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Nem chua (Vietnamese cured beef) & lá chanh (lemon leaves)

Nem is one of my favorite snacks. Before a trip back to Viet Nam, I usually contacted my uncle ahead of time so he could buy nem that would be ready to eat by the time I land. It’s an incredibly addictive food, with its mix of sweetness, sourness, and spiciness and the blend of flavors with rau răm (Vietnamese coriander), garlic and chili pepper.

I have been making a lot of nem chua lately. It’s often made with pork, but I actually prefer making it with beef (and hence the title is beef instead of pork). In the latest batch, I wrapped a ball of just mixed meat in

1) half of a lemon leaf and

2) 1-2 plum leaf(ves)

before wrapping it in 7 layers of banana leaves to let the meat ferment over a couple of days.

A pleasant surprise finding was that lemon leaf went incredibly well with nem chua. It really enhanced nem flavors. Plum leaves were too subtle to make a difference, unfortunately.

nem chua

Anyway, just thought I should share this finding so you can add a little bit of lemon leaf (you don’t need a full or half a lemon leaf…a few thin strips will do) to your next bite of nem in addition to the usual rau răm, garlic and chili pepper.


  1. Very nice! I always thought nem chua as I knew it had a piece of lemon leaf with it, but it might have been “la’ sung” or guava leaves. Did the banana leaves give any impact as well?

    • Linh, usually the nem I had in the south were wrapped in lá vông. Yeah, the banana leaves did impart some leafy flavors. It was quite nice compared to nem that wasn’t wrapped in anything or just wrapped in plastic wrap.

      • You should definitely keep it up. It’ll be a good trademark as it’s not usually the case here for nem. Even when they are wrapped in banana leaves, they will still be wrapped in plastic first, sigh…

        • Thanks, Linh! Yeah, I don’t like the ones wrapped in plastic wrap. I’ll be doing some more experiments with nem this weekend. Will write more if they turn out well 😀

      • Oh and by the way, when I said la’ sung or la’ o^?i, it’s not the wrap but the piece of leaf that is included with the meat inside of banana leaves. The outside is still banana leaves for the nem I saw in Hanoi / Thanh Hoa.

        • Yep, understood…that’s what I did with lemon and plum leaves, too. You still need all those layers of banana leaves to ferment the meat inside 🙂

  2. These look really cool. You are so industrious!

    • Thanks, Ngan! but why industrious?

      btw, do you want some nem? Let me know when you’ll be in NM and I’ll send you some (don’t think I can send it internationally)

  3. Bird oi, I guess I said industrious because to me, Vietnamese cooking often equates more work and planning. My Vietnamese cooking is really basic and even with basic dishes, like ca kho and thit kho, the cooking doesn’t come natural (and the results are still hit and miss). I can’t imagine playing with more complicated recipes, like nem or vit nau chao, yet. Baby steps :).

  4. Nem chua is a very delicious food in Vietnam. I’ve eaten so much this food and finally it is the first taste in Vietnam.
    NGUYEN THI DINH AN (Bien Hoa City, DSong Nai Province, Vietnam)

  5. DaoMinhPhuc says:

    Nem Chua! A great food in Vietnam. PHUCS – HCMC, VIETNAM

  6. This makes my mouthwatering, can you pls post the recipe. Thank you