Having adopted freshly baked baguettes
from the French, the Vietnamese also learned how to make pate to put on
them. However, the pate, cha lua, has a Vietnamese twist : it is steamed
in banana leaves and has a slightly springy texture and delicate flavor.
Baguettes are a common sight alongside the noodles and vegetables in
southern markets, and just as frequently spotted are the sandwich carts,
displaying halved baguettes smeared with pate. Another way the Vietnamese
eat this pate is to drizzle it with nuoc cham and serve it with a salad.
It can also be added to soups and stir fried dishes, in which it is
complemented by fresh herbs and spices.
Vegetable or sesame oil
Shallots, peeled and finely chopped
Minced (ground) pork
Banana leaf, trimmed into a strip 25cm/10in
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Ground black pepper
In a bowl, beat the nuoc mam and oil with
the sugar and five-spice powder.
Once the sugar has dissolved, stir in the
shallots and garlic. Add the minced pork and seasoning, and knead well
until thoroughly combined. Cover and chill for 2-3 hours.
Knead the mixture again, thumping it down
into the bowl to remove any air. Add the potato starch and baking powder
and knead until smooth and pasty. Mould the pork mixture into a fat
sausage, about 18cm long, and place it on an oiled dish.
Lay the banana leaf on a flat surface,
brush it with oil, and place the pork sausage across it. Lift up the
edge of the leaf nearest to you and fold it over the sausage, tuck in
the sides, and roll it up into a tight bundle. Secure the bundle with a
piece of string.
Fill a wok one-third full with water and
balance a bamboo steamer, with its lid on, just above the level of the
water. Bring the water to the boil, lift the bamboo lid and place the
banana leaf bundle on the rack, being very careful of any escaping
Recover and steam for about 45 minutes.
Leave the pate to cool in the leaf, then open it up and cut it into
Drizzle with plenty of nuoc cham, and
serve with a fresh baguette or salad.
You can find banana leaves in African,
Caribbean and Asian markets. To prepare them, trim the leaves to fit the
steamer, using a pair of scissors, making sure that there is enough to
fold over the pate. If you cannot find banana leaves, you can use large
spring green (collard) leaves, or several Savoy cabbaged leaves instead.