Travelling always does wonders for the soul and for the kitchen, bringing new techniques and flavours to the chopping board through unfamiliar experiences. At the height of summer in mid-July, I was fortunate enough to pass through and stay in a Muong mountain village in Hòa Bình and cherish a taste of Northern Vietnam. Although the colder climate of the region does not provide an abundance of spices like the South, it still remains the birthplace of internationally popularized dishes such as phở and bún riêu or bún chả.
One evening, with the remains of a thunderstorm settling outside, we found ourselves in a traditional stilt house grilling a Vietnamese favourite: chả lá lốt or minced pork in grilled betel leaf. Although the Vietnamese have easy access to betel leaves, which grow like weeds in the countryside, you can also replace them with large perilla or pomelo leaves. Unlike those in the South, the Muong community prefer the peppery flavours of the pomelo leaf for their take on the dish.
It’s a fun recipe to follow with a big group, and it’s got a bit of a kick that goes down well with a cold beer.
1 pound of minced pork
4 ounces of betel leaves, pomelo leaves, or large leaved herbs of your choice
¼ cup of minced scallion
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
2 pinches of salt
1 pinch of ground black pepper
- Combine scallions, fish sauce, salt, pepper, and pork and set aside.
- Ensure betel leaves are detached from center stems. The leaves are usually easier to roll when they are faced matte side up.
- Take two tablespoons of minced pork and shape into a small sausage on the leaf.
- Roll leaf from the tip to the based and tuck the stem of the leaf through the roll to secure it in place
There are various ways to cook these, either by grilling them on a charcoal fire, or on a stove-top cast iron grill. The cooked rolls should feel firm and be slightly charred at the edges.
Shot and written by Anne Berry.