the art of the vietnamese spring roll

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com

Spring rolls are nothing new or particular exciting …but then you have them in Vietnam. A staple in the country that made them famous, spring rolls can be found on every menu, and prepared in many different ways: fried, fresh, steamed, filled with some combination of meat, seafood, and veggies. The style differs depending on which part of the county you’re in.

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
Fresh “summer” rolls we had in Saigon, above

In Hoi An, a smaller city on the central coast, we took a cooking course and learned to make ram quang – a style of spring roll unique to central Vietnam. Ram quang are traditionally filled with whole shell-on shrimp, pork and spring onion, then deep fried. I usually avoid deep fried things but these rolls paired with zesty Vietnamese dipping sauce are somehow still so light and refreshing!
The ones we made pictured below:

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com

Before the cooking began, we were taken on a tour of the “herb village” (a tourist destination it seems but also apparently where all the chefs buy herbs they use to cook with) and then the city’s main market.

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
Mornings begin early, as women flock to the market to sell and buy the day’s produce.

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
Only women though. Men, evidently, aren’t as good at bargaining so they leave the women to do the job. Fisherman sleep while their wives sell their catch from the day.

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
The freshest shrimp

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
Gorgeous squid…found in many Vietnamese dishes, usually steamed

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
Bananas, coconut, ginger and greens…popular ingredients

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
And then there’s the meat…no part goes unused

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com

Anywho, I could post market pictures for days (the colors!) BUT time to get back to the spring rolls…Alyssa and I agreed the ones we made in class were the best we’d ever tasted. And quite easy to make…once you master the delicate art of rolling them. The chef had us roll so many and critiqued each one til we got it down.

VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS – recipe & directions

Before you begin, assemble the ingredients:
rice paper, pork (shoulder ideally, thinly sliced), shrimp, spring onion (the last 3 should be cut in strips of equal-ish length), shallots (chopped), garlic (chopped), red chill pepper (chopped), pepper, chicken powder (I gather this is like bouillon), cilantro (as a garnish), vegetable oil for frying

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
Beautiful, lacy rice paper is a must

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
1. season pork and shrimp in a plate, one batch at a time. combine one piece pork, one shrimp, 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp shallots, 1 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp chicken powder. stir to coat them all in the seasonings.

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
2. rice paper rolling time. there’s an art to the roll. first place rice paper on a damp paper towel so that you can work with it. position pork and lemongrass down on the front end of the rice paper. roll once, fold over one side, then add the shrimp. shrimp end sticks out for presentation and so you don’t eat the tail. fold over the other side. roll tightly.

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
A few tips:
+use a damp cloth to wet the rice paper first so it’s more flexible
+all fillings should be about the same length so you don’t have parts with mostly rice wrapper
+make sure that the shrimp tail sticks out of the roll (for nice presentation and also for holding)

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
3. heat vegetable oil in deep pan, on medium heat. there should be enough oil should to cover the spring rolls (~2-3 inches).

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
4. place rolls in oil, fold side down, one by one. after 1.5 minutes, turn heat up to high to finish the cooking. rolls are done when golden brown. place on paper towel to cool off when they’re done. one thing to note- before adding a new batch of spring rolls, you need to turn heat back down to low-medium. if the oils too not when you place the roll in, the rice paper gets fried and crinkly (like below)

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
5. plate with dipping sauce. add cilantro for color! plating is an art too. if two rolls, stack one vertically on top of the other. if 3, arrange in a fan. (apparently)

As for the sauce, there is one basic sauce/dressing/marinade recipe that the Vietnamese will use for most everything. It’s a salty sweet and spicy sauce that, if watered down a bit, is also used as a dipping sauce – the perfect accompaniment to spring rolls.

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
VIETNAMESE DIPPING SAUCE

//ingredients:
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp lime
1 tsp sugar
chili pepper and garlic to taste
2 parts water (if making a dipping sauce)

the art of the vietnamese spring roll // kitschandcamera.com
//directions:
combine the above in a small bowl, making sure to dissolve the sugar. It keeps up to 1 week.

Hoi An, Vietnam has to be one of the most picturesque cities in Southeast Asia. Buildings shine in deep golden yellow, and colorful paper lanterns dot the trees. The river, which slices the city in half, brims with a calming energy – fishermen earning their living and musicians playing on boat-bars and children selling bright paper lanterns. It was a nice change of pace from motorbike-crazy Hanoi. Plus- it’s a bit of a foodie mecca, with nearly every restaurant and hotel offering cooking classes.

hoi an, vietnam // kitschandcamera.com
We opted for a cooking course through our swanky (birthday-present-to-me) hotel in Hoi An–called Essence. We had a private session with the head chef, who focused on showing us how to make Vietnamese food that we could easily bring back home…using basic ingredients and techniques. Once I hunt down some Vietnamese fish sauce (which is used in EVERYTHING here), I’ll be good to go.
I really hope I can replicate this back home.

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