I know I should not dwell on the past and the Year of the Dog has been underway for almost a month....but bear with me for a few more episodes of "Stories from the South". Let me purge myself of these sinful southern dishes, let me cleanse my palate, light a stick of incense and re-commit to the cuisine of the north, to Hanoi capital, comrades! Acquiesce to my whims for just a few more posts, dear readers. Allow my sticky-partner-in-crime to fulfill our northern pledge for now.
Dare I say it but this spread from southern climes ranks very near the top of my list of all time favourite dishes! Controversial, I know. When in Nha Trang, I'm a serial offender at restaurants plying this dish, known as nem nuong (or more exactly nem ninh hoa, after the small town north of NT where it originated). It's a perfect bloody meal: one - it's colourful, two - it's healthy diet pyramid friendly and three - it's participatory.
Colourful in that the various hues of green are represented by lettuce, mint and other herbs, cucumber, young banana and mango and starfruit, along with the innocent looking green, though truly white-hot chilis. Pink comes in the form of pickled shallots, serrated sticks of carrot and the dipping sauce radiate orange. Under the lid of a condiment pot, a brilliant glossy, bloody red chili sauce emanates.
Healthy diet pyramid friendly in that there's a heaped plate of green leafy stuff and the daily recommended portions of fruit. Carbs come in the form of semi-circular cuts of rice paper, the canvas upon which above-mentioned bits of rainbow are placed and rolled. The not so healthy end of the triangle is, of course, represented by the best bits, meat from pigs and deep fried crunchy things. The pork is minced to form a paste, paddled around a skewer and grilled before being cut off in halves and banged on a plate next to crunchy rolls of deep fried rice paper with tiny shrimps embedded in them.
Participatory in that, as you've no doubt deduced, we are talking roll-your-own spring rolls. Yes, one of those experiences where the waiters dump the ingredients on the table and leave one to flounder about tearing rice paper to shreds, flinging bits of greenery about the shop, drinking the dipping sauce and then, finally perfecting the rolling technique only to realise one's finger is handily wrapped inside!
Fear not! I'm a dab hand, having already graduated the 'school of hard rolls'. I've slyly observed the locals and the technique is as follows: place rice paper on plate or flat surface or hand (for smart arses only), slap on the lettuce and herbs, followed by thin slices of the fruit, then the meat and crunchy bit, roll tightly and quickly before everything falls out and rude words are uttered. Dip in sauce, shove in cakehole!
One serve of nem noung, one bottle of southern lager - 20,000VND (USD$1.25, AUD$1.70)
There's quite a few of these spring roll joints in Nha Trang, a couple of which are situated on the corner of Le Loi and Lan Ong Streets.