When I was studying overseas, the school had yearly cultural diversification day where each race and culture get to dress up in their national costume, introduce their music, art and cuisine. It was never a doubt that we would dress up in traditional Ao Dai, blasting the latest Vietnamese pop music and inviting schoolmates to try fried spring rolls. Without fail, our crispy Vietnamese spring rolls were always a hit. Everyone, from fellow friends to teachers to parents, loved a bite of crunchy savoury comforting yet feeling wholesome taste of our spring rolls. It impressed others even more when there were so many ingredients packed in a delicately rolled rice paper.
Despite its apparent complicated appearance, spring rolls were the easiest thing for us to do, with affordable ingredients while achieving maximum impressive factor. I got so many requests after these events to guide our friends in making these delicious little spring rolls.
In Vietnam, spring rolls are typically served in big family gathering because of its ease to prepare beforehand while being well-loved by adults and children alike. In festivity time like Tet (Lunar New Year), national day gathering, or family meet up, my moms are always busy with so many things that she chooses to roll them up days before, puts it in the fridge and fries them only when needed. It helps saves her so much time to do other things.
She also manages to trick my brother into eating vegetables in those spring rolls because the shell is so crunchy and delicious, he thinks it contains only rice paper and meat. As a matter of fact, there are so many types of vegetables packed in a spring roll than any other dish. So if you have a picky eater with vegetables, spring rolls are perfect solutions.
Crispy Vietnamese spring rolls are typically enjoyed with a little bit of diluted fish sauce, eaten along with some rice noodles and fresh herbs. We call that “Bun Nem” or “rice noodle spring rolls”. This is easily a one person meal when you have some leftover spring rolls from a family gathering days before. If eaten in a group lunch or dinner, it is usually served as an add on snack before the main dishes like hot pot or grilled meat are served. You can sometimes find it on an altar as offerings for ancestors because it is so delicious, it is best to serve our dead ancestors.
The ingredients of spring rolls include a healthy balance of protein, carbs and vegetables. I find that the perfect ratio is always 1 to 1. This means whichever ingredients you put in, they are in one unit of measurement. The meat in spring rolls are typically pork as a base. We love to put in some unshelled shrimp or crab meat to add a seafood sweetness dimension. If you are allergic, it is completely normal to exclude the seafood.
For vegetables, we like to keep them balance in colour. Some red in carrots, some white in bean sprouts, some green from spring onions, some yellow from onion, some brown from shiitake and wood ear mushrooms. There are arguably many variations of THE BEST spring rolls filling from each family. For my family, the secret ingredient is jicama. Why? Because it adds another dimension of refreshing juiciness to the spring roll. I like to eat them raw when there are extra on the table because it helps with your complexion. Double benefits I would say.
While the filling is the essence of spring rolls, the rice paper roll can make or break the end result. Unfortunately not all rice paper is created equal. Within Vietnam, the rice paper you buy in the North will make your roll “Nem Ran” while the one from the South will turn it into “Cha Gio”. Pain-in-the-ass Hanoian like myself would deem a “Cha Gio” unworthy and is a completely different dish than “Nem Ran”. Many would find it to be the same.
The big health question always comes up: but deep fried is not healthy! That is true but considering your frequency in eating it, it is very minimal. For me deep frying is not a health issue, it is a waste issue. To completely deep fried spring rolls, you need TONS of oil. And what can you do with it after? Nothing because you don’t want to keep eating fried food and reusing fried oil is deadly. So as a seasoned spring roll fryer, I give myself the liberty of not deep frying but instead having just enough oil to fry half of the spring roll surface then flip when it is done. It is still crunchy, just less golden evenly in colour like it would in deep frying. I can make that sacrifice rather than dumping 2 liter of oil away.
I hope this covers the essentials of crispy Vietnamese spring rolls. If you have any questions, hit me up or share with me your version of fried Vietnamese spring rolls!
For the fillings:
1 carrot – shredded
1 jimaca – shredded
1 handful of bean sprouts
1 handful of glass noodles – soak in cold water for 10 minutes, cut in 1-finger length
1 handful of shiitake mushroom – soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, slice in long strand
1 handful of ear wood mushroom – soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, slice in long strand
1 handful of dice spring onion
1 onion – slice in long strand
0.2kg Minced pork
0.2kg minced shrimps or crab meat (optional)
1 big egg
1 pinch of salt and pepper
For the shell: 20 – 30 rice paper for wrapping (can have more if need be)
- Mix all fillings ingredients together into a sticky mixture
- Take small amount, equal to 2 finger size filling onto a rice paper. Make sure the rice paper is soft enough to roll. If it is too hard, dab on a little cold water to soften it.
- Roll all fillings in rice paper
- Pour sufficient amount of oil onto the frying pan. Make sure the oil is well heated.
- Adjust temperature to medium heat before frying spring roll
- Ensure spring rolls are evenly coloured.
- Serve with rice noodle or eat alone with fish sauce. Enjoy!