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MARKETS : Rau Ram, Ngo Gai, Som Tam and Tam Som, Too

March 10, 1994|LINDA BURUM

One particularly popular way to eat banh cuon in Vietnam is with slices of the cold cuts cha lua , gio lua or cha chien on the side. Banh cuon may also be filled with ground pork and tree ears or crushed, dried shrimp.

VIETNAMESE COLD CUTS

One thing that distinguishes Vietnam from most of Asia is its taste for European-style charcuterie such as pate, cold sausage, head cheese and ham, which it adapted from the French colonists. Cold cuts fill banh mi , the Hoagie-like sandwich made on a French roll and garnished with marinated vegetables and herbs. They're also popular for appetizers and as luncheon meats, eaten with fresh rice paper sheets ( banh cuon ). I've included instructions for banh mi so you can try Vietnamese cold cuts at home.

T & T offers cold cuts from several companies, including Tay Ho, which are manufactured in a USDA-inspected plant in Garden Grove.

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* Gio Lua: Also known as cha lua (and usually labeled as pork meat loaf in English), this smooth, bologna-like sausage is seasoned very slightly with fish sauce. It is steamed wrapped in banana leaves, which lends a special flavor to the meat. Whether in sandwiches or as an appetizer, gio lua should always be very thinly sliced after its leafy covering is removed.

When serving gio lua with banh cuon (sold in the noodle section of the market), cut the meat slices into halves. These are then easy to eat with a morsel of banh cuon in a single bite. To go with these you need the basic Vietnamese dipping sauce, nuoc cham .

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* Cha Chien: Basically, cha chien is the same as gio lua , but instead of being formed into a sausage shape and steamed in a banana leaf, cha chien is shaped into a square patty and deep-fried. Like gio lua , the meat is offered in sandwiches and on an assorted cold-cut appetizer plate called seven-course appetizer.

One young Vietnamese says she's found a new way to eat cha chien: "Cut a half-inch piece, warm it in a microwave about 30 seconds and put it in a hot dog bun with a little barbecue sauce. It's delicious."

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* Cha Bi: Cha bi uses the basic meat mixture as for gio lua except that it is blended with a few fine slivers of seasoned and cooked pork skin. The Vietnamese love the skin's slightly resilient texture. While pork skin may sound less than appealing, it is barely detectable in this flavorful cold cut.

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* Doi Gio Heo: Made from pork hock that has been cured in a manner similar to ham, the sausage-like doi gio heo is wrapped in a thin, translucent covering of pork skin. When it's thinly sliced it has a beautiful pattern.

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* Pate Gan: A liver pate like the old-fashioned, home-made country variety found in France, pate gan is usually eaten spread on French bread. It is also a popular, but optional, ingredient in the Vietnamese hoagie.

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* Gio Thu: Quite simply, gio thu is head cheese, almost identical to a European head cheese. It is made the classical way from pork snout and ears formed in a square mold. Thinly sliced, gio thu is light and refreshing on a French roll garnished with Vietnamese marinated vegetables.

MISCELLANEOUS

* Vietnamese Meatball Mix: In addition to cold cuts, Tay Ho makes a well-seasoned, garlic-laced Southeast Asian-style meatball mixture. It's labeled with the Vietnamese name nem nuong , but it's popular with Laotians and Kampucheans too. The mixture is formed into one-inch balls, threaded onto a skewer several at a time and cooked over charcoal.

A popular accompaniment for the meatballs is banh hoi , the rice noodle cake described above. But rice paper or even plain rice do nicely too. As with all grilled dishes, the herb and lettuce tray and nuoc cham dipping sauce are standard. To eat nem nuong , wrap a meatball in a piece of rice paper or noodle cake topped with lettuce and herbs and dip in the sauce.

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* Flours and Flour Product Mixes: T & T carries all those exotic flours such as sweet potato starch, tapioca flour, taro starch and wheat starch (not flour) that are seldom seen in Western cooking. Besides these are prepared mixes--the Asian equivalent of biscuit or blueberry muffin mix--used for Asian specialty dishes. Most are manufactured here in California and packed in heavy plastic bags. Nowadays the English instructions are better than they used to be (although the syntax could still use some work).

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* Banh Xeo Mix: Banh xeo mix comes with a pouch of turmeric, which you add along with water and coconut milk. The resulting banh xeo , made primarily of rice starch, is an egg-yellow pancake that looks exactly like a folded omelet.

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