Naem: Soured Pork


khao pad nam
Have you tried naem (แหนม),* a distinguished member of Southeast Asian** class of preserved meats? This soured, fermented sausage is made by curing chopped fresh pork (sometimes with strips of cleaned and boiled pork skin added) at room temperature for a few days until it develops the sour, savory flavor. Naem is traditionally served uncooked as an appetizer, in a salad, or as an ingredient in a dish (in which case it’s served cooked).

Ask the purists, though, and they’ll say naem is supposed to be served raw — always. They believe that only in the raw state can naem truly fulfill its raison d’être. Serving it cooked, they insist, is heretical.

Plastic-wrapped naem is found in the refrigerated section of most Southeast Asian grocery stores.

That’s probably true. But here’s my confession: I hate raw naem. There. Whew!

On the other hand, I love shredded naem in my Khai Jiaw (Thai-style omelet). I love naem in a coconut milk-based relish, naem lon (แหนมหลน) or lon naem (หลนแหนม). Most of all, I love naem fried rice. If this was the only kind of fried rice I’m allowed to eat for the rest of my life, I’d be okay with that.

Naem is packed with bold flavors; it’s salty, sour, and garlicky. Small pieces of naem that are interspersed throughout your fried rice act as both the protein source and one of the main flavoring agents. Hold back on the fish sauce or soy sauce when you make naem fried rice; you may not need as much of it as you think you do.

Chopped-up naem scrambled with some eggs makes for such a delicious rice topper.

Other than that, treat naem the same way you would any fresh meat which you normally use in your fried rice.

If you have never had naem, I’d encourage you to try store-bought naem first just to acquaint yourself with its taste and texture. If you decide you like it and want to learn how to make it, come back here early next year to find out how to make naem 2-3 different ways. This post is just a tease, you see.

*Also known as Nem chua in Vietnamese and som mu (ສົ້ມໝູ), literally “sour pork,” in Lao.
**Particularly the eastern part of the Indochinese Peninsula.

15 Responses to Naem: Soured Pork

  1. Diane December 15, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    I LOVE nam, and have made it at home. It’s so fabulous…

  2. Angry Asian December 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    i adore nem chua, something i wans’t allowed to eat as a kid unless it was fried up (tho i would sneak it) and something i rarely eat now.

    i’m looking fwd to the post on how to make these, tho i think i’ll stick to buying them already made… i have a fear of messing up and causing major food poisoning…

  3. Michael December 20, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    พี่ แล้วแหนมข้าวทอดล่ะ ไมค์ไม่แน่ใจว่าเป็นอาหารไทยหรืออาหารลาว/อีสาน พี่ทราบทำอย่างไรไหมครับ ชอบม๊ากมาก

  4. Leela December 20, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    หนูไมค์ ใจเย็นใจเย็น เดี๋ยวลงให้จ้ะ ชอบกินเหมือนกัน

  5. ayan September 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    I’m sure this is a dumb question, but is there any possible substitute, or could I make it at home with turkey? I just can’t consume pork.

  6. Admin September 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    ayan – No, not a dumb question at all. As far as I know, no other meat is used to make this classic version of naem which is most commonly served raw. If any pork-free versions of naem exist (you can never say never these days …), they’re certainly not mainstream.

    But there are tons of cooked (mostly deep-fried) versions of naem that are made from chicken. You can ferment, for example, chicken wings (using this method) and fry them up like you do fried chicken. People love that. I’ve also experimented with beef short ribs here. It tastes wonderful.

  7. Yt June 1, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Hi, your fried rice looks nice! I can’t seem to find the recipe for the fried rice though?

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