Viet Nam News
If rice is a staple of Vietnamese daily meals, then giò (Vietnamese sausage) is considered the staple of special occasions, such as Tết (the Lunar New Year), wedding parties and ancestors’ death anniversary.
Traditionally, giò is made from minced lean pork tightly encased in fresh banana leaves rolled into a cylindrical shape and boiled. A roll of giò is then cut into slices about 2 centimetres thick and then cut into smaller parts before being served.
On the week-long Tết holiday, the most important celebration on the Vietnamese calendar, almost every family will partake of a roll of giò, along with bánh chưng (square sticky rice cakes) and boiled chicken.
Decades ago, meat was scarce and only served on special occasions. On ancestor death anniversaries, for instance, the women of the family would prepare an elaborate set of dishes, among which xôi (steamed sticky rice), boiled chicken and a plate of neatly-placed giò slices were a must.
Delicious: Traditionally, giò is made from minced lean pork tightly encased in fresh banana leaves rolled into a cylindrical shape and boiled. A roll of giò is then cut into slices about 2 centimetres thick and then cut into smaller parts before being served. —Photo baotintuc.vn
Nguyễn Tuân (1910-1987), known as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, wrote proudly about this dish in Giò Chả (Vietnamese Sausage). “Pork is a ubiquitous food. Except in those countries where pork is taboo, people all over the world have eaten pork and tried to find different cooking methods suitable to their tastebuds," he wrote, adding, "we are quite creative. We use pork to make giò, for example. It’s not boasting to say that among the countries consuming pork, only Vietnamese have this unique dish.”
In his writing, Tuân cited Líu, an old native of Hà Nội’s Ước Lễ village with 60 years of experience in making giò. According to Líu, pounding pork is an important step and giò makers must concentrate intensely on this job.
Líu recalled that when he made giò in the old days, before electric fans were available, he was covered in sweat but even when a mosquito bit him, he had to keep pounding the meat. The pounding need not be strong, but it must be steady and lengthy. Listening to the sound of pounding, one can tell whether the batch will turn out well. Líu said that when his hands tired, he would signal his grandchildren to pour some wine into his mouth.
“In my childhood... these Ước Lễ natives would travel throughout the city, roaming the small alleys, to sell giò and find families that are about to have a party or ancestors’ death anniversaries to offer them giò,” wrote Nguyễn Tuân.
“Giò come in different sizes — there are slices that are 7 centimetres or 12 centimetres thick, they also sell small slices that are as thin as a cat’s tongue. On days when I was a well-behaved kid, my grandmother would buy me the thin slices and put them at the bottom of the rice bowl, so that I would not eat them before eating the rice,” he wrote.
Varieties: Another variant of giò is chả (a mixture of minced pork deep fried with pepper or cinnamon). Giò and chả are eaten generally with rice, xôi (steamed sticky rice), bánh cuốn (steamed rice pancakes) or bánh mì. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
Ước Lễ Village
The best quality giò can be traced to Ước Lễ, a tranquil village about 30 kilometres from Hà Nội’s centre.
There are no official documents about the genesis of giò in the village, yet according to 65-year-old native Nguyễn Văn Mùi, head of the village senior citizens association, Ước Lễ people have been making giò for at least 100 years.
Currently, more than 90 per cent of village households still make giò. “As people in our neighbourhood alone can’t consume such large amounts of giò, villagers have to migrate to other regions to sell their products,” said Nguyễn Viết Tường, head of Ước Lễ village. “Ước Lễ people are now present all over the country. They return on special occasions only.”
“Doing this job requires hard work. People have to wake up as early as 3am. The high quality of our giò is attributed to several factors. One of them is the meat,” said Lê Tiến Mạnh, a 45-year-old Ước Lễ-based giò maker. “The type used in making giò must be lean meat, fresh and a bit sticky on its surface.”
Fish sauce and seasoning are added to the minced meat before the mixture is encased tightly in layers of banana leaves, which give the giò a unique taste. The fresh minced meat is well blended with the tartness and slight bitterness of the fresh banana leaves when they are boiled.
“It takes about an hour to get the mixture finely cooked. One can tell if giò is well-cooked by throwing it onto a hard surface. If it bounces, the giò is good,” said Mạnh.
The peak time for giò makers is in the lead up to Tết. “Their business are busy till the last day of the year. And only by the 30th of the 12th lunar month, Ước Lễ people can travel to their home village to prepare for the biggest celebration of the year,” Tường said.
"This is the time for family and friend reunions of those who live far from their home village. On these first days of the new year, people gather, hold parties and talks about their work and life after a long hard-working year,” said Tường.
Other variants of giò include chả (a mixture of minced pork deep fried with pepper or cinnamon ) and giò bò (beef sausage). They are all eaten generally with rice, xôi (steamed sticky rice), bánh cuốn (steamed rice pancakes) or bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette. — VNS