Did you know? The world-famous “banh mi” (or Vietnamese sandwiches) has another name among locals – “banh mi cha lua”. That suffices to say how vital “cha lua” is in the making of “banh mi.” This article will provide a full reveal of not only “cha lua” but also the varieties of “cha” (Vietnamese cold cuts) in Vietnamese cuisine.
What are the Vietnamese Cold Cuts?
Vietnamese cold cuts, with “cha lua” (steamed pork sausage) being the most common type, are Vietnamese-style sausages possessing a chewy (and a bit crunchy) texture. They are often greyish white, ideally wrapped in banana leaves and looking like the giant version of banh tet (cylindrical sticky rice cake). Vietnamese cold cuts have undergone a long history, thereby witnessing the birth of plentiful variants in addition to pork. Altogether, they embellish the palette of Vietnamese cuisine.
How Vietnamese Make Their Cold Cuts
Essential ingredients to make steamed pork sausage (cha lua) include lean pork (with a bit of fat, preferably pork shoulder) as the base, fish sauce, salt, sugar to seasonings, garlic, pepper for the aroma, and oil. Cornstarch (to bind the ground meat) and banana leaves (to wrap before steaming) are optional.
In the preparation stage, grinding and pounding are the major acts. Grinding is simply turning the meat into a paste while pounding decides the desirable chewiness of the paste. Prepared spices are added in the grinding stage. The key when grinding is to prevent the heat from electric mixers from cooking your meat, spoiling your whole work.
Experienced cooks will freeze the meat slices first, hence the word “cold” in the translation. Another explanation for calling these Vietnamese specialties “cold cuts” is that the finished products don’t need reheating prior to consumption.
Admittedly, the duration is significant, so it’s not like those go-to snacks you can make within minutes in the kitchen. It takes at least one hour to deal with 500 grams of meat (around 1 pound). For this reason, Vietnamese housewives prefer to buy ready-made cold cuts at markets and supermarkets or specialized stores.
The Role of Vietnamese Cold Cuts in Vietnamese Cuisine
Rather than being an independent dish in Vietnamese family meals, cold cuts complement other ingredients, creating a party of flavors.
Banh mi, banh cuon, and xoi man aside, cold cuts can be easily spotted in other savory snacks or popular local breakfasts, such as Bun Bo Hue and Bun Cha Ca (rice noodle dishes).
How Many Types of Vietnamese Cold Cuts Are There?
From beef and fish (there are many kinds of fish, by the way) to shrimps and crabs, locals seem to know their way around the sausages. The Mekong Delta residents can turn pork skin into yummy comfort food known as “nem chua” (sour sausage). It is as if leaving any protein to stay in its natural form is something Vietnamese could not afford to do.
Take a look at the most well-known cold cuts with our mini “sausage gallery” below.
Cha Lua (Steamed Pork Cold Cut)
Cha lua has become so ubiquitous that it’s considered run-of-the-mill by most locals. That said, tasting authentic cha lua from a decent chef can be a worthwhile culinary experience. As mentioned, cha lua appears in a variety of dishes in the role of a flavor enhancer. Due to its simplicity and good taste, cha lua is an excellent addition to a homemade bowl of stir-fried rice (com chien) and stir-fried vermicelli (bun xao).
Cha Bo (Steamed Beef Cold Cut)
Cha bo is probably the most expensive Vietnamese cold cut due to the high price of beef. The aroma is outstanding, and its best companion is bread of any kind, to be honest. Cha bo’s appealing scent is ascribed to the multiple crushed black peppercorns in the recipe or dill in some cooks’ preferences. The suitable cut of beef for cha bo is a top round roast or steak (gristle, rind, and fat removed).
Cha Chien (Deep-fried Cold Cut)
Cha Chien is affordable and especially loved by kids. It is the same process as most Vietnamese cold cuts. But instead of being steamed, the paste or raw sausage will be squished into small portions and deep-fried to create inviting golden-brown skin.
Cha Que (Cinnamon Cold Cut)
The allure of cha que lies in the aroma of cinnamon. Its outer color is due to cinnamon; its shape and skin also resemble a cinnamon tree.
Gio Thu (Marble Pork Sausage)
Breathtaking visuals and texture. The presence of wood ear mushrooms is what sets this type of ‘cha” apart from its cousins. It may be scary to know that the protein in “cha thu” is the meats from head parts (ear, tongues, nose) (“thu” means head). So, noticeably, there is more crunch and grease. It tastes good with traditional Vietnamese rice wine or beer and appears in most appetizers during the Tet holiday.
Cha Ca (Fish Cake)
Nha Trang is home to cha ca. Its raw paste can be steamed or fried, but frying is the more popular. Most often, cha ca is seen in banh mi and banh canh (similar to “bun,” but the strands of noodles are thicker). The raw paste can also be squished into small balls to eat in Vietnamese hot pots.
Cha Muc (Fried Squid Patty)
Cha muc originates from the beautiful Ha Long Bay, where squids naturally taste sweeter than those in other regions. One of the essential tips in making cha muc is mixing the paste with pork fat and shrimp to create a soft texture. Once fried, cha muc is tasty, chewy, and goes with banh cuon (steamed rice rolls) or sticky rice. We also have mouthwatering “canh cua cha muc” (freshwater crab soup with cha muc) or “cha muc sot ca chua” (cha muc in tangy tomato sauce).
Cha Cua (Crab Cake)
Cha cua is uncommon because crabs are often luxury meat in Vietnam. The paste is a mixture of crab meat and roe, sometimes shrimp. The charming city of Hue gave birth to this delicacy, and predictably, it goes well with Bun Bo Hue.
Chao Tom (Shrimp Sausage)
Chao tom is often served with banh hoi (Southern mini rice noodles). The skewers are either sugarcane or lemongrass. The taste is sweetened with sugarcane or scented with lemongrass (resulting in “chao tom boc mia” or “chao tom boc sa,” respectively).
Nem Chua (Fermented/Sour Pork Sausage)
Nem chua is one of the significant types of Vietnamese cold cuts due to its incredible recipe starring pork skin. Another invention of the Southern people. The meat of pork, or beef in rare cases, is fermented with “thinh gao” (roasted rice powder). So, the process doesn’t involve cooking with heat, which makes it a dreadful food to those opposed to raw meat. A lot of people are big fans, though. Nem chua can be eaten with rice paper roll or fried. Inside nem chua, you can see the presence of coriander, garlic, and chili, all of which enhance its flavor.
Why Are There So Many Types of Vietnamese Cold Cuts?
It all started with pork sausage (cha lua). Then, Vietnamese in different regions created their versions with the characteristic meat of their hometown or simply by adding some herbs. Nonetheless, novelty is not necessarily associated with the regional meat specialties, as in the case of Hue – the old capital with fried crab sausage, or Da Nang with beef sausage. These two cities are not famous for crabs or beef, but their ingenuity has presented Vietnamese with stellar delicacies.
How to Tell the Types of Vietnamese Cold Cuts apart?
“You’ll know it when you taste it.” can be quite an overstatement, though it is the case with the Vietnamese cold cuts from authentic chefs who have the expertise and the prudence to choose quality meat for their “cha.” However, given the mass production situation, chances are the “cha” you sample at breakfast restaurants or street food carts can be pretty hard to distinguish. To cut costs, most cold cuts have more flour or starch than the main protein.
Then again, there’s the type with unmistaken color, like beef sausage (cha bo), or with a particular aroma, like cinnamon pork sausage (cha que). The size, the shape, the wrapping style, or simply the dish they go with can also be telltale signs.
The supreme way is to ask the sellers!
Summary of Different Types of Vietnamese Cold Cuts
Along with the numerous distinctive methods of treating meat, the Vietnamese have also put their name on the culinary map with tantalizing cold cuts of Vietnamese sausage. Thanks to the Vietnamese flair for seasoning, cha lua, cha que, and cha bo, their fellows will satisfy your taste buds.