Almost every cuisine calls for the use of sausages. It’s a convenient way to utilise leftover meat, and pairs well with relatively bland-tasting food such as rice, potatoes and bread.
The Vietnamese Pork Sausage – or ‘Cha Lua’ as the locals call it – is uniquely different from other types of sausages, namely, in its method of preparation, texture and taste.
What is Vietnamese Pork Sausage?
Like most sausages, Cha Lua is traditionally made with lean pork, potato starch and seasoned with garlic, ground black pepper and fish sauce. What makes it unique is that the meat has to be pounded so that it creates a pasty texture and not a crumbly, dry finish if one would to chop or ground it with a meat processor.
What also contributes to this sausages’ speciality is the fact that the meat paste is wrapped cylindrically in banana leaves before taken to be steamed or boiled for 20 to 30 minutes. The use of banana leaves gives Cha Lua some extra aroma and flavour, which is undeniably better than using preservatives or any enhancers for taste.
The key to keeping it as fresh as possible is to make sure the wrapping of the banana leaves is airtight or else Cha Lua can spoil easily after cooking. Typically, a well-done Cha Lua can last up to a week at room temperature while it can last up to a few months when kept in the freezer.
Cha Lua is typically eaten during Tet – the Vietnamese Lunar New Year – and used as offerings when paying respect to ancestors as well as deceased relatives. Outside of Tet, Cha Lua is found in almost every Vietnamese household as a staple must-have.
The Pairing of Vietnamese Pork Sausage
A versatile meaty ingredient, Cha Lua can be paired with many dishes. In fact, it’s probably sitting right under our noses in some well-known Vietnamese delicacies like Banh Mi, Banh Cuon and Bun Moc.
Outside the borders of Vietnam, Thailand has also adopted the use of Cha Lua in dishes like som tam, a green papaya salad, where thicker slices are added. However, in Thailand, they’re known as ‘mu yo’ instead.
Variations of Vietnamese Pork Sausage
While the basis of Cha Lua is pounded lean pork, locals have added other ingredients to the mix to elevate the flavours of Vietnamese cuisine.
For example, Cha Bi contains shredded pork skin on top of the typical Cha Lua ingredients. Cha Bo is exclusively made with beef and herbs, making it a suitable alternative for our Muslim friends.
In the Hue regions of Vietnam, Cha Lua goes by the name of Cha Hue, where the mix has black peppercorns and more garlic than what the average recipe calls for. Up in Northern Vietnam, Cha Que is Cha Lua seasoned with powdered cinnamon and fried instead of the traditional method of steaming.
When Cha Lua is taken out of its banana leaf wrap and deep-fried as a whole, it becomes its own delicacy called Cha Chien. Add it to rice, and it becomes a meal, with the right mix of salty and savoury. To compare it to a familiar local dish, Cha Chien is quite similar to luncheon meat in texture and taste too.
Where to Find Vietnamese Pork Sausage in Malaysia
Although traditional locals take immense pride in the process of making Cha Lua, Malaysians can find the ingredient in Vietnamese markets or head over to foodpanda to check out where to get hold of this versatile meatloaf!