In the cold of a Hanoi winter, it is easy to find street vendors selling a variety of winter specialities such as grilled corn, fried bread sticks, boiled snails, fried banana cakes and grilled fermented pork sausage.
In particular, Vietnamese fermented pork sausage or nem chua is a favourite among young Hanoians. And as famous as the cheap bia hoi at the international crossroad Ta Hien, nem chua joints nearby have become a place where young Hanoians and foreign tourists head for the best nem chua in town.
Wandering around Ly Quoc Su in the Old Quarter of an evening, you will encounter the appetizing aroma of sizzling fermented pork roll grilled on barbecue over charcoals.
Sweet and Sour
The aroma will lead you to nem chua joints hidden in an alley on Au Trieu where people squeeze into the tiny space, sitting on tiny plastic stools at dimly-lit stalls enjoying grilled and fried nem chua. This dish combines sweet and sour tastes, spiced up by local home-made chilli sauce. Plates of nem chua are paired with fruits, like green mango, jicama and various types of grilled dried fish or fried potatoes.
Nem chua is a meat roll made from rustic ingredients, including ground pork thigh, minced pork skin, chilli, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, salt, which is pressed, then cured and fermented by tender fig or guava leaves until ready, with no cooking needed. Being a traditional snack across Vietnam, nem chua differs from place to place.
Most versions of Vietnamese nem chua can be distinguished by the name of the area it originated from, such as nem chua Thanh Hoa, nem chua Khanh Hoa, etc. Nem chua Thanh Hoa is particularly favoured by northern people, including Hanoians, thanks to its flavour of a sour taste and subtle fragrance.
It is said that many years ago, there was a vendor selling snacks for schoolchildren on Ly Quoc Su. One winter day, while the vendor was grilling a dried fish, a boy with a nem chua in his hand asked the lady to heat up the nem chua for him. Both were then surprised by the awesome taste of the grilled nem chua. That is supposed to be the origin of the famous nem chua nuong on Au Trieu Alley. And for more than 15 years, Au Trieu has become famous thanks to Nem Chua Nuong Phuong (named after one of the two stall owners).
While you may take time to appreciate the sticky texture of nem chua nuong, you will be immediately taken in by the tasty and hot nem chua ran, with the crispy coat and hot and tender fillings. Served on a banana leaf with local chilli sauce, potatoes and fruit, plates of nem chua replenish the body during the winter cold. Making the taste even better, the stalls offer iced tea with lime. For many years, this combination has been said to be the best snack for Hanoi’s bitter winter.
Open from around 2pm, the nem chua restaurant in the tiny alleyway becomes crowded in the evening, until it closes around midnight. Besides young locals gathering for snacks and chitchat, you’ll notice a lot of travellers sitting on tiny chairs tasting this special local food.
Nem Chua Nuong Phuong on Au Trieu alley is open from 2pm until midnight. Each plate of nem chua is VND50,000. Lime tea is VND12,000 per cup. Note: There are two different nem chua joints in the alley — Nem Chua Nuong Phuong is the one with tiny blue plastic stools