I discovered the art of eating a Vietnamese spring roll a long while ago. I still see a lot of people leaving the lettuce and mint, which goes back to the kitchen untouched. The Chinese spring roll often came with a bit of garnish, a carved carrot perhaps, which no one ate. Could this be why?
Surely they'd realise all that lettuce and mint is too much, just for a fairly ordinary looking garnish. Sometimes it comes on a second plate even. They must think it's some crazy illusion to make the serving look bigger. I suppose these spring rolls are tiny compared to their Chinese cousins, maybe they just don't like the idea of this combination?.
I know it seems like a clash of food groups, like McDonalds versus 'the Vegans,' but somehow it works a treat - you may feel like you're wrapping a piece of lettuce around a greasy chip, but give it a go, you won't look back. Also, you've ordered the spring rolls ,so you are intending on eating that part anyway, so really it's only a slight health upgrade to learn this art.
You've probably found the finger bowl isn't cutting it when you try to wash your fingers? Makes them all sticky? Well, that's a dip, that's why, not for your fingers, for the spring rolls.
First of all you pick up a piece of the lettuce. You have to tailor a rectangular piece of lettuce from the leaf by tearing it, leaving the remaining piece intact. This first piece, you have to wrap around the roll.
But, before you do wrap it around, you see those other green things on the plate, only darker in colour - that's the Vietnamese mint. Pluck off one or two leaves, depending on your taste (maybe start with one) whack it in against the roll, wrap the lettuce right around.
Pull the little dipping bowl nearer to you, as you'll drip everywhere if you don't. Nuoc cham, the dip is called, it's made of fish sauce, chilli, garlic, water, lime juice, vinegar and sugar often with slivers of pickled carrot. Dip your creation in and then stick it in your mouth and crunch. Now, tell me that's not one of the greatest tastes you have ever experienced?
Once you get a liking for this (go on give it a go), you'll find a lot of places short change you on the Vietnamese mint and sometimes the lettuce too. Maybe they've grown tired of trekking back to the kitchen with a plate of uneaten lettuce and mint, and dropping it straight in the bin? Maybe they're tired of emptying the bin full of lettuce and mint all the time?
I just don't know, but complain if they don't give you enough lettuce and mint. Better still ask for extra when you order, although it is a tough ask to explain this to the waiter or waitress.
I don't know whether you watch Seinfeld or not? But there is a double dipping issue here, as they only give you one small bowl to dip in. If there is only you and your partner, then it's probably not a problem. If there are more of you, then you should have a blood test to ensure safe double dipping (only kidding, if they don't know this art don't share it with them).
Some Vietnamese restaurants serve variations on the lettuce and Vietnamese mint. Some serve the more familiar mint we use, some serve Thai basil, even coriander, all these taste good too.
I think there must be some variables due to the north and the south of Vietnam having slightly different customs and habits? As well as the fact they probably ran out of the Vietnamese mint, and didn't want to take it out of the bin. I think you are ready to venture out and have a practice. Let me tell you, you'll only try it once and then you'll be hooked, I promise.
Take a look at Wikipedia, if you want to learn more about the spring roll. With a cursory glance I happened to notice they some times call them summer roll? I think they need to get their seasons sorted. Why not call it the 'four seasons roll' and settle it once and for all and maybe play a bit of Vivaldi?
So, where can you get decent Vietnamese spring rolls in Melbourne?
Here are my suggestions;
If you are after great spring rolls, with a general array of Vietnamese food, this is the place. You can get all the usual food including the more traditional Chinese dishes, like sweet and sour, lemon chicken and roast pork and so forth. This is first isn't it?
403 Keilor Road, Niddrie VIC 3042
(03) 9374 4266
This is starting to look like my phố review. Well, Hung Vuong do a good spring roll, so my thinking was if you fancy a phố, you can practice the spring roll eating here too. See there is method in my madness.
How dough, ray, me, a name I call myself. Phố, a long, long way to run, sow, la, tee, which will bring us back to doh. Sorry I've been working on that and I haven't got it, perhaps in my next review, on the egg roll.
136 Hopkins Street Footscray VIC 3011
(03) 9689 6002
Now for my final recommendation, dah, dah (drum roll, hold the lettuce);
Home? Where the hell is that? I don't know that restaurant? Home, where you live, you plonker? All you have to do, is nip down to an Asian supermarket, and buy a box of these beauties - 'Osha' Finger Foods they're called, and they are tasty as. While you are there, grab an iceberg lettuce and a bunch of Vietnamese mint.
It's not Kosher it's Osha, although Chinese spelling?
I'm a bit worried, because if you are in an Asian supermarket on the hunt for Vietnamese mint, and you're are not familiar with all the Asian veggies, you will most likely go home with the wrong stuff. So I've just had a good idea, rau răm - this is what the Vietnamese call it, so write this down and take it with you. I'm presuming you know what a iceberg lettuce looks like? If not, forget the whole thing and wait for my next review on toffee apples.
Make sure you get the 'Osha' brand of spring rolls though, remember they've got them pegged as finger food, just like in the picture. If they haven't got them in your local, try somewhere else.
Mind you, I have tried several other types that you can find in Asian supermarkets and they are all pretty good, but it is up to you if you want to take the risk, I'd stick with the veggie ones though.
96 spring rolls for less than $10.00
I should say, these ones cost $8.99 (they may have gone up ,of course) and they have 96 spring rolls in the box, so invite the whole extended family over, and the neighbours too, you'll have enough for two sittings already.
So you rush home, make sure you've got some oil, oh and I almost forgot the most important bit - 'Poonsin' Vietnamese dipping sauce,
I enclosed a picture, albeit back to front, who knows why? You can probably recognise the right one from this though.
It's a crazy mixed up world.
So you are all set, good luck.
(By the way just in case you can't get these spring rolls and you are like me and have to have the right ones, here is a brief description on where to get them (I can't find this place on the internet).
If you are coming from the city, towards Avondale heights, you go down Maribynong Road, for a long while, right past High Point, which is over a bit on your left, straight on over a roundabout. There's a big metal fish on top of a pole, keep going.
You won't realise it but the road changes names to Raleigh Road then Cordite Avenue, then Canning Street, then eventually Milleara Road. Before you get to that though, after the fish you go up hill, for maybe a kilometre, and you will hit a big bend that swings round to the left. Follow that around, and this Asian Supermarket (which isn't big) is on your left in the clump of shops there, which is Avondale Heights (I think going to break into a Burt Bacharach song). If you see a Coles on your left you've gone too far.
Don't blame me if you can't find it, it was there last week.)