Rice and rice-based foods are an essential part of a typical Vietnamese meal. In some signature dishes, vermicelli represents the grain; in others, rice appears in the form of rice paper, especially in the various versions of the wrap and roll.
Fried spring roll
This crispy dish, usually called nem ran, is among the most renowned in Vietnamese cuisine, and an essential feature of meals on important occasions. It has won the hearts of generations of Vietnamese with its savory taste.
A typical spring roll is made up of minced pork, egg, shredded carrot, shiitake mushroom, Jew's ear, vermicelli, and onion wrapped in rice paper. Other versions have crab, shrimp or snail fillings. One kind of nem ran is also wrapped in a square shape.
The dish is only complete with a unique dipping sauce made of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic and chilli. People usually enjoy fried spring rolls with rice vermicelli or rice.
In Hanoi, fried spring rolls are usually served in bun cha restaurants since the dish is often eaten with rice vermicelli. You should head to restaurants in the old quarter to find authentic fried spring rolls, especially on Ly Quoc Su, Hang Quat, Bui Thi Xuan, and Phu Dong Thien Vuong Streets.
As pho gains worldwide recognition, a sister of the dish takes a cooler form. In this cool dish, pho is not cut into strands but shaped into a thin rectangle. The filling includes stir-fried beef, lettuce and spicy greens, which are rolled in the smooth white pho paper. Some may say the dish resembles a bowl of pho without the broth, but the difference lies in the marinated beef. The beef in pho rolls is marinated and stir-fried, adding a salty twist to the rice and fresh greens.
The rolls are not complete without a sour, mild dipping sauce.
It is best to return to its home to enjoy this delicacy. Take a trip to Ngu Xa Street near the West Lake in Hanoi and enjoy the dish where it was invented. Many stalls on this street serve this dish at around VND10,000 (43 US cents) per roll.
Pork mixed with rice powder and fig leaves
The main component of the dish is boiled pig’s ear. The ear needs to be washed and boiled carefully and cut into very thin slices. The slicing is usually done with a very sharp knife since a thick slice of pig’s ear would be very tough to eat. The slices are then mixed with a kind of rice powder called thinh and some spices. The thinh gives the meat a very appetizing smell.
For pig’s ear roll, you can visit a restaurant at 35 Hang Thung Street or Thanh Cong Market in Hanoi. For pork rolls, you could go to street stalls on Ta Hien Street, Hang Bong Street or Tong Dan Street.
If you are hesitant to try pig’s ear, you could opt for pork mixed with rice powder. The formula for the roll remains unchanged: the rice paper is used to wrap the pork or pig’s ear together with fig leaves, pineapple, cucumber, and greens.
Grilled minced pork
Seasoned minced grilled pork is among the most delicious specialties of Vietnam. If you have a chance to visit one of Vietnam’s big cities, Hue or Hoi An, do not miss this delicacy.
Despite its delicious taste, the grilled pork does not shine on its own. The proper way to eat it is to roll it with cucumber and pineapple slices and veggies in a rice paper sheet. The dipping sauce is an indispensable part of the dish. Make sure to dip the roll in a mixture of soy sauce, ground pork liver and peanuts.
Banh xeo - Vietnamese pancake
Banh xeo is basically a pancake made from rice flour and coconut milk with a basic filling of prawns, bean sprouts and pork. The crispy cake gets its eye-catching yellow color from turmeric.
People are often mesmerized by its taste, but little do they know that banh xeo is a member of the roll family. For the central-region version of banh xeo in places like Da Nang City and Quang Nam Province, the pancake pieces are rolled with vegetables and fruit in rice paper, while Saigonese use mustard greens to wrap the cake.
You can enjoy banh xeo and grilled minced pork in most restaurants in the central region. In Hue, you can find several restaurants like the ones at 81 Dao Duy Tu Street and 35 Nguyen Truong To Street. In Da Nang, you can enjoy banh xeo and grilled pork at Alley 23, Hoang Dieu Street, and at 248 Trung Nu Vuong Street. In Hanoi, Doi Can Street is the place to go to with its several banh xeo restaurants.
Listed among the best dishes in the world, summer roll is a must-try among the Vietnamese rolls. The dish is available across the country, but arguably tastes best in Saigon.
The dish consists of vermicelli, steamed shrimps, steamed pork, cucumber slices and spicy vegetables rolled in moistened rice paper. The red shrimp and green vegetables under the transparent rice paper give the roll a flashy look.
You can find the best summer rolls in Saigon on Chau Van Liem Street, Vo Van Tan Street and Le Van Sy Street.
Popiah is without doubt a popular snack. The meat version comprises shredded sausage, fried eggs, carrots, lettuce, beans, dried shrimp, and herbs wrapped in rice paper. The dipping sauce is made up of chili sauce mixed with roasted peanuts and dried onions.
You can find popiah in street stalls on Nguyen Van Giai Street, An Duong Vuong Street, Tran Binh Trong Street and Cach Mang Thang Tam Street.
Sweet popiah is a popular street dessert. You can find it sold on bicycles by street vendors, especially in front of schools. The wrap is made of flour and sugar with crispy malt bar, shredded copra and some black sesame seeds inside. Sweet popiah is usually sold in mobile stalls, and so it is hard to pinpoint a definite address. However, it is easy to spot vendors in front of prominent high schools around the city.
Story by Bao Ngoc