Stern faced, the guard in a snowy white uniform, gripping a menacing looking rifle and holding an intense stare that penetrated the thick grey granite, suddenly flicked his eyes my way and moved his head to the side in a manner filled with such focussed intent that I disembarked from my momentary pause and continued to walk, silently, swiftly and sullen faced. Fifteen seconds later I had ‘walked the line’ and emerged back in to the cold wind swept morning disturbed and exhilarated. I had just seen Uncle Ho, the revered hero and much praised leader of this great nation.
Embalmed to an incredibly life-like presence, he lays there with a perfectly wispy beard; arms delicately crossed on his upper torso; and wearing his favourite khaki suit. I have just seen a body that left this mortal coil in 1969 but looked as if it had been trapped in time, never to suffer the rigours of the ageing process again. It was eerie, disconcerting and surreal, yet given the context of what this person achieved and how people from around the world are intrigued by him, and how the locals’ are so still enamoured with him and driven to succeed through his accomplishments, it was also a wonderful, majestic and inspirational experience.
The Hanoians are terribly proud of their Uncle Ho, and this pride runs through it food. As he still forms part of the locals’ daily lives, so does cooking and eating together, and socialising. No more so when Hanoi’s classic dishes are on the table, one of which is chả lụa, or pork terrine.
Historical French occupation is still evident when one sees the number of bakeries and locals selling fresh baguettes on street corners; the smells could be from une rue de boulangeries à Paris, was it not for the intermissions of smoking char-grilled pork aromas. But these baguettes call out for something most European in its invention: pork terrine with pickled vegetables, tomato, cucumber and lettuce.
I first tried chả lụa courtesy of our friends in Hanoi, who declared that they have a relative nestled in some back alley downtown that produces the best chả lụa in Hanoi. It was magnificent; from the unwrapping of the banana leaf and local newspaper that is was encased in to the wonderfully smooth texture. I attempted to replicate this in Hanoi and only having the use of a cleaver and a pestle and mortar could not get the pork fine enough or paste-like enough to obtain that silky finish. It was something that would have to be worked on back home.
Fast forward 5 months, and a few chả lụa(s) later I have finally managed to make that beautifully aerated and smooth terrine; one that will never be quite as good as Hanoi, but nonetheless very close. I am sure Uncle Ho would have been proud.
Serves: A few | Preparation: 10 minutes | Cooking: 1hour + resting overnight
500g Pork shoulder | Get your butcher to mince this on the finest setting if you don’t have a mincer at home.
2 tbsp. Fish sauce | A good quality fish sauce if you can obtain it.
1 pinch Sea salt | I use Maldon sea salt.
1 large egg Egg white | Free range.
2-3 Banana leaves | Can be bought at many good Asian grocers, fresh or frozen.
Put a large pan of water on heat until it is simmering. Next put hot water into a sink and soak the banana leaves for about 5 minutes, then remove the leaves and pat dry.
The next stage can be a) pretty easy if you have a good food processor b) very healthy if you don’t as you’ll need to expend a fair bit of energy to pound the meat. I did it the second way when in Vietnam, but now I am back in Melbourne I opt for the first way.
a) Add the mince, fish sauce, sea salt and egg white to a food processor and process for about 3-4 minutes. The result needs to be an incredibly smooth paste.
b) Add the mince to a large mortar and pound the meat with a pestle until a very fine paste is achieved. Then add the fish sauce, sea salt and egg white and pound a little more until consistent. This method can take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
Lay one banana leaf along your bench top and then place the other at right angles across the middle of the first one (You should have a large cross shape). Place the smooth pork paste in the middle in an as close to a cylindrical shape as possible.
Now take one end of the banana laying parallel to the bench and gently, but fairly tightly, wrap it over the pork paste. Now do this with the other end and then tuck the excess banana leaf underneath. Now with the banana leaf at right angles to the bench take the end furthest away and wrap it over the meat, towards you. Now take the end closest to you and fold over the meat, away from you. Now roll the parcel to take up the excess banana leaf. You should end up with a tightly wrapped cylindrical parcel. Roll the parcel a couple of times to ensure the meat paste is cylindrical. Now tie the parcel with string, ensuring that it is tight enough to hold the banana leaves together but not too tight to ‘dent’ the meat paste.
Place the parcel in the simmering water; the heat should be on the lowest setting. Cover with a lid and cook for 1 hour. When finished allow the parcel to cool to room temperature and then place in the fridge overnight. Your chả lụa is now ready. Open at one end and slice. Keep it in the fridge wrapped in the banana leaf so it stays moist.
- Traditionally eaten in Hanoi with fresh baguettes, pickled vegetables, tomato and cucumber.