Every now and then, it is so much fun to step out of your comfort zone in the kitchen and try something completely new.
If you’re in the mood to make the iconic Vietnamese sandwich called a banh mi, you might as well do it right and make a batch of this incredible ham. You’ll probably need to seek out an Asian market or order an item or two online, but it is so worth it. It’s great in a sandwich, but also on its own. And it is so much fun to prepare!
How To Make Cha Lua (Vietnamese Ham)
At first, this may seem like an intimidating ham to make at home.
You’ll need to plan ahead and make sure you’ve got the right ingredients and tools, but, we promise you, it’s easy to make and incredibly delicious.
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The Ingredients and Tools You Will Need
As previously mentioned, if you have an Asian market nearby, you may want to swing by to pick up the banana leaves, but everything else should be available at your local supermarket.
Here’s What You’ll Need to Have on Hand
Pork tenderloin – We prefer to grind the tenderloin first with our meat grinder, and then process it in a large food processor. But, you can skip the grinding and be just fine.
Fish sauce – This can be found in the Asian section of most well-stocked supermarkets. Or, at an Asian food market. Or, online.
Salt – Kosher is what we use
Sugar – Granulated
White pepper – Found in the spice section of most supermarkets
Water – Warmed in the microwave
Baking soda – Make sure it’s fresh
Cream of tartar
Potato starch – Found at specialty food markets, Asian markets, or online. Tapioca flour is a good substitute, too
Banana leaves – Found in the frozen section of Asian markets. Or, online.
Here are the Tools We Use:
EXPERT TIP: After you mixed the ground pork with the fish sauce and seasonings, you’ll want to quickly heat the water and then whisk in the cream of tartar, baking soda, and potato starch. If will fizz quite a bit. Immediately add it to the pork mixture and process for 20 to 30 seconds. The mixture will be smooth and very sticky. This is normal.
How To Wrap the Cha Lua
If you can’t get your hands on any banana leaves, don’t worry. Just wrap the pork mixture tightly in plastic wrap. Be sure to use a reputable brand, such as Saran Wrap, and you’ll have no issues with chemicals in the steaming process.
When using banana leaves, you’ll want to wash them first, then dry them completely. Cut them to approximately 12″x12″ squares, and then stack 3 on top of each, placing the middle leaf perpendicular to the other two (see video for reference).
Roll the banana leaves snuggly around the pork. Tuck in the ends and then secure with kitchen twine. For good measure, add a layer of plastic wrap on the outside, and then secure with kitchen twine again.
EXPERT TIP: You’ll have two pork rolls. To cook them, you need to steam them. Steam them with a bamboo steamer, a steam pot, or whatever method you would use to steam food.
How To Serve
Of course, we’re making homemade cha lua so we can use it in our banh mi sandwich.
But, it’s so flavorful, we love to slice it up, and serve it as an entree.
We’ll also take leftover slices and fry them up in a non-stick skillet with a little oil or butter. Use with cheese slices and make the most amazing grilled cheese and cha lua sandwich. Incredible.
EXPERT TIP: You’ll have enough of the pork mixture to make two rolls. To cook them, you need to steam them. Steam them with a bamboo steamer, a steam pot, or whatever method you would use to steam food.
We just can’t say enough about making cha lua from scratch.
It may not be the most beautiful cut of meat you’ve ever seen, but the texture and flavor are incredible.
And, wait until you make a classic banh mi sandwich with it. Truly epic.
Ready to make the best ham roll this side of Ho Chi Minh City? Go for it!
And when you do, be sure to take a photo of it, post it on Instagram, and tag @HowToFeedaLoon and hashtag #HowToFeedaLoon!
Cha Lua (Vietnamese Ham)
- Meat grinder Optional, but creates the perfect texture for the ham
- Large food processor Or, use a smaller one, but process in a couple of batches
- 2½ lbs pork tenderloin cut into chunks
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ⅔ cup warm water 105°F to 115°F
- 2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp potato starch or tapioca flour
- 1 package banana leaves thawed, if frozen. Or quality plastic wrap
- Run the pork pieces through a meat grinder, or have your butcher do this. If this isn't an option, you can skip this step.2½ lbs pork tenderloin
- Place the pork in a large food processor and add the fish sauce, salt, sugar, pepper, garlic, powder, and onion powder. Pulse until fully incorporated.2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp Kosher salt, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp white pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder
- Warm the water in the microwave. Whisk in the cream of tartar, baking soda, and potato starch.⅔ cup warm water, 2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp potato starch
- Pour the wet mixture into the meat mixture, and process for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Place the meat mixture in a medium bowl, cover, and place in the freezer for 2 hours, or in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove from the freezer (or refrigerator) and divide into two loaves.
- Wrap each loaf tightly with several layers of banana leaves. Or, wrap tightly with plastic wrap (Saran Wrap works well). Secure all over with kitchen twine. See video and blog post photos for visual guidance.1 package banana leaves
- Steam the loaves for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep the cha lua in the steamer for 60 to 90 minutes.
- Remove the string and plastic wrap and slice.
POST UPDATE: This recipe was originally published in July 2015, but was updated with improved tweaks to the recipe with new tips and photography and a fabulous new video in April, 2023!