Oh, the joys of the chả giò.
Vietnam’s fried spring rolls have been on Calla’s mind for a while now. We’ve made the fresh version of spring rolls at home many times. In fact, they are something of a specialty of Calla’s. She even made them for Christmas dinner one year. But we’ve never even attempted the fried version. They just seemed out of our league.
I ought to be a pro at frying things, being a nice Southern girl and all. But I tend to get the oil too hot and burn things, or it’s not hot enough and it soaks up too much grease.
That’s what always amazes me about the chả giò here: they are always just right. First, there’s the crunch of the rice paper, just scooped out of its oily sizzle with barely a drip of grease released on first bite. Then the crisp/tender vegetables (for we always go vegetarian here) whose flavors mix so well mixed it is impossible to discern a single ingredient. And the dipping sauce – sometimes sweet, sometimes acidic and spicy – just begs for another dunk. Somehow there is always just the right amount of sauce for the rolls. This is science.
For our science lesson today, Calla and I decided to take a cooking class in Hoi An at our favorite restaurant, the unassuming Minh Hiên, on the closest thing the town has to a backpacker street, Tran Cao Van. My friend Hank (of Padlette fame) pointed it out to us on our first day here, and we’ve been back every day since. Their vegetarian menu is incredibly flavorful, light, and unbelievably cheap. And the fresh draft beers cost just 15 cents each. So we figured we ought to take advantage of Madame Hiên’s cooking class to learn to make some of our favorite dishes.
When we arrived at the appointed hour, our teacher and her assistant were setting up a kitchen area on the terrace of her house (for like many Vietnamese businesses, the owners live not above the shop but in the shop). They invited us to help chop and mix and ultimately, to fry, and despite our language gaps, I was able to write down a pretty close approximation of the recipes for the three dishes we chose.
It’s not terribly common to find Vietnamese vegetarians, although there is a small segment of the Buddhist population who eat no meat. More often, when you see vegetarian items on a menu, it just means they do not include large chunks of meat; the sauces and accompaniments may well include animal products. But Minh Hiên is truly and completely vegetarian. Even the dipping sauce, nước chấm, which is normally made with fish sauce, here is made with lime juice.
Chả Giò – Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls
INGREDIENTSTaro root – peeled and shredded Carrot – peeled and shredded Onion – sliced very thin Tree/Wood Ear Fungus/Mushroom – called Nam Meo in Vietnamese – sliced very thin Oyster Mushroom King Mushroom 1/2 tsp crushed black pepper 1/2 tsp Maggi powdered mushroom stock 1/2 tsp 5-spice powder Rice paper squares (5-6″)
Shred about 1/2 cup carrot and 1/2 cup taro onto a plate. Slice about 1/2 of a small white or yellow onion very thin. Smash 2 or 3 green onions then cut in 1 to 2 inch pieces. Slice the mushrooms into matchsticks. Add pepper, mushroom stock, and 5-spice powder. Mix together with chopsticks.
Put a heaping tablespoonful of the mixture in the corner of a rice paper square. Fold over that corner, and fold the right and left corners into the middle, rolling tightly to close.
Heat vegetable oil on high heat. Add the spring rolls and fry until golden brown. Turn and fry the other side.
Drain in a colander or on paper towels, and serve with dipping sauce.
Vegetarian nước chấm – Dipping Sauce
INGREDIENTSCarrot Water Sugar Salt Chili Garlic Lemon or Lime
Boil some finely chopped carrot in a little bit of water. Mix 3/4 cup water (use the carrot water) and 1/4 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon of salt. Mince together one small chili and a couple of cloves of garlic and add to the mixture. Stir in 1 Tbs lemon juice. Serve in a small bowl for dipping.
Minh Hiên – Quán Chay – 50 Trân Cao Vân, Hoi An
Ask at the restaurant to schedule a cooking class. Allow a day or two for them to set it up.
Another nearby restaurant offering classes is the very popular Morning Glory near the river. These can be reserved online here.