Thursday, August 09, 2012

Nem Nuong aka Vietnamese BBQ Pork Meatballs


A few months ago, I made Vietnamese-style meatballs at VN’s place from scratch. We were originally going to make Chinese-style meatballs from a cookbook, but I just made my own version. Since she didn't have things like oyster sauce, I just used what she had in her kitchen. It ended up tasting like a Vietnamese dish. Woops!

Starting with ground pork, finely chopped cilantro, minced garlic, and a row of crushed crackers, I mixed everything together until the smell of cilantro and garlic seemed right. Then I seasoned it with sugar, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Since the flavour was clearly Vietnamese rather than Chinese, I just went with it.

When the consistency felt right and when it smelled right, I nuked a little nugget in the microwave with a bit of water to taste it. After tasting it, I added just a bit more sugar and fish sauce. I tried it again. I was happy with it. KN and VN gave it a try. They approved of them and said it tasted familiar. “They remind me of nem nuong (which are seasoned grilled pork meatballs) that you typically serve on skewers with vermicelli or in rice wraps,” VN commented.

The meatballs were browned in a pan and became tender and juicy. While I didn’t take photos, you’ll have to take my word for it. They were really good. These would be perfect for a picnic outside! I made too much because we were expecting other company that never showed, so we froze half of the seasoned meat and made them again a week later. Since making the nem nuong/Vietnamese-style meatballs, I’ve wanted to recreate it.

During a grocery trip to T&T, I picked up cilantro and ground pork so that I could try making the meatballs again. You can totally substitute the ground pork for something else like ground chicken. We didn’t have any crackers in the house or bread, but we had leftover rice. I thought I’d try and replace the cracker crumbs with leftover rice, having cabbage rolls as a reference point. I also finely chopped up some fresh mint to add another dimension.


After combining all the ingredients, I roughly measured out 5 tablespoons of sugar and 7 tablespoons each of soy sauce and fish sauce. It smelled like I over-seasoned it and it looked too dark, so I scooped a bit out and cooked it in the microwave. When I opened the microwave door, the smell of fish sauce hit me right away and it was followed by soy sauce. Shit… I took a bite. I was right. There was too much fish sauce and soy sauce. I couldn’t dull the saltiness with sugar, so I chopped more cilantro and mint.

Though they were still very salty, it did taste similar to the first rendition I made at VN’s place. Close. The leftover rice didn’t do a great job of absorbing the liquid. I’ll avoid adding leftover rice in the future. The cooked nem nuong was a bit loose and had a tough time maintaining it’s shape. I added an egg to help bring it together. I threw a few slices of some milk bread, ripped them into little pieces and tossed them into the mix, in hopes that the toast would absorb some moisture. The mixing bowl was wrapped in a bag and placed in the fridge to marinate overnight.

Throughout the process, I tried to write down rough measurements in hopes that you, too, can taste how good these were. If you do try this out, please taste the meatballs and adjust to taste like I did.

Nem Nuong aka Vietnamese Ground Pork Meatballs

1lb ground pork
5 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tbsp fish sauce
5 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
4 tbsp finely chopped mint
½ cup breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs*
Black pepper, to taste

*I didn’t have dry breadcrumbs or crackers so I used the following:
3 slices of toast, crumbled and torn
1/3 cup leftover rice

On the following day, we fired up the BBQ and cooked the nem nuong. I pretty sure the meatballs needed to be cooked on medium heat to allow the sugar to caramelize.

While the meatballs were being cooked, Mom sautéed some zucchini with salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. Then she added chopped mint.


It was another sunny day out, and so we ate in our backyard again. Dad made a pitcher of spiked Clamato (a mix of tomato juice and clam juice). Richard bought some baguettes and I brought out some of Dad’s homemade kimchi. Some of the meatballs burned because the BBQ was cranked up on high.

Even though we ate the nem nuong with bread, they were still too salty to fully enjoy them. The flavours of cilantro came through really well, but I’d probably add more garlic and mint. In hindsight, I should’ve gotten more ground pork to dull the soy sauce and fish sauce. Richard and Lucy really liked these. I'll have to be less generous with the fish sauce and soy sauce next time. But still, fresh bread, homemade Vietnamese meatballs, sautéed zucchini, and a pitcher of ice-cold bloody caesar made a great meal.


  1. These meatballs sound fantastic. Some of my favorite flavors.

  2. These sound really intruiging. How did you actually cook them?

  3. We grilled them on the BBQ. You can also cook them on a pan, but the little bits of charring adds another dimension to the meatballs.

  4. These do look fantastic.

    Good tip on tasting the seasoning. Nuking is good, or a quick saute does the trick too to try to emulate a bit of the caramelization. If only it was done in increments and nuked along the way!

    I know I can relate too because I wouldn't have made another trip just to get more pork :).

    How did you feel about the extra mint and cilantro? Will you keep those in next time?

  5. I just didn't want to heat up a pan just to taste a little bit of the meatball.

    It's a good thing I added the extra mint and cilantro because of the high sodium levels. If it weren't for the copious amounts of herbs, the meatballs would've been inedible. The next time I make these, I'll be adding more mint to get a mix of flavours.

    The best way to cook these would be over charcoals. I'm hoping to make a large batch of these and bring them on our next camping trip. Who needs processed hot dogs when you can BBQ homemade nem nuong?


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