Cha Lua (Vietnamese Ham)

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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!

Three slices of cha lua sitting on a cutting board lined with a banana leaf and a loaf of the cha lua nearby.

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
Garlic powder
Onion powder
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:

Meat grinder
Large food processor
Bamboo steamer

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.

An overhead view of ground pork in a large food processor that has been combined with seasonings and water.

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.

An overhead view of a mound of ground pork laying in the middle of several stacked pieces of banana leaves and then a person rolling the leaves over the pork, and then the same person folding in the ends of the leaves that have been tied with a string.

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.

A person holding the basket of a bamboo steamer with a pork loaf that has been wrapped in banana leaves and plastic wrap and tied securely with kitchen twine.

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.

An overhead view of two fully stuffed banh mi sandwiches sitting on a cutting board with sliced cha lua, peppers, and mayonnaise nearby.

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!

Three slices of cha lua sitting on a cutting board lined with a banana leaf and a loaf of the cha lua nearby.

Cha Lua (Vietnamese Ham)

Cha Lua (Vietnamese Ham) is a must when you're making the classic Banh Mi Sandwich. But it is so good for so many other uses. Traditionally, the ham is steamed in banana leaves, but wrapping tightly in wrap works just fine. Plan ahead, and take note that you'll need to allow the pork to sit in the freezer for 2 hours or in the fridge for overnight.
Print Pin Rate
Course: Lunch / Sandwich
Cuisine: asian, Vietnamese
Keyword: how to make authentic cha lua, Pork Roll, Vietnamese ham recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Resting time in freezer: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 372kcal


  • 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
  • Steamer


  • 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
  • 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.


See the video near the top of the blog post for visual guidance. If you liked the video, please subscribe to our YouTube channel
If you don't have a meat grinder, just skip the first step, or ask your butcher to grind the pork tenderloin for you. You can also use pre-ground pork, but grinding in a meat grinder (and food processor) or just in the food processor will give you better results.
Don't mix the warm water with baking soda/cream of tartar/potato starch until just before you add it to the processed meat mixture.
Cooked cha lua will keep covered in the fridge for up to 6 days. It can be frozen for up to 2 months. 


Calories: 372kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 59g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 184mg | Sodium: 1712mg | Potassium: 1422mg | Fiber: 0.4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 7IU | Vitamin C: 0.4mg | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe? Take a Picture!Mention @HowToFeedALoon or tag #HowToFeedALoon!

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!


  • Do you ever have problems keeping the steamer lid on? I’ve done it twice now and both times the cha lua would get so big that it would push the lid off letting out the steam and undercooking the cha lua.

    • Hi Anh! Ours does expand, but not to the point of pushing the lid off of the steamer. Maybe try cutting the baking powder back a little? That’s what causes the expansion. Hope you give it another shot, we love making homemade cha lua!!!

  • Hello
    I made my cha lua from a different recipe until I saw this. Mine did turned out right. Looked good, but the texture was meally when bite into it. I meant it is not firmed and not held together tightly. I used 2 lbs of meat, 3/4 top of reg. Baking powder, 1 tabs of tapioca flour, 6 tbsp. Fish sauce. 1 Tbsp sugar.

    • Yes, you absolutely can. Alsa is just the kind used in Vietnamese…it’s French, which has major influence in Viet cooking. Regular will work, too. This is really good! Let us know if you make it and what you think! Best, Kris & Wesley

    • Hi Michelle, parchment paper could be a problem. You would need to secure the paper tightly around the meat so it will not expand and leak in the steamer. Banana leaves work, though, so maybe the parchment paper would too! Let us know if you try it! Very curious to know!! Best, Kris & Wesley

  • Awesome recipe, thanks so much for posting!

    Quick question if you’re/anyone is still moderating this post, what do you mean by “do not prep this mixture until just before you are ready to add it to the meat mixture”? Does that mean the wet mixture should sit for a certain amount of time before it’s poured into the meat mixture? If that’s the case, then how much time should the wet mixture sit, at a minimum, before it’s poured into the meat mixture?

    • HI Kim! Just mean once you add the baking powder and the flour to the warm water, give it a quick stir, and then immediately add it to the meat mixture. You don’t want it to settle and then add it in. This helps with the texture of the finished ham. I hope that is clear, if not, let us know! And please stay in touch! Best, Kris & Wesley

  • Kris and Wes….
    Puts westernised asian dudes like me to absolute shame.
    You guys are outright kitchen kahunas ! Thank you
    I think BPA free cling wrap is fine for steaming.
    The cheddar went with vietnamese ham despite the garlic and fish sauce?
    Wondering if it goes with some seeded mustard and/or mayo with a hint of chilli

    Gusto mangiare !

    • Thank you, Pete! I think this is the kind of recipe that can definitely be played around with to taste your liking. I tried to stick with the traditional cha lua version here. I had the same thoughts about the grilled cheese sammy, and I have to tell you, it was really delicious! Mustard seed, mayo and chili would make it even that much better. Love it all!! Thanks for your note, and stay in touch!

  • I bow down to you for even attempting this. I like making my own banh mi sandwiches and am always looking for a reliable cha lua recipe. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you, Sophie! I did a bunch of research, and pieced together this recipe. I, too, love a really good banh mi sandwich, but really wanted it all to be as fresh as possible. And both Wesley and I were really surprised at how delicious and relatively easy to make was this cha lua! I seared a few pieces last night, and then made an incredible grilled cheese with fresh cha lua, tomatoes and cheddar. Wow! We LOVED it! Thanks for letting me hear from you…please stay in touch! All the best, Kris & Wesley.

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