meat is, if it didn’t contain curing salt wouldn’t it be gray) which would make this safe to eat, but either way it is pretty delicious and with the exception of the effect on my breath from the raw garlic I have had no adverse reactions.  

The taste of the pork is very mild and a little sour, then the raw garlic and chile hit you and the heat and spice and pork has a wonderful synergy in the mouth.  The texture is like a large piece of tuna sashimi, but has rubbery bites to it when you chew the skin pieces distributed throughout. It leaves a heat in your mouth from the Thai pepper.  Overall very good, much better than my description makes them sound, and would make a good occasional or exotic snack, maybe as an option with chicken wings while watching a game.

It’s claimed that they don’t need to be refrigerated and are therefore a good treat to pack for hiking, although I keep mine in the refrigerator.  It is also said that they are a good snack to go with beer, with this I would have to agree.   

The second thing I picked up is called Cha Lua


cha-lua2Apparently this translates as silk sausage.   The ingredients listed are: pork, fish sauce, water, potatoes starch, vegetable oil, sugar, MSG, baking powder, corn starch and citric acid.  For all the ingredients it has a very bland flavor.   It is basically a pork loaf of very smooth consistency, boiled in a banana leaf.  They say it is done when it bounces and it is very rubbery. The texture is identical to Oscar Meyer bologna and the taste is that of Buddig chicken.  It has a tough “skin” which I have been removing as I eat it.  I enjoy fish sauce and wish this had a fish sauce flavor but it is very taste neutral.  I’ve been using it to make sandwiches with grainy mustard, red onion and cha lua.  A good alternative sandwich meat to change things up from the usual turkey, roast beef or ham.

7 thoughts on “Vietnamese meat treats

  1. Hello – I just noticed you commented on my blog about cornish hens. Sorry for the delay replying but I just realized you left the comment!

    I cooked the hens at 400 degrees for one hour. I wish I had saturated the hens with the same spices I used on the sweet potatoes.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Hi Tina!

      Thanks for stopping in. I decided to do the Cornish Hens with a Crockpot on this round, my next attempt will be in the oven…. and at 400 degrees!

  2. So you are more experiment than I will ever be, but we’ve know that for ages. Granted, this means, chances are, that you’ll get more out of life… under that whole enjoyment factor….

    I had a very bad experience with “Quail Shooters” one time. Yea… it’s a shot of sake with a quail egg in it. I thought, hey, why not.

    I can now tell you why not.

    The Nem Chua looks interesting, especially since it appears to be a “snack” food. I also tend to like tartare, so this appeals. I’ll have to pass on the Cha Lua. Not a big fan of Fish Oil.

    If you are a fan of Vietnamese food, there is a place on Argyle called Hai Yen. Great stuff, especially their shrimp balls… ground shrimp packed around sugar cane.

    Great stuff!

    1. I’ll have to take you to my favorite sushi place, they do oyster shooters with quail egg, sake and ponzu, delicious.

      The cha lua doesn’t have fish oil (healthy, gives you burps that taste like salmon) it has fish sauce (made of fermented anchovies, smells like dirty socks.) Fish sauce is awesome, and represents the asian concept of the fifth flavor – umami.

      1. Vietnamese is one of my top 5 fav foods…especially the place & the things that Van mentioned above and of course, Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Soup). Have you ever had Banh mi?ánh_mì
        It is basically a sub-sandwich. I have yet to try it but my Viet friends tell me it is a “must try” item. Though I still haven’t just yet, your post prompted me to wonder if Cha Lua is the sandwich meat they use (?)

        1. I had banh mi and pho for lunch when I was up on Argyle picking this stuff up. Banh mi has lots of differnt choices for what meat you put on it. It can have cha lua, my favorite is roast pork, I also picked up a head cheese version while I was up there. The french bread it is made on uses a little rice flour which gives it this really light texture, it’s inspired me to try adding some cake flour to the next loaf of french bread I make to see if it has the same effect.

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