Usually served as a snack with raw garlic, Nem chua is eaten all year round as an appetizer or a side. It is eaten especially for the Lunar New Year by many Vietnamese families.
Nem chua is a meat roll with a sweet, sour, salty and spicy taste which makes the mouth salivate with each bite. Nem chua possesses the local character of each region of Vietnam, due to the differing ingredients and sauces used. Most versions of Nem chua can be distinguished by their name, which is usually named after the area it originated from, such as nem Thanh Hoa, nem Dong Ba in the ancient royal capital of Hue, and nem Ninh Hoa in Khanh Hoa Province, nem Yen Mac in Ninh Binh Province, etc.
Traditionally, to make Nem chua, the main ingredient is pork thigh. Nem chua is made from minced pork, sliced pigskin and a mixture of seasoning and garlic. These contents are mixed thoroughly before being wrapped with aromatic, fresh leaves (usually in banana leaves) into small, boxy rolls before being stored for natural fermentation process for three to five days in a cool place before eating.
In the Lai Vung District of the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, the locals take pride in their Nem chua recipe, which has been passed down through many generations. Called “nem Lai Vung” after the district, it became more widely known in 1975 when a local woman, Tu Man, made Nem chua for visitors. She used pork, but she also usedpig liver, and then ground them into a mixture with rice, shrimp meat and seasonings. The characteristics of nem Lai Vung and other specialty foods from Lai Vung District are so distinctive and recognizable that they have been registered under a domestic brand name. Tourists to Dong Thap Province can take part in nem Lai Vung cooking classes to learn more about this regional specialty.
The northern areas also create their own favorite varieties of Nem chua. The famous one is Nem Yen Mac, which has been made for a long time in Ninh Binh Province. The number of locals in Yen Mac who can make this kind of Nem chua is small because the work requires not only secret formula but also passion for the work. Nem Yen Mac is eaten with guava leaves, fig leaves and aroma vegetables dotted into nuoc mam (fish sauce) which is mixed with mingled with garlic, lemon juice, pepper and chilli.
While many people prefer the more traditional method of preparation for Nem chua, others enjoy a grilled and unfermented variety of Nem chua. Both traditional and grilled Nem chua are usually served with uncooked sliced garlic and nuoc mam (fish sauce). Whereas nuoc mam adds saltiness and spiciness, some prefer to use chili sauce instead.