This grilled pork meatballs recipe with rice paper, rice noodles, salad, and pickles makes a sharing style dish popular in Southern Cambodia and Vietnam. Best served on a platter so people can help themselves, it’s a DIY (do it yourself) dish that you can eat as you wish, wrapping and rolling the meatballs, salad and pickles in the rice paper.
Our grilled pork meatballs recipe with rice paper, vermicelli rice noodles, fresh salad vegetables and fruit, a quick pickle of carrot and daikon, and a dipping sauce, makes a delicious sharing plate that can be served family-style in the centre of the table as an appetiser or main course or as part of a larger feast of Vietnamese food, Cambodian food or Southeast Asian food.
While our Cambodian friends from Phnom Penh and Southern Cambodia would call this a Cambodian dish, our Vietnamese friends would argue it is Vietnamese. The reality is that it’s one of a genre of dishes consumed in both countries; dishes that have crossed borders, existed before there were borders, and travelled over land and ocean, because you’ll also find variations of this dish not only in Cambodia and Vietnam, but in the Vietnam and Cambodian diasporas.
We’re filing this grilled pork meatballs recipe with rice paper, noodles and vegetables under both Cambodian food and Vietnamese food and we hope you’ll make it and enjoy it no matter where it comes from, what form it takes, or where it’s eaten. If cuisines and their culinary histories interest you, please do consider supporting our Cambodian culinary history and Cambodian cookbook research on Patreon.
This grilled pork meatballs recipe is also going into our best Cambodian barbecue recipes, where we hope you’ll find some summer grilling inspiration in our recipes for Cambodian marinated beef skewers, smoky grilled pork ribs, char-grilled eggplant with minced pork, pork spare ribs with star anise, and beef and pork belly skewers (stuffed beef skewers)
Grilled Pork Meatballs Recipe with Rice Paper, Rice Noodles, Salad and Quick Pickle
This grilled pork meatballs recipe with rice paper, vermicelli rice noodles, fresh salad ingredients, a quick pickle of carrot and daikon, and a dipping sauce makes a dish that’s particularly popular in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. While you’ll see similar dishes around the country, in Phnom Penh the pork is typically in the form of small pork meatballs on a bamboo skewer that have been char grilled over a traditional charcoal grill, giving a smoky aroma to the meatballs.
This grilled pork meatballs recipe is also a favourite in the Cambodian diaspora, where I frequently see platters like our’s above on Instagram and Facebook feeds. In fact, the well-regarded Khmer-American cookbook writer, Narin Seng Jameson has a recipe for it in her book Cooking the Cambodian Way. Jameson recalls how it was sold at market food stalls, however, mobile street vendors also roamed the streets of residential areas selling it at around 4-5pm and again around 9-10pm.
Jameson adds slices of green banana, green mango and starfruit to her platter, along with fragrant mint leaves. She serves it with a dipping sauce made from sticky rice porridge, ‘Oriental fish sauce’ (made from fish sauce, garlic, salt, sugar, white vinegar, coconut juice and water), and peanuts, although she mentions that the Vietnamese serve it with hoisin sauce. In her introduction to the recipe, Jameson states that the dish is of Vietnamese origin and calls it ‘nem noeung’.
In Vietnam, in the beautiful beachside city of Nha Trang the dish is called ‘nem nướng Nha Trang’. There, the pork mince is formed into a sausage shape on the skewer, rather than pork meat balls. In his book, The Songs of Sapa, Stories and Recipes from Vietnam, the Vietnamese-Australian chef Luke Nguyen, writes that locals are very proud of their specialty nem nướng. Nguyen recalls how he observed six women at a nem nướng restaurant preparing 50 kilos of pork mince for lunch service, and after lunch began prepping another 50 kilos for dinner!
Nguyen notes that as Nha Trang is a coastal city, prawns are included in the minced pork mix, however, he saw the dish in Dalat and Saigon made with pork only. We’ve eaten it in those cities also, and when we did it was pork only. In his recipe for nem nướng Nha Trang, Nguyen adds even more aromatic herbs, including perilla and Vietnamese mint, along with garlic chives and bean sprouts, and he also suggests hoisin sauce as the dipping sauce.
Along with nước chấm hoi sin sauce, made with peanuts, garlic, hoisin sauce, and chilli, we’ve also had this dish with another Vietnamese dipping sauce, nước chấm truyền thống. Often called the ‘classic’ dipping sauce, it’s made with fish sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic cloves and chilli.
When we lived in Hoi An in Central Vietnam in early 2013 our favourite street food vendor served delicious strips of marinated pork shoulder, and in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, we savoured this with unctuous cubes of pork belly.
We love this grilled pork meatballs recipe with rice paper wherever we eat it and whatever form it takes, because as delicious as it is, what’s most fun about this dish is that it’s a sharing dish that can be eaten as a communal meal, shared amongst friends and family, and there are few better things to do in the world than that, especially right now.
Tips to Making this Grilled Pork Meatballs Recipe with Rice Paper, Rice Noodles, Salad and Quick Pickle
Those of you scanning this grilled pork meatballs recipe who are familiar with fashioning meatballs will be wondering where the egg and breadcrumbs are for binding the meat. Well, here in Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries, an egg would be seen as a waste in this pork mince mixture and cooking with breadcrumbs is very rare. Instead, we replace the breadcrumbs with ground toasted rice (as I did in my larb recipe) and prayers.
The secret is that those stalls making these delicious meatballs know how to get the meat to bind. Some slap the mince mixture in a bowl as you would a fish cake mixture. Others just handle the mixture very delicately. I’d look the other way if you mixed in a beaten egg. I just work very quickly to shape a pork ball in my hand and then don’t waste time getting it onto the grill or barbecue and ensuring the heat is high.
Note that while we use skewers in this grilled pork meatballs recipe you could give them a miss and deep-fry the meatballs, as they do in Laos with laap moo tod, fried pork mince meatballs wrapped in lettuce leaves rather than rice paper, and served with cucumber, mint and coriander (cilantro).
And if you’re not a fan of grilling or deep-frying, you could also try baking these pork meatballs, but make sure you lie the skewers with meat balls on a metal pan or baking tray. If you put them on a rack to let the fat drip down the mince is likely to fall off the skewers.
In Cambodia, these this pork meatballs would be grilled on a traditional clay brazier using charcoal (we love these coconut charcoal BBQ briquettes). When I have to grill indoors I use a stovetop Korean BBQ grill pan, but if we had more space, I’d be using one of these outdoor barbecue or grills. You can always do them on the Weber. And after you make this grilled pork meatballs recipe… how do you eat all that stuff?
Well, we suggest you do as they do in Cambodia and Vietnam. Place a sheet of rice paper in your hand (in Vietnam they eat the rice paper both dry and moist; in Cambodia they dip it quickly into water so it’s damp), then lay a piece of lettuce on top of that, then some of those vermicelli rice noodles, then slices of cucumber and pineapple, a spoonful of quick pickle of carrot and daikon, and fragrant herbs if you like, then roll it all up. Dip it into your dipping sauce and you’re in heaven.
Grilled Pork Meatballs Recipe with Rice Paper, Noodles, Salad and Pickles
- 6 Bamboo Skewers
- 400 g pork mince
- 15 g tbsp roasted rice flour
- 15 g garlic cloves chopped finely
- 40 g red shallots chopped finely
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 15 g roasted peanuts ground
- 1 piece iceberg lettuce or other crisp green lettuces
- 1 cup carrot and daikon quick pickle
- 8 sheets rice paper
- 2 cucumbers sliced
- 1/4 pineapple sliced
- 1 bunch spring onions
- 1 cup fish sauce and crushed peanuts
- 4 pieces ‘Thai’ round eggplant
- Mix all the ingredients up the ’To Serve’ section in a large bowl.
- Cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
- Soak your bamboo skewers in water for at least 20 mins.
- With a spoon, take some of the mixture and weigh it on a scale. We want to make balls of 18 g each, which is a ball with a 3 cm diameter.
- Place each ball on an oven tray lined with ovenproof paper.
- Once you have finished rolling the balls, place the tray in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or until ready to use.
- Light a charcoal grill and wait until the charcoal pieces have turned white hot.
- Remove the tray from the refrigerator and carefully thread the balls on to the skewers.
- Baste with a little vegetable oil and cook the meatballs, rotating the balls until they are just cooked through.
- On a serving tray, arrange all the serving items and then place the skewers on top.
Do let us know if you make this grilled pork meatballs recipe in the comments below, on social media or by email as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.