Despite its Vietnamese origin, naem nueng (Vietnamese fresh spring roll) is Udon Thani’s most famous food export. While Vietnamese immigrants have been moving to Thailand’s Mekong River provinces since the French colonial years, the region, or, specifically Udon Thani, isn’t famous for naem nueng until the recent decades. Word has it that a group of Vietnamese descendents, who originally settled in Nong Khai, made famous naem nueng in Thailand when they opened a restaurant selling this specialty in neighboring Udon Thani.
Suffice to say, we never miss an opportunity to buy naem neung whenever we are in Udon Thani. Many souvenir shops in downtown or at the airport stock naem neung of the VT or Daeng brands—two institutions in the province. Mr. P bought a box of naem nueang on his way back from Udon Thani recently. At Bt120 each, it was very much value for money; each box came with fresh herbs—mint leaves; laksa leaves—raw fruits—banana; mango—cucumbers, garlic, green chillies, rice paper sheets, naem (Vietnamese minced pork balls) and a special sauce pack—including dipping sauce, chilli and crushed peanuts.
With everything bundled neatly in a box, preparation was very easy. Cut all the ingredients into small pieces and assemble them on a plate. Mix the dipping sauce with the chilli and crushed peanuts. (To me, the dipping sauce is probably what makes a good naem nueng since the taste of other ingredients shouldn’t differ too greatly from place to place.) Soak the rice paper in water to soften them for eating.
When you’re ready to eat, place the diced ingredients on a piece of softened rice paper before spooning some dipping sauce on top. Wrap the edges of the rice paper inward to create a small package, then pop it in your mouth! It sounds easy, but the not-so-dainty-but-always-greedy me always over-heap the ingredients and end up pushing and stuffing the entire package into my mouth.
I’ve tried naem neung several times in Bangkok but none could beat the Udon deal. So if you’re ever in Udon Thani, don’t forget to buy naem neung as a souvenir.