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Spring rolls filled with crabmeat


In a talk with the press, the cultural attache of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Vietnam made a point of praising one of Vietnam's specialty dishes: Nem cua be, spring rolls filled with crabmeat and dipped in sauce with fresh herbs. In fact, the attache is not alone in his admiration of this national dish, but foreigners all over leave Vietnam longing for the fresh, crisp taste of those unforgettable Nem cua.

No one knows exactly when nem (spring rolls) became a popular dish in Vietnam. In different localities, nem is prepared in different ways, forming different schools: Hanoi nem, Hue nem, Saigon nem, etc. As for nem cua (spring rolls filled with crab-meat) though, most Vietnamese immediately think of Hai Phong - the southern port city where many such seafood specialties have become a pride of Vietnamese gastronomy.

Many people wonder why Vietnam has a coastal line of over 3,000 km and an abundance of valuable marine products, and yet crab spring rolls remain famous only in Hai Phong. This question is reasonably explained by a caterer of crab spring rolls on Bui thi Xuan Street, Ha Noi, one of the capital's tastiest restaurants for the genuine and affordable Vietnamese cuisine. The first recognizable characteristic of Hai Phong Nem cua is that they are square in shape, while those in other localities a rectangular. The square nem cua require special rice sheets which are tough, crispy and fragrant. People in Hai Phong have a good technique in making rice sheets and red rice noodles, which are distinctive and famous.

In Hai phong, an indispensable component of nem is the crabmeat. Though crabs in Hai Phong are smaller than in other sea areas in Vietnam, they have firm and sweet meat. To make good spring rolls, the cook always selects fat crabs (about 0.7-0.8 kg each). Other indispensable ingredients may include fragrant mushrooms, vermicelli, bean sprouts, green onion, pork, chicken eggs, pepper spices, and shrimp. So, it is not an exaggeration to call nem cua a delicacy of mountain fragrances and sea tastes because it is prepared from both marine and forestry products.

To make delicious nem cua, the cook must have good skills. Crabmeat is prepared 15 minutes before the meal because it easily loses its color and fragrance. Thus the quality of ready-made spring rolls is thus ensured. When frying, spring rolls must be dipped and frequently turned over in boiling fat. The fire is adjusted properly so that they turn yellow and brittle. When cut into small pieces, ivory white crabmeat reveals itself in juicy fragments, mixed in with an array of other finely chopped ingredients.

A very simple but decisive factor in a good nem dish is the sauce, which also helps to create different styles among cooks and restaurants. The main ingredient of the sauce is high-quality fish sauce, diluted with cool water, vinegar, garlic, lemon juice and sugar (pepper or chili is also often added). The sauce can be prepared in different ways but it must be a good mixture of all tastes (sour, hot, salty, and sweet) to serve with nem. The large spring rolls are then chopped and arranged on a plate, decorated perhaps with slices of tomato and mint.

Nem cua is in fact an inexpensive dish which can be realistically prepared at home. At a restaurant, it costs around 30,000 - 40,000 VND/portion (equivalent to $2-3 USD). However, be ready to wait a few minutes, because nem cua is made only after you enter the restaurant.



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