The Spring Roll, Nem Ran in the North, Cha Gio in the South, is one of the iconic parts of the Vietnamese cuisine, and indeed, is so for several other Asian countries. It has little to do with spring and is a roll made of rice paper and filled with minced pork and vegetables. When to decide to travel to Vietnam for a holiday, one of the many real pleasures of the Country is the cuisine. As has been hinted at earlier, it is something that will appear on menus and be cooked by street vendors right throughout the Country. They are particularly easy to eat as you walk around, perhaps browsing the markets on a shopping expedition? Certainly, many local markets have street stalls selling food no distance away.
The filling mixture of minced meat, vegetables, herbs and seasoning is placed on the thin rice paper that is then folded and rolled to make a self-contained package that is then deep-fried. In some parts of Vietnam, the pork will be replaced by crab or shrimp, certainly in coastal areas. In the North, they may use snail. Or tofu. Whether the use of snail is a result of the times when the French were colonial masters is not certain. What is certain is that spring rolls have been made for a very long time indeed, including the period of 19th Century and half of the 20th Century when the French were there.
The vegetables used are not cooked for too long so they may be crunchy which goes well with the texture of the fried rice paper. The juice from the filling will soften the rolls fairly quickly though there is the alternative to using the most popular vegetables and substituting sweet potato and beans which will result in the roll staying crispy longer. If you want to dip the rolls in a selection of sauces they will soften quickly anyway, so dip and eat immediately.
There is a type of Cha Gio which uses thin sheets of vermicelli instead of rice paper. They are thinner and smaller and break fairly easily so they usually only appear at big parties or in restaurants. You may well be offered them during your time in Hanoi on your Vietnam tour package. There is a similar roll, translated into ‘’egg roll’ but that is made with a sheet made from wheat flour as opposed to rice paper. They do stay crispy for longer which is why many Vietnamese restaurants in other parts of the world tend to prefer to use wheat flour.
These rolls can be eaten as a snack and bought from street stalls. Alternatively, they may be a single separate course of a restaurant meal. They are highly adaptable and fairly easy to make as long as you have the means of deep frying what you make. As you travel in Vietnam, you are likely to get a real taste for these rolls. Many tourists will have eaten something similar in restaurants at home so the concept is widely known.