I had the luxury of growing up with an adopted Vietnamese brother, Tao. Later in my life, I would realize that growing up with him and the food he exposed my family to were some of my first real and most memorable ethnic food experiences. A few times a year, we would go his extended family’s home and make hundreds and hundreds of egg rolls. The egg roll-making process was an all-day affair, the women of the group would make the filling, and the rest of the group, about twelve of us, would roll and roll and roll. As with most things, the first few didn’t turnout as desired and were destined for the fryer as test batches. Once you get the hang of assembling egg rolls, you can produce approximately 100 an hour.
What makes a Vietnamese egg roll different from Chinese egg roll? Egg rolls of the Vietnamese persuasion are mostly protein (pork) with a little cabbage and mushroom thrown in for depth of flavor. Chinese-style rolls are mostly cabbage, twice the size and much heavier. But, the ultimate difference is in the wrapper. Chinese versions use a thick and heavy, almost dumpling-like egg and flour wrapper. Vietnamese rolls use lumpia wrappers, a Filipino product, which are very light and based from cornstarch, water, and flour. Lumpia wrappers are sold at most Asian groceries; we get ours at Shuang-Hur on Nicollet Avenue. The lumpia wrapper tends to hold very little fryer oil, and the taste of the filling comes through cleanly (well, as cleanly as something that’s deep fried can).
The dipping sauce, nuoc cham, is another key ingredient to the Vietnamese egg roll experience. Nuoc cham is a fish sauce-based dip, is very light, and enhances the flavor, whereas the generally cloying sweet-and-sour sauce for the Chinese variety makes the roll taste like, well, sweet-and-sour sauce. Below is my recipe for Vietnamese egg rolls with nuoc cham. Substitutions can be made at your own risk!
Vietnamese Egg Rolls
Makes about 24
1 lb. ground pork
1 c. shredded cabbage
1/2 c. shredded carrot
1/2 pack rice vermicelli-soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
1/2 c. black fungus-rehydrated or fresh if available
2 T. good oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee Premium, in the tall slender bottle)
2 t. ground pepper
2 t. salt
1 pack Simex Lumpia wrappers
Water and a pastry brush for sealing the wrappers
Canola or peanut oil for frying
Julienne black fungus, and cut rice noodles into 3-inch pieces then mix with carrots, cabbage, oyster sauce, salt, and pepper—let stand for 1 hour. After resting, squeeze as much moisture out of the vegetable mix as possible. Mix with the pork, and sauté a little portion to check your seasoning. If satisfactory, start rolling. The directions for rolling are on the back of the lumpia package. Fry at 300 degrees for approximately 5 minutes or until the sizzling has subsided—make sure your rolls are cooked through. Serve with Boston lettuce leaves (for wrapping the rolls) and nuoc cham. These freeze wonderfully for later use.
1/4 c. lime juice
1/4 c. fish sauce (I use Three Crabs Brand)
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. warm water
1/2 Serrano chili sliced
1/4 clove of minced garlic
Mix all together and stir until the sugar dissolves. Serve.