Vietnam and the rice paper roll ...

It has been a while!

Things got a little hectic around here, but rest assured we have found the time to squeeze some food adventures in between eloping, honey-mooning in Thailand (where we spent a day on an incredible cooking course) and feverishly working on our apartment renovation plans.

More on all of that another day, today I bring you something I promised a while back. A quick, easy, interactive, flavor punching weekend lunch alternative from one of my favorite parts of the world – rice paper rolls.
I have traveled to Vietnam a few times since living in Asia and it remains my number one most loved destination. I love everything about the country from the fascinating history to the people, the sights, the sounds and the distinctly Asian smells.

Our last trip was to Ho Chi Minh. The organised hustling, bustling chaos of this high octane city makes for fantastic street photography opportunities …

.. and as on all of our holidays Andrew and I planned this trip around the food adventures we hoped to have and Ho Chi Minh did not disappoint.

On our first night we arrived very late and our lovely host at the quaint and intimate Ma Maison Boutique Hotel, reminiscent of something you would find in the French countryside nestled down some alleys in a suburban district of Vietnam, drew us the below map and pointed us in the direction of some late night road side vendors. 

We had the choice of “big hunger” and “little hunger”.

We chose little hunger and followed the map to a road side stall where no one spoke English. We took a seat, held up two fingers and smiled. We received a heartfelt smile and a nod in return. Shortly after we were presented with two steaming bowls of pho. Rice noodles and slices of beef swimming in a tasty broth that we topped with a squeeze of lime, some bean sprouts and birds eye chillies. Mind blowing simplicity.

We ate traditional Vietnamese at Cuc Gach Quan, a restaurant inspired by the owners Grandmother and her countryside stall of Saigon past. Set in a French colonial house that has been stunningly renovated using recycled materials and much creativity the food served is reminiscent of countryside Vietnam, like Mama (or in this case Grand-mama!) used to make. I will never forgot as long as I live the homemade tofu fried with lemongrass and chilli.

Then there was the incredibly decadent French meal we ate at Trois Gourmands where we were served homemade cheeses, that would have rivalled what is produced in Burgundy, by a caricature French man who was rotund and heavily accented and finished off with a Salvador Dali handlebar moustache. Cliché!

However, more than all of this, our most important food adventure on this trip was our quest for the perfect rice paper roll. In the name of research and rice paper roll lovers the world over we sampled hundreds if not thousands to find perfection. That might be a slight exaggeration but you get the point and we did find perfection.

It was down some alley, off some street, near some park in one of the districts. That’s right, we cant remember for the life of us what the shop or the street was called or how we will ever find it again. We found it by accident and lost it the same way.

The only solution is to book a holiday and do your own research! It will be worth it we promise.

Rice Paper Rolls

Rice paper rounds (available at most good Asian food stores)
60g of vermicelli or rice noodles cooked
½ kg of cooked and peeled prawns
1 large or 2 small continental cucumbers julienned
Handful of coriander chopped
Handful of thai basil chopped
Handful of mint chopped
Small handful of sacred basil sprigs
Small bunch of garlic chives chopped in 10cm lengths
1 portion of “Taste of Asia” 

Traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce
½ cup of fish sauce and add
2 red birds eye chillies chopped finely
Squeeze of lime juice

Everything that is required for this dish can be prepared up to a day in advance and refrigerated until you are ready to serve. You can even prepare the rice paper rolls themselves and store those in the fridge if you aren't aiming for an interactive meal.

Firstly, cook the rice noodles by placing them into boiling water, drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water for a few minutes until they have cooled. This will ensure you avoid the noodles becoming gluggy and sticking together. Place them in a bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Place the prawns into a pot of boiling water and cook until they turn pink, drain and set aside to cool. Once they are cool peel them and place them in a serving bowl. Chop and prepare your vegetables placing each of them in a small serving bowl. Mix your “Taste of Asia Sauce”  and your traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce.

Once you are ready to serve place all of the ingredients out on your dining area, along with a stack of rice paper rounds and a large bowl filled with boiling water. Take a rice paper round and carefully hold the very edges whilst dipping it into the bowl of hot water, taking care not to dunk your fingers in!

Once the round has become soft and pliable lay it down onto your plate and place in the centre of the round a small handful of rice noodles, a prawn or two and a handful of the herbs and some cucumber.

Fold in the sides and roll up the round, moving it away from you. Dip it into your sauce of choice and eat immediately!

Yield: 12-16 rolls depending on how much stuffing you place inside each one

Asides ...

Before my last visit to Ho Chi Minh I read the incredible and moving story of Phan Thi Kim Phuc titled “The Girl in the Picture”. The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, taken by Nick Ut and arguably the most famous image of the period, shows Kim as a 9 year old severely burnt by napalm running from her blazing village in South Vietnam. The book chronicles her life and her story of survival from not only her burns but also from a repressive communist society. I recommend it as an inspiring read.