How to make Vietnamese Spring Rolls Summer Rolls
Vietnamese cuisine is amongst the most delicious in the world. It is also amongst the prettiest. While most people think of spring rolls as being deep-fried, gỏi cuốn are actually served cold – at room temperature. In Western countries they are referred to as spring rolls, salad rolls or even summer rolls. They have slightly different names depending on the region of Vietnam: they are gỏi cuốn, meaning salad rolls in the south and nem cuốn in the north. Apparently they are called “rice paper” rolls in the central regions of the country, which is a simple description but accurate.
Gỏi cuốn comprise cold vermicelli noodles, salad, protein such as prawns or pork and herbs all wrapped up in rice paper, known as bánh tráng. They are usually served with a dipping sauce. Unlike fried spring rolls, these are really fresh and, like so much of Vietnamese food, full of flavour.
Makes 12 rolls
For the Rolls
Rice paper wrappers (you can get these from Asian supermarkets)
100g vermicelli rice noodles
36 king prawns (3 per roll, or one more each if you are feeling greedy), cooked and peeled.
Shredded lettuce or cabbage
Handful of fresh mint and/or coriander (or a herb of your choice)
For the Dipping Sauce
2 tbs sweet chilli sauce
Juice of ½ a lime
Splash of fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians)
HOW TO MAKE VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS METHOD
Prepare the noodles. Pour boiling water over the vermicelli and leave for 5-7 minutes until they are soft. Drain and allow to cool.
Prepare the filling. Shred the lettuce/cabbage.
Finely slice the carrot. There is a tool that you can buy easily in South East Asia which is a little like a vegetable peeler that juliennes the carrot. If you don’t have one of those you could use a mandolin. And if you don’t have a mandolin a grater will do just fine.
The packaging on the paper skins – and many other recipes – states that you only have to soak them in warm water for a couple of seconds. We found that actually some of them need quite a bit longer soaking time. (And some just didn’t go soft at all- those should be discarded, these are not crunchy rolls and will not only not taste very nice, they will have a horrid texture and be really difficult to roll.)
When the paper is super-soft and totally translucent take it from the water and lay it flat on a clean surface. The skins are much more robust than they appear.
Start placing your filling onto the paper. You want to place it around 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up from the bottom of the paper and leave about 2 cm space on each side. Because the papers are partially transparent you can take your time to make the rolls look pretty. To do this make sure that the colourful items such as the prawns, herbs (try to keep the leaves whole for extra prettiness) or carrot are on the bottom of the pile, so that they can be seen through the wrapper.
Add a small handful of vermicelli, remembering that less is more – you don’t want to overstuff the rolls.
Variation: We also added some slices of home-made pickled garlic to some of the rolls to add an extra zingy flavour.
Now the tricky bit: the rolling of the rolls. It’s not as difficult as it might appear. Firstly, pull the filling together and fold the bottom of the paper over it, pressing gently into the filling so that the wrapping is tight.
Next, fold each side in towards the centre of the wrapper to form a little parcel.
Then roll forwards to complete the spring roll, trying to keep the filling inside as tight as possible. The paper is soft so will stick at the end easily. When the rolling is completed, keep the seam on the underside which will also help it stick.
There are a variety of dipping sauces. A popular one is hoisin and crushed peanuts but we made a sweet chilli dipping sauce.
We used sweet chilli sauce, half a lime and a splash of fish sauce to give us that characteristic sweet, sour, salt and spice flavour. Just mix the ingredients together in a bowl. Then it was simply a case of serving the rolls, dipping and enjoying.
How to make Vietnamese spring rolls summer rolls
These are some of the tools and ingredients we used to make the summer rolls:
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We were in our favourite local Vietnamese restaurant recently and, while eating a delicious bowl of Bún Bò Chân Giò Huế – Beef, Pork Hock, Meat Balls in a vermicelli noodle soup (Bún means vermicelli and the dish originated in Huế, a coastal city in central Vietnam that used to be its capital), the restaurant staff brought out a jar containing pickled garlic to be used as a condiment. It was delicious – it added another dimension to the dish – a zap of sour garlic with just a hint of spice from the chilli infused vinegar. It’s a really popular condiment and apparently some of the restaurant’s customers will devour the whole jar when it’s brought to the table. We figured it probably wasn’t too difficult to make ourselves so we did some experimenting and, indeed, it’s a really easy recipe.
We had grown a bunch of garlic earlier in the year – planted in the late autumn we harvested it mid-summer. We also have a habit of keeping empty jars for preserving purposes, so had most of the ingredients and equipment to hand. It’s very flexible to make and the quantities in the recipe really depend on the size of your container. You will need a clean empty jar – you can use any old jar. Just wash it out thoroughly and fill it with boiling water, which will make sure it’s clean enough to store pickles, then let it cool down. Our jar was around 300 ml capacity.
Several bulbs of garlic (the quantity will depend on how large the bulbs are and how finely you wish to slice it)
Two red chillies
White vinegar (you can use rice vinegar if you are feeling decadent but the garlic has a strong flavour and we feel it would dominate the subtle flavour of the rice vinegar)
2tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt.
Peeling the garlic is the most time-consuming part of this job. Garlic is one of the stickiest substances known to human kind but you don’t realise this until you start peeling lots of it.
Once peeled, you have a number of choices. You can keep the garlic cloves whole, you can slice them with a knife or you can slice them wafer-thin using a mandolin. We prefer the very thinly sliced garlic because when you add it as a condiment the flavour enhances rather than dominates the food.
If using a mandolin, be really careful. Being clumsy cooks, we use a knife glove which means that you can slice the garlic very close to the blade without risking sliced fingers. Bloody garlic pickle is not a good idea.
Place the sliced garlic, slice the chillies and add everything to the jar.
Top up with the vinegar. Add the sugar and salt.
Shake the jar.
Leave to infuse for at least a week. The pickled garlic will last for months… but is likely to get scoffed much sooner. Also, because the vinegar is acidic you can add additional sliced garlic or another chilli as you use up the existing condiment.
Although this dish goes really well with Phở and Bún Huế dishes, we’ve also used it to add a bit of zing to Vietnamese summer rolls.
And this condiment isn’t just for Vietnamese cookery. We use this pickle to garnish soups – this is a home-made vegetable soup.
Or it can be used in a meat dish – these are glazed pork belly bites. Just a slice or two atop really cuts through the richness of the meat.
This is the mandolin we use. It’s adjustable so you can get different thicknesses of slicing and you can julienne vegetables as well. The cut-resistant knife gloves are excellent and have saved us from multiple sliced fingers over the years.
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….And Why It’s Often Okay to Go Off-Menu When Travelling
Many years ago we were excitedly choosing all sorts of delicacies at the breakfast buffet at our hotel in Yerevan, Armenia, when another guest glanced at our plates, shrivelled their noses in a very patronising manner and exclaimed, “Ugh! Salad? For breakfast?” It’s widely considered to be most important meal of the day but so many people seem to be set in their ways when it comes to eating a hearty breakfast. So much that hotels all over the world seem to offer pretty much the same fare. Western visitors are often offered fried food such as bacon, sausage and eggs with bread-based accompaniments and Eastern visitors are usually offered rice or noodle dishes. All these dishes are generally familiar to the tourist and often don’t reflect the traditional breakfasts of the country they are visiting. Here are some of the world’s best breakfasts.
Maybe it’s because people don’t feel so adventurous first thing in the morning, and that’s fair enough, but they may be missing out. Thing is, we’re British and can have bacon and eggs any time we like. (Although, to be honest, we haven’t cooked a fry-up for years as it’s quite a lot of effort.) We’d much rather eat a typical breakfast using local ingredients from the country that we are visiting.
It’s quite common for hotels to ask their guests to pre-order breakfast. It makes sense, they know what they need to order in beforehand and this can help minimise food waste. There is usually a form with tick boxes and you can choose from a variety of typical breakfast offerings. But if you do want to eat like a local, we’ve learned that many hotel restaurants are happy to cook you a regional breakfast. We’ve discovered that very often it’s absolutely okay to go off menu.
It all started in Uganda when we breakfasted at a lodge with a local guide. We were eating standard fare but our curiosity was piqued when something entirely different was brought out for him. On asking, we learned that it was a rolex – a chapati with a layer of omelette on top, then rolled into a spiral cylinder, perfect for munching on. So the next day we asked the lodge staff if it would be possible for us to have a rolex for brekkie and they were happy to oblige. It’s great – tasty and filling – a good start to the day.
In Nepal we were given a standard pre-order form to complete (eggs, bacon, sausage, toast…) to pre-order breakfast for the following morning. We politely asked whether it was possible to have a local breakfast instead. We didn’t specify any dish – just asked for local food. They were delighted. The following morning we were served a marsala omelette accompanied by a joyous curry and roti with home-made yoghurt. It was delicious.
One of the world’s best breakfasts is gallo pinto from Costa Rica. It’s so popular it is often eaten for lunch and dinner as well. Which is just as well because it tastes great and is also really healthy. It comprises rice and beans and is usually accompanied by a fried egg at breakfast. Other accompaniments to start the morning include sausage, fried potatoes and some salad.
A dosa for breakfast in South India is an absolute joy. This is a pancake traditionally made from rice and dal (lentils) which are ground to form a batter and then fermented. The batter is cooked on a hot plate to form a large pancake and served with chutney – coriander, coconut and tomato are particularly popular.
In Vietnam breakfast usually took a buffet form but often there were chefs on-hand to cook some food to order. We were always offered Pho – a tangle of noodles, freshly cooked and served in a yummy broth, topped with meat and vegetables. You pick up a side plate and add herbs, chilli, limes and other delicious items so that you can create your own personalised taste sensation. The liquid of the broth also ensured that we were thoroughly hydrated for the day ahead.
Japan also offers some of the world’s best breakfasts. A Japanese brekkie often comprises grilled fish, vegetables and pickles, maybe with tofu, dumpling and an omelette.
These are accompanied with a bowl of rice, into which you could crack a raw egg mixed with shoyu (soy sauce) – the egg sort of cooks in the heat of the rice – or that famous smelly fermented soybean concoction, natto, maybe with some sliced negi (similar to spring onion). Just grab a slice of nori (dried seaweed), place it over the rice, then using a pincer movement with your chopsticks grab a portion of rice with the nori. Scrumptious. (It’s worth noting that if you are at a breakfast buffet in Japan the eggs on offer may well be raw – be careful when cracking them.)
World’s Best Breakfasts – Back At Home
And, of course, whenever we are staying away from home in the UK, we’ll always have an honest-to-goodness fry-up. Sausage, bacon, egg (usually fried, poached or scrambled), black pudding, mushroom, tomato, beans and sometime a hash brown are the usual components.
We recently discovered that the best possible place for a full English breakfast that we’ve ever eaten is actually in our home town. While many top breakfast establishments boast locally sourced food (which is, of course, delicious), The Gourmet Food Kitchen in Fargo Village, Coventry go one step further and actually cure their own bacon and make their own sausages and black pudding. And that’s just the start: The hash brown (never the most fabulous component of breakfasts) is a home-made bubble and squeak, a glorious blend of fried potato and cabbage. The beans have never seen a tin – they are home-made baked beans in a rich tomato sauce. Chef Tony even makes his own rich, tangy and utterly delicious brown sauce to accompany the feast.
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Moo Larb is the perfect dish for a hot summer’s day. It’s incredibly easy to make and really refreshing. It’s kind of a meat salad which hails from South East Asia; we first tried it in Lao but have also eaten it in Thailand, and quickly became hooked. Even better, all the ingredients are really easy to find in our home country. There’s a tiny bit of preparation needed prior to assembling the dish, so worth thinking about making it ahead of time. The following recipe will easily feed four as a starter or two hungry people.
300g pork mince. Chicken mince also works really well and quorn mince provides a nice vegetarian alternative. Lamb isn’t recommended as it’s quite fatty and the fat tends to congeal a little which doesn’t provide a very nice texture.
1 large red onion (or 2 small)
Generous handful of fresh mint
Generous handful of fresh coriander
Freshly milled black pepper
Generous splash of fish sauce (vegetarians can use veggie fish sauce or a combination of soy sauce and vinegar) – around half a tablespoon
Optional: chilli flakes, toasted rice, teaspoon of sugar, Thai basil leaves for garnish
You need to allow enough time for the mince to cook and cool before assembling the dish. Its’ the perfect ‘make in advance’ dish.
Cook the mince. Pour a little oil into a pan and fry until the meat is cooked through. Allow it to cool.
Finely chop the onion, coriander and mint.
Add the fish sauce, lime juice and black pepper to taste. We really like coarsely ground black pepper so grind ours in a pestle and mortar. This is really where you can adapt the flavour to your personal taste.
Mix well. Serve with steamed rice and a salad garnish.
There are some variations. If you like heat, add chilli flakes (flakes are better than fresh chilli). This was one of the dishes we had in Lao that wasn’t searingly hot, the spice coming from the pepper rather than chilli, but it’s fine to add more heat if you like it. If you’d like to add some sweetness, sprinkle in a little sugar and mix in. There is also a variation where you can add roasted ground rice powder for an additional nutty complexity to the flavour and texture. It’s very simple: place a handful of uncooked Thai rice in a dry frying pan and roast the rice for 10 minutes or so, until the rice is brown. Then transfer to a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder and grind to a powder.
(You can actually toast more rice to make a greater quantity of this powder; it will keep for a couple of months in an airtight container.)
One of the most striking things that the first time visitor to Vietnam will notice, from the moment you exit the airport arrivals area, is the sheer number of scooters. Motorcycles are the preferred means of transportation for local people – they are cheap, convenient and can carry entire families if needed. It is estimated that there are around 45 million scooters on the road in a country of around 92 million people. It is impossible to visit any city in Vietnam without seeing – and hearing – masses of motorbikes at all times of the day and night.
While they are clearly a hugely convenient mode of transport they do present something of a challenge for tourists who want to cross the road. And most tourists do want to cross the road at some point, otherwise they would only be able to turn left and walk around the block. Or turn right and walk around the block the other way. Which would be sad as there are so many amazing sights in Vietnamese cities it would be a shame only to see the sights of a single block of buildings.
There are two possible courses of action.
Option 1: See if you can spot a local person who wants to cross the road at roughly the same point on the street that you do. Saunter up to them (without appearing to be creepy, of course), get as close as you can (definitely without appearing to be creepy) alongside them whilst maintaining an appropriate distance and preferably downstream of the traffic direction. Follow them. Try to appear nonchalant.
Option 2: Go it alone. You can do it. There is a convention to crossing the road:
Try to find a suitable crossing point. There are zebra crossings. Be aware that even though there is a crossing, the traffic won’t actually stop. Look purposeful. Develop an expression that says you REALLY want to cross the road. Hold your arm out and wave it slowly up and down. This will signal to the motorcyclists that you are planning to cross.
Take a deep breath, wait for the most appropriate gap in the traffic and step out slowly. Walk forward with arm outstretched. You might need to stop as a scooter goes past in front of you, but that’s fine.
THE GOLDEN RULE IS: NEVER STEP BACK. EVER.
Once you are committed, you have to cross. If you are in the middle of the road, there will be motorcyclists riding behind you. If you step backwards you have a very good chance of hitting one or being hit.
Just keep calm and keep crossing. The traffic will just carry on around you.
Here’s a video to show the full road-crossing experience. Please note that the camerawork won’t be winning any awards, we felt that staying alive whilst crossing took priority.
Viet Pho (Phở) is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. Its pronunciation is like the French word, feu (fire), which is appropriate because it’s thought that the name derives from the term ‘pot au feu’, or French beef stew. It’s so good that you can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or indeed breakfast, lunch and dinner if you feel so inclined. Yes, we did. In Vietnam it is primarily a breakfast dish – healthy and hearty – it truly sets you up for the day ahead.
Vietnam is a country of contrasts. Hanoi in the north could not be more different than Ho Chi Min City (still frequently referred to as Saigon) in the south.
The cuisine of the north and south reflects this difference as well. Food from northern Vietnam is subtle with a balance of flavours, whereas southern dishes are often more spicy. And even though regional variations exist, phở can be found all over the country. Viet Phở is a noodle soup – soft rice noodles served in a warm, very slightly spicy, bone broth with thin slices of meat such as beef (phở bò) and chicken (phở gà) – and is the ultimate comfort food.
The soup is meant to be drunk. Like Japanese ramen the broth is absolutely key to the flavour. The best broths will have been simmered for hours. A beef stock will use the bones, a chicken stock often uses an entire chicken. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves may add a subtle heat in addition to flavour. The soup should be clear.
The noodles are soft but with a bit of bite. They are cooked separately inside a wire basket that is plunged into boiling water for a few minutes. These are then added to the serving bowl before the broth and meat are added.
One of the best things about phở is that you can flavour it to your own taste. Alongside each nourishing bowl of phở a plate containing all sorts of potential flavours and textures will be served. Want heat? Add chilli (the smaller the chilli, the hotter the spice). Like sour flavours? Squeeze in some lime juice.
Texture and crunch? Add beansprouts or spring onion. More flavour? You’ll be offered a variety of aromatic herbs, commonly coriander, holy basil and mint which can be added in whichever ratio you desire.
But the key is making sure that you taste the broth before you start wading in with additional garnishes. And, while Vietnamese phở restaurants in other countries often offer sauces such as hoisin or chilli to add to the soup, it is unlikely that you would ever see this in Vietnam. It would be a shame to add sauce which detracts from the delicate flavour of the broth.
You eat phở using chopsticks to pick up the meat and noodles. There is usually a spoon available to sip the broth. Actually, it’s okay to bring the bowl to your lips and drink directly from it. Slurping is fine. For British people who were brought up to believe that it’s rude to slurp your soup, it’s actually quite difficult to do this without spilling the broth or accidentally spluttering! Another side effect of consuming so much phở was that we were kept well hydrated in the warm, humid climate.