Nha Trang boasts stunning beaches, soft white sands, and spectacular bays. While ambling along the town’s lively beach front promenades, tourists will no doubt revel in the abundance of local seafood specialties. You can’t go wrong with old standbys like bun sua (jellyfish noodle soup) or bun cha ca (rice vermicelli broth spiked with fried fish paste).
But if you find yourself tiring of fish flavors, give the town’s nem Ninh Hoa (Ninh Hoa pork rolls) a go.
The charcuterie-like dish originated in Ninh Hoa, a district of Khanh Hoa Province, not far from Nha Trang. They are traditionally served around Tet (Lunar New Year). But, in Nha Trang, they can be eaten and enjoyed all year round.
Champions of the rolls are split into two camps: those who go for the funky tang of nem chua (fermented pork roll) and those who favor the classic salty-sweet nem nuong (grilled pork roll).
The process of making the fermented roll is simple, but somewhat labor intensive.
First you have to get your hands on a choice piece or pork (thigh or cutlet).
Boil the meat, briefly, to separate the skin - if there is any. Set the skin aside to dry.
Then, remove the fat, and grind the meat.
If the meat is ground by machine, it tends to lack an essential springiness. A little extra work with a mortar and pestle goes a long way. Season with salt and sugar, to taste, as you grind. Apply constant even pressure to the meat as it turns into a smooth, springy paste. Once the desired texture is achieved, add a few whole peppercorns.
Shred the skin (once dry) into small threads and combine with the ground pork.
To prepare nem chua (fermented pork roll) take a small piece (two fingers’ length) and wrap it with chum ruot (otaheite gooseberry) leaves.
Wrap the mixture a second time in banana leaves. To make large rolls, you only need concern yourself with the banana leaves, rolling them into a cone and pinching down both ends. As an alternative, you can mold the meat mixture, sausage-style, in plastic wrap.
Leave out for three or four days for prime fermented funk. For a subtler flavor, ferment the wraps in the fridge. You’ll know they’re finished when the fermented pork is somewhat dry (e.g. not sticking to the leaves). The meat should retain a fresh, pink color. They should smell and taste sour and vaguely sweet.
Garnish with chopped onion, cucumber, and carrot. Discard leaves before eating.
To make nem nuong (grilled pork roll) separate the fat from the meat. Cut the meat into one-inch cubes. Skewer the pork between bits of fat and grill over hot coals. Roll the grilled pork roll with a mix of basil, ice berg lettuce, cucumber, green banana, sour star fruit, and julienned green mango. Wrap it all up burrito-style in a piece of banh trang (rice paper) then dip in the sauce of your choice.
Ninh Hoa pork rolls can be enjoyed outside Nha Trang at the following restaurants:
NEM NUONG NHA TRANG
2nd floor, 202 Hang Bong St., Hoan Kiem Dist., Hanoi
58/4 Pham Ngoc Thach St., Dist. 3, HCMC
GANH 2 (opening later this month)
28 Le Thi Rieng St., Dist. 1, HCMC
NEM NHA TRANG
9A Ky Dong St., Dist. 3, HCMC
97 Bau Cat St., Ward 13, Tan Binh Dist., HCMC
124 To Hien Thanh St., Ward 15, Dist. 10, HCMC