Each city and province in Viet Nam is known for its local produce and specialities – Ha Noi is famous for its pho, bun bo from the central city of Hue and original nem nuong Cai Rang from the southern province of Can Tho.
Cai Rang is well-known for its nem nuong (literally grilled sausage). The dish is a real Vietnamese grilled pork sausage or grilled meatball served with rice noodles or rice as a main course.
In years gone by, only gourmets and foodies knew to go to Cai Rang to enjoy the best nem nuong, produced by Ba Loc or later Tu Khem.
Nem nuong Cai Rang, a tasty and delicious dish, came into being hundreds of years ago. It is an unforgettable dish because of its harmonious combination of ingredients, enjoyed by locals but also a hit among foreign visitors to the province, said culinary expert Le Kim Chi.
“Through the years, the food became the pride of locals. Enjoying not only the original aromatic flavour, the dish also brought back memories of the cultural values of our native village,” said Chi.
Tu Khem’s nem nuong was so tasty and delicious that an overseas Vietnamese, Tran Le, who left Can Tho for almost half century to settle in Los Angeles recalled: “I still remember that when we were young and had done well at school, my mother often rewarded us by asking a rickshaw to carry us to Cai Rang floating market in the district of the same name, to enjoy the dish.”
“My mother said no other nem nuong could compare with Tu Khem’s, whose dish was tasty and aromatic. I can still remember it now. Closing my eyes I can see the meat balls on a small bamboo stick and grilled over wood charcoal with a fragrant smell,” said Le.
Apart from nem nuong, Tu Khem also ordered quality soya sauce and then ground it until it became smooth. She often put chilies and fried ground nuts over the sweet sauce, making it even more attractive and tasty, Le said, noting that her mother also learned the recipe of making nem nuong from Tu Khem to make the food at home. She went on to teach her children and friends.
Materials to make nem nuong include fresh pork, shrimp, pork fat, chili, grouns soya sauce, rice paper, vinegar and ground nuts as well as herbs, cucumbers, carrots, turnip salad, fresh coconut water and banh hoi (rice vermicelli or steamed rolls made of rice flour).
The pork should be warm, cut into pieces and ground until it is soft and smooth. The shrimp should be fresh and be shelled and ground.
Garlic, pepper, sugar and pork fat is added to the shrimp and mixed with the ground pork, before being rolled into balls, skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over wood charcoal until they are cooked through, said Le.
“The dish is wrapped up with banh hoi or rice paper, turnip salad and herbs and dipped in a bowl of ground soya sauce plus fried nuts and chili,” Le said.
Today, any travellers visiting Can Tho can enjoy the dish. Nguyen Van Dinh from Ha Noi said during his working trip to Can Tho, he often spends some time at Cai Rang to enjoy the dish.
“The sweet flavour of the sauce filled my mouth, and the fragrant smell of different herbs mixed with the grilled meat balls sipped with a cold cup of beer made me so ecstatic that I thought I was in heaven.”
“This specialty has its own characteristics that no other food can come close to. The dish could make diners forget all other dishes that they had enjoyed before. I’m an addict for the dish,” Dinh told Viet Nam News.
He added that he often bought several kilos of nem nuong home.
Local herbalist Huynh Lieu said the dish is nutritious and very good at cooling down heat from inside the body. It is really good for patients with hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and insomnia.
“Nem nuong should become a national dish to welcome international guests and visitors,” Lieu said.