Our arrival in Vietnam was a multitude of firsts. After a long, fascinating but what seemed interminable flight, where I did not sleep a wink we landed at Ton Son Nhut Airbase outside of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. Stepping foot onto the soil of not just another state but another country with entirely new sights, sounds, culture and food. A ride in a 1950’s black Mercedes Sedan with driver, was impressive, mostly because of the drivers courteous manner. He quickly loaded all of our worldly belongings into the trunk of the car and we were thrown into the hustle and bustle of Saigon 1963. The Quiet American filmed in Saigon is very reminiscent of the sights and sounds I experienced on that first ride in downtown Saigon traffic, bicyclists, motorcyclist and pedicabs.
All of these moments memorable in their own right.
Our temporary housing was directly off the Square where a few days earlier angry protesters had toppled the Statue of the Trung Sisters carrying a likeness of Madame Nhu and her sisters. This was a historic site, however it quickly became part of the busy landscape. We arrived at our apartment, greeted by a young girl not much older than my oldest sister (she was 15). She helped us put away our belongings, freshen up and sit down to our first meal in our new home. It was mid afternoon the humidity had made itself known as an unrelenting element and the fans throughout the apartment whirred expectantly. As Tien wearing what I later found out were her work clothes, which consisted of black loose cotton pants over a fitted top with a “chinese collar” and a long layer of fabric in the front and back called a bao dia introduced each of us to the methods needed to enjoy the meal properly, it was as if the skies had opened up and angels began to sing as I tasted my first my first Vietnamese egg roll. I dipped the Chả giò into the Nhuc Cham and did not stop until I had successively (as history now has determined) eaten 14 of these delectable rolls. Let me describe this delicacy. The main structure of a roll of chả giò is commonly seasoned ground meat and diced vegetables such as carrots, kolrabi, rolled up in a sheet of moist rice paper. The roll is then deep-fried until the rice paper coat turns crispy and golden brown. The ingredients are not fixed. The most commonly used meat is pork, but one can also use crab, shrimp, chicken and tofu. If diced carrots and jicama are used, the stuffing is a bit crunchy, matching the crispy fried rice paper, but the juice from these vegetables can cause the rolls to soften after a short time. One may also include bean sprouts and/or rice vermicelli. Eggs and various spices can be added to one’s preference. Sometimes, the ingredients can include Julienned taro root and carrots if jicama cannot be found. Taro roots give it a fatty and crunchy taste. I later learned how immodest it was of me to have eaten such an enormous portion of this treat in one seating and also learned that when you over indulge in something you often lose your taste for it forever. I don’t think I ate another chả giò the entire time I lived in Vietnam. Tien became my friend for a short time and taught me much about her culture and her food. What an auspicious beginning.
Cha gio – Vietnamese Fried Spring Roll
active time: 1 3/4 hr
total time: 1 3/4 hr
For nuoc cham dipping sauce
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 fresh Thai chiles (2 to 3 inches; preferably red; including seeds), thinly sliced crosswise
For spring rolls
- 1 medium shallot ( minced)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 cups grated carrots (4 to 5 carrots)
- 1/2 lb ground pork shoulder
- 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
- 1/8 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 lb shrimp in shell, peeled and deveined
- 25 (8-inch) spring roll pastry wrappers made with
- 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten (use to close pastry wrappers)
- About 4 cups vegetable oil (peanut is customary)
- Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer
- Accompaniments: lettuce leaves and fresh mint and cilantro leaves
Make dipping sauce:
Stir together sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Stir in remaining sauce ingredients, then chill, covered, at least 2 hours.
Pulse shallot and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped, then add to noodles along with carrots, pork, fish sauce, sugar, pepper, and salt. Pulse shrimp in processor until coarsely ground. (Do not over process or it will become pasty.) Add shrimp to noodle mixture. Mix with your hands until well combined. Chill filling, covered with plastic wrap, until cold.
Line tray with wax paper.
Transfer one-fourth of filling to a small bowl and keep remainder chilled, covered. Place 1 wrapper on a work surface, keeping remaining wrappers covered with a clean kitchen towel (to prevent them from drying out). Place mixture in center of wrapper folder top edge over, fold in sides.Dab bottom edge with yolk, then roll up wrapper towards you into a long thin roll, making sure ends stay tucked inside. Place on a tray, seam side down. Make more rolls in same way with remaining wrappers and filling, keeping trays of rolls chilled, loosely covered, until ready to fry.
Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a 6-quart pot over moderately high heat until it registers 365°F on thermometer. Fry rolls in batches of 5 or 6, keeping rolls apart during first minute of frying to prevent sticking, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. (Return oil to 365°F between batches.) Transfer as fried to a colander lined with paper towels and drain rolls upright 2 to 3 minutes. To eat, wrap hot or warm rolls in lettuce leaves and tuck in mint and cilantro leaves. Serve with dipping sauce.
Adapted from Epicurus .com recipe