The northern port city of Hai Phong is home to several delicious dishes, among them is nem cua be (crab spring rolls), which has become so renowned that sometimes the city is identified by this dish.
Crab meat is filled in spring rolls to make the dish which is dipped in fish sauce and served with fresh vegetables and herbs.
There are myriad versions of fried nem around the country but it is unique in Hai Phong where the spring roll is rather large and square and not the traditional small cylinder.
Since it is the size of a human palm, it is much harder to make it with a solid cover that remains crispy after being fried.
The cook will have to consider very carefully what kind of rice paper to use -- it should be elastic enough so it can endure the process of rolling and frying.
What about the crab part? It must be sea crab from the city, which is praised for its sweet and firm meat though Hai Phong crabs are a bit smaller than those caught elsewhere.
And the crustacean used to make this dish must have eggs which are said to make the rolls tasty and sweeter.
To make good spring rolls, a good cook usually selects large crabs weighing 0.6-0.8 kilograms. The other essential ingredients are fragrant mushroom, Judas's ear fungus, vermicelli, carrot, bean sprout, green onion, pork, egg yolk, pepper, and other spices.
The use of all these delicious ingredients means it is no exaggeration to call nem cua be a delicacy of mountain fragrances and sea tastes.
The stuffing is a mixture of all of them but it also requires skill to make the square rolls using thin rice sheets.
The spring rolls are frequently turned over in the oil until they turn yellow and brittle.
A simple but decisive factor in a good nem cua be dish is the sauce, which provides a lip-smacking dip for the crab rolls and also enables cooks to create their own, unique styles.
The main ingredient of the sauce is fish sauce. It is diluted with cool water, vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, and sugar, while pepper or chili is also added often.
The sauce can be made in many different ways but it must be a good mixture of all tastes -- sour, spicy, salty, and sweet.
The spring rolls are then chopped into four, arranged on a plate, and decorated with green vegetables and herbs. They are best when eaten hot and with bun (rice vermicelli).
In HCMC, a popular nem cua be restaurant is located at 15E Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. In Hanoi there is one at 123 Bui Thi Xuan Street.