Cha Lua is one of the most important ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine. It is a core part of many Vietnamese dishes from Banh Mi to Bun Bo Hue. Lean cuts of pork loin are seasoned with fish sauce, white pepper, and sugar, and then steamed in a banana leaf. In this blog post, you will find a step-by-step guide on how make this yummy Vietnamese ham at home.

Cha Lua on a cutting board.

If you grew up in a Vietnamese household, Cha Lua is undoubtedly a huge part of your diet. It is an important ingredient in a variety of dishes from Bun Thang (my favorite!!) to Banh Mi, and it’s also just a great snack that you can have on its own. Every time I buy a roll, I always sneak one or two pieces for myself “to taste” before putting it in whatever dish I’m making. It’s just that good! I knew that I would want to develop my own recipe for this addictive Vietnamese ham, so I tested and tested and finally came up with one that is simple to make and so good! It does take some time, but it is well worth it in the end.

Slices of Cha Lua on a cutting board.

What is Cha Lua?

Cha is Vietnamese cuisine’s version of ham or sausage. There are a variety of Chas. Some include Cha Lua, Cha Chien, and Cha Que. Cha Lua is the most popular form of Cha. “Lua” is the Vietnamese work for silk which refers to the consistency of the pork roll. It is made with lean cuts of pork mixed with garlic, fish sauce, and typically tapioca starch or potato starch. These ingredients are pounded into a silky smooth texture and then steamed in a banana leaf.

For my recipe, I chose to use lean cuts of pork loin mixed with fish sauce, white pepper, sugar, garlic powder, and corn starch. I chose corn starch because it is very accessible, and produces the same result as tapioca and potato starch. I also used a stand mixer to beat my ground pork mixture since it is a lot easier than pounding the meat into the correct texture.

Pork loin cut into cubes on a cutting board.

Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments

  • Pork loin – Pork loin is the cut of pork traditionally used for Cha Lua. I would not recommend substituting for any other cut of meat because you won’t get the same results. I do go into a shortcut using ground pork below. It won’t taste the same, but it’s a good enough substitute if you don’t have access to a food processor or food grinder.
  • Garlic powder – Traditional Cha Lua contains fresh garlic. I chose to use garlic powder because it’s a lot easier to incorporate into the meat. You can also substitute with 2 cloves of garlic. Run the garlic through the food grinder with the meat if you choose to use fresh garlic.
  • White pepper – It is important to use white pepper for this recipe. White pepper helps keep the Vietnamese ham white/light beige, and it is the most authentic flavor. Additionally, Cha Hue is the Cha with black pepper or whole peppercorns. I did test this recipe with black pepper, but it turned the pork roll a darker color, and I didn’t like the taste.
  • Granulated sugar – Adds sweetness to the pork roll. Do not substitute with brown sugar or coconut sugar since it’ll affect the color of the final product.
  • Corn starch – Corn starch helps tenderize the meat and gives it a chewier texture.
  • Fish sauce – This is one of the most important flavor components of the dish. No substitutions.
  • Salt for seasoning
  • Baking powder – This helps the pork roll rise and give it an airy texture. I tested this recipe with less baking powder (~1/4 tsp) and the pork roll came out dense.
  • Ice water – It’s important to use ice water because the ground pork mixture needs to remain cold while you are prepping it. I go into the importance of having cold meat below in the tips.
  • Banana leaves – The banana leaves help give the Cha Lua its unique flavor. I used two ~12 inches x 12 inches pieces.
Slices of Cha Lua on a cutting board.

Equipment You Will Need

  • Food grinder – You will need a food grinder to grind your pork loin. I used the Kitchenaid Food Grinder attachment for my stand mixer, and loved it. I tested this recipe with a food processor and was not impressed with the results. I highly recommend a food grinder if you can find one. I go more into why I didn’t like a food processor below. If you don’t want to pay for a food grinder, a great option is to ask the butcher to grind up the pork loin for you.
  • Mixing bowl – This is where you will mix all the ingredients for the Vietnamese ham.
  • Ziploc bag (freezer safe) – This is where you will put the ground pork mixture before putting it in the freezer.
  • Stand mixer with paddle attachment – This is an important tool because the stand mixer whips the ground pork mixture until it is the right consistency. The whipping motion helps give the pork roll its chewy texture.
  • Cooking Twine/Butchers Twine – The cooking twine helps keep the pork roll tight as you steam it.
  • Steamer – This is a steamed pork roll, so you will need a steamer pot to cook this dish.

Using a food processor vs a food grinder

The key to the best Cha Lua is a smooth ground pork mixture, so it’s essential that you really grind up your meat. I first tested this recipe with a food processor, and I found that there were still big pieces of meat left even after processing the meat for 20-30 minutes. Additionally, I found the clean up more intense than with my food grinder. With the food grinder, I could see more consistent, smoother results. I would run the meat through 2 or 3 times just in case (~10-20 minutes), using the finest grinding setting. Mine came with 2 metal plates – 1 for coarser meat, and 1 for finer meat.

If you don’t want to buy a food grinder, you can use a food processor, but make sure to process the meat until it is very fine. A better option could be to ask your butcher to grind up the pork loin for you.

How to make Cha Lua

Prepping your ground pork mixture

First, grind the pork loin using a food grinder. Run it through the food grinder twice for the smoothest texture. Add the ground pork loin to a bowl.

Add 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, 1/4 tsp of white pepper, 2 tsp of granulated sugar, 1 tbsp of corn starch, 1 tbsp of fish sauce, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of baking powder, and 1/4 cup of ice water to the bowl. Mix until well combined. Add the ground pork mixture to a Ziploc bag and freeze for 1 1/2 hours. Flatten the ground pork so it reaches the correct temperature faster. Save the Ziploc bag for later.

Whipping and rolling your pork roll

Empty the ground pork into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip on speed 4 for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to 6 and whip for 5 more minutes. Transfer the ground pork back into the Ziploc bag and freeze for 40 minutes. Make sure to flatten the pork again. After 40 minutes, empty the ground pork into the the stand mixer bowl, and whip on speed 6 for another 10 minutes.

Now you’re ready to form your pork roll. Empty the pork onto some plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to help you form your pork roll. The pork roll should be in the shape of a cylinder with a 3 inch diameter and ~7 inches long.

Grease 1 banana leaf with oil and place it on top of the second banana leaf. Unwrap the pork roll and place it in the center of the banana leaves. Roll your pork roll tightly in the banana leaves and close the ends. Finally, roll your pork roll in aluminum foil. This will help keep your cha lua tight and prevent moisture from getting in. Tie the pork roll tightly with cooking twine.

Prep your steamer by bringing water to a simmer and adding your steamer insert. Once the water is simmering, add in your pork roll and let it steam for 32 minutes. Remove and let it cool down for at least an hour before serving.

Why do you need to whip your meat so much?

Whipping your ground pork whips air into the meat, giving it that chewy, airy texture. It also helps ensure your meat mixture is very smooth and fine.

Cha Lua on a cutting board.

Tips on how to make the perfect Cha Lua

Grind the meat twice for the smoothest consistency

I have emphasized this a few times already, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. This is definitely one of the most important parts of this recipe. Grinding up the meat into the finest, smoothest consistency is key to getting that bouncy, chewy texture that everyone loves about Cha Lua.

Make sure the meat is always very cold

This is another key part of the process because if the meat is not cold, the final product will be soggy, and the pork roll will not form correctly.

How do I know I’ve whipped the meat enough?

You will know if the meat has been whipped enough if the color is a very light pink, almost white color, and it will look light and airy. It will also be very smooth if you pat it down.

How do you store Cha Lua?

Cha Lua should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. If the texture starts to get mushy, it has gone bad.

Using store bought ground pork

One shortcut you can use for making Cha Lua is by using store bought ground pork. This shaves 20-30 minutes off your prep time. The only drawback for using ground pork is that most ground pork at the store is made with pork butt while this dish is usually made with pork loin, so it won’t be the most authentic Cha. It will however be good enough.

How do you eat Cha Lua?

As mentioned above, Cha Lua is an important part of Vietnamese cuisine. It is served in so many dishes. Some notable ones include Banh Mi, Bun Thang, Bun Bo Hue, Bun Rieu, and Banh Cuon. None of these dishes would taste authentic without this Vietnamese ham. For a simpler dish, I like to eat it with some rice and nuoc cham as a dipping sauce for the Cha. It is such a versatile protein. The possibilities are endless.

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Cha Lua on a cutting board.

Get the Recipe:
Cha Lua (Vietnamese Pork Roll)

Cha Lua or Vietnamese Ham is a key ingredient in a variety of Vietnamese dishes. It is made with lean pork loin, seasoned with garlic powder, fish sauce, and white pepper.
5 from 6 ratings

Ingredients
 
 

Instructions
 

  • First, grind the pork loin using a food grinder. Run it through the food grinder twice for the smoothest texture. Add the ground pork loin to a bowl.
  • Add ½ tsp of garlic powder, ¼ tsp of white pepper, 2 ½ tsp of granulated sugar, 1 tbsp of corn starch, 2 tbsp of fish sauce, ¼ tsp of salt, 1 tsp of baking powder, and ¼ cup of ice water to the bowl. Mix until well combined.
  • Add the ground pork mixture to a Ziploc bag and freeze for 1 ½ hours. Flatten the ground pork so it's as thin as possible. This will help the pork reach the correct temperature faster. Save the Ziploc bag for later.
  • Empty the ground pork into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip on speed 4 for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to 6 and whip for another 5 minutes. Transfer the ground pork back into the Ziploc bag and freeze for 40 minutes. Make sure to flatten the pork mixture.
  • After 40 minutes, empty the ground pork into the the stand mixer bowl, and whip on speed 6 for another 10 minutes.
  • Now you're ready to form your pork roll. Empty the pork onto some plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to help you form your pork roll. The pork roll should be in the shape of a cylinder with a 3 inch diameter and ~7 inches long.
  • Grease 1 banana leaf with oil and place it on top of the second banana leaf. Unwrap the pork roll and place it in the center of the banana leaves. Roll your pork roll tightly in the banana leaves and close the ends.
  • Finally, roll your pork roll in aluminum foil. This will help keep your cha lua tight and prevent moisture from getting in. Tie the pork roll tightly with cooking twine.
  • Prep your steamer by bringing water to a simmer and adding your steamer insert. Once the water is simmering, add in your pork roll and let it steam for 32 minutes.
  • Remove and let it cool down for at least an hour before serving.

Notes

  1. Grind the meat twice for the smoothest consistency. I have emphasized this a few times already, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. This is definitely one of the most important parts of this recipe. Grinding up the meat into the finest, smoothest consistency is key to getting that bouncy, chewy texture that everyone loves about Cha Lua.
  2. Make sure the meat is always very cold. This is another key part of the process because if the meat is not cold, the final product will be soggy, and the pork roll will not form correctly.
  3. How do you eat Cha Lua? Cha Lua is an important part of Vietnamese cuisine. It is served in so many dishes. Some notable ones include Banh Mi, Bun Thang, Bun Bo Hue, Bun Rieu, and Banh Cuon. None of these dishes would taste authentic without this Vietnamese ham. For a simpler dish, I like to eat it with some rice and some nuoc cham as a dipping sauce for the Cha. It is such a versatile protein. The possibilities are endless.
Serving: 2oz, Calories: 115kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 3g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 48mg, Sodium: 676mg, Potassium: 303mg, Fiber: 0.1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 1IU, Vitamin C: 0.05mg, Calcium: 46mg, Iron: 1mg
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