THE SPRING ROLLS IN VIETNAM
Why I ask, would you visit the historically colorful and culturally vivid nation of Vietnam and not tempt yourself with each and every dish available? Why not expand what you know of cuisine and alter your taste buds whilst feasting wholeheartedly on a splendid array of delectable food?
Challenging what I knew of Vietnamese cuisine, I took a personal interest in the national specialty; spring rolls, and, in my experience, rarely in travelling do expectations and reality intersect, let alone overwhelm, as did my discovery with this national specialty. What this little foodie discovered was sensational: whether it’s a seasonal accompaniment to ‘balance’ the meal, or house specialty, there’s literally a spring roll for every occasion in Vietnam.
From the deep South to the mountainous North, a roll filled with the grass roots of the local culture and environment are in splendid supply and like a moth to a flame, foodies from all corners visit and sample in hopes to discover the ‘one true’ recipe of the renowned Vietnamese spring roll. I, like many, was overwhelmed with the diversity of variations, and after many months and just as many attempts, feel safe in my discovery: the spring rolls every which way in Vietnam!
In the Southern regions there is a famous fried version with minced pork called cha gio, which isn’t to say that the fresh summer style roll is not also a popular style here, but the locals down in the Mekong Delta area have a ‘certain something’ when it comes to wrapping and frying the bite-size delicacies. Filled with pork, finely chopped ear-mushrooms and carrots, then wrapped in rice papers into a perfect ‘bite size’, and finally a ‘once over’ in the hot oil and served with a chili infused fish sauce. Simple, delectable and fresh, each time without fail!
This fantastic roll, imbued with regional elements and specific tastes, can be found nearly everywhere in Vietnam. Known as Ram in Central Vietnam, where whole shell-on shrimp are the main protein, or Nem Ran in the North, where the dipping sauce and glass noodles, stirred egg and the bean sprouts add to the texture and nibbling experience. In the North, the Nem Ran rolls are normally prepared with thinner, glass style rice paper, fried in 10cm or longer rolls, fried and then cut into three of four pieces for serving. And as I discovered, any Hanoian will tell you that the preferred and proper method of eating this roll is with a sweet and sour fish sauce and rice noodle.
Besides the fantastic fried Ram, the Central regions of Quang Nam Province have mastered the art of rolling the fresh and incredibly light Goi Cuon (summer roll). Goi Cuon is a fabulous break away from the fried versions and although is normally larger in size, is so light that I inevitably always consume more than I intend to. This roll is made from cooked chicken, small peeled, halved shrimp, fresh cilantro, mint, cucumber, bean sprouts and lettuce leaves all wrapped into a soft rice roll for immediate serve. Always fresh and never fails to amaze.
A proud roll
I found quite a bit of regional pride regarding the specifications and recipes of Hanoi Fried Nem. The Nem does have many similarities to the Ram in the central regions, but I couldn’t help to notice the crab-meat and minced pork addition; which was an oddly pleasant surprise. The Hanoi Fried Nem also included bean sprouts and rice vermicelli in some of the variations I sampled, as wells as a version of the traditional fish dipping sauce, but with a sprinkling of marinated papaya and carrots. Adding texture to the rolls, a side dish of fresh herbs and lettuce for additional wrapping after the frying, was served with each variation.
Many of my fondest travel memories revolve around food, and whilst on my roll revolving trip, I discovered a combination of roll that I was most fascinated with; Bò bía, which is a Northern style from Hanoi. It consists of stir-fried jicama (a sweet root veggie) and carrots in a shrimp and peanut infused oil, steamed and thinly sliced sausage, shredded scrambled eggs, basil, all wrapped with vermicelli noodle in a rice paper roll. The dipping sauce is a spicy peanut sauce with spice varying to the tastes of the maker. The rolls origins are from the Hokkien immigrants and the name Bò bía phonetically resembles its original name from the ancient language: popiah.
Like most of my experiences with Vietnamese food, it never fails to lead me down a pathway to the heart of each region, and with this spring roll discovery, I felt that it somehow acted as an agent of transformation- deepening my understanding for a lasting connection with the people, place and culture.
Source: Furama Resort Danang