Nem Lụi Huế: The Vietnamese Pork Street Food Specialty You Need To Try

Street food is vital to the cultural flare of Vietnam. While Phở, a rice noodle soup in a savory broth, and Bánh mì, a Viet-style French Baguette sandwich, may be the most internationally known, there are plenty of diverse Vietnamese foods to recognize and enjoy just as much (via Klook). Understanding Vietnamese street food can be complex as you'll find different flavors and tastes from North to South — even as you travel between districts of the same city, per Will Fly for Food.

Nem Lụi Huế is a perfect example of this. It's a traditional Vietnamese dish that consists of grilled ground pork on a stick, usually lemongrass skewers. While Nem Lụi can be found in other areas of Vietnam, the version found in Huế has people around the country salivating. Traditionally cooked on lemongrass skewers, beware that other areas of the country may make their Nem Lụi on wooden sticks instead (via Vietnamenu). For the dish fit for an emperor, head to Huế!

A dish for royalty

Located centrally in Vietnam, Huế, is a city of rich history, having once been a capital city and boasting an imperial legacy. As it was Vietnam's old capital city, many of its dishes were originally created specifically for royalty. Explore Vietnam notes that while Nem Lụi is one of those dishes, little is known beyond just that. Today, however, Nem Lụi has become a popular street food that is widely available.

While this city has come to its own by blending its past influences, it has created a food scene that locals and tourists love (via Vietnam Travel). With the city's previous French influence, "Nem" has become synonymous with spring rolls in both French and Vietnamese. Nem Lụi, or spring rolls made from ground pork, are regional and rely heavily on how they are prepared, served, and enjoyed. While one can find Nem Lụi throughout the country, Nem Lụi Huế is known for being served with a creamy peanut dipping sauce, per Vietnam Coracle.

How Nem Lụi Huế is made

To make Nem Lụi Huế, pork is first ground into a paste. The meat is then marinated for around 30 minutes in a mixture of fish sauce, black pepper, and onion. Additional ingredients such as pork skin, garlic, and shallots can be added to the marinade (via Taste Atlas). After marinating, the pork is shaped and wrapped around a lightly crushed lemongrass stick and grilled on a coal stove.

By crushing the lemongrass before surrounding it in meat, it is able to flavor the pork as it cooks. The charcoal grill, in addition, gives the dish a slightly smoky charred taste. Besides cooking the meat, a variety of pickled vegetables and fresh fruits, such as lettuce, pickled carrot, and mango, must be thinly sliced. The peanut sauce, Nước léo, is traditionally made from pork liver or pork flesh, peanut butter, fermented soya beans, roast peanuts, and sesame seeds (via Explore Vietnam). 

How to properly experience Nem Lụi Huế

Let's think of this dish as a rendition of a DIY spring roll. As detailed by the Vietnam Coracle, the skewer is placed onto a piece of rice paper and topped with the garnishes. Once rolled up, the lemongrass skewer is pulled out, leaving behind the grilled meat inside the roll. The spring roll is then dipped into peanut sauce to be savored and enjoyed.

Given that many street vendors will precook the Nem Lụi and reheat it once it is ordered, try to find a stall that makes them fresh. To have an authentic experience, be sure it is served with peanut sauce, and don't be shy about it. It is a dish packed with flavor and a punch of culture, from marinated meat and lemongrass stalks to pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. This dish will send you back in time and make you feel like royalty while enjoying the modern-day streets of Huế.