I have been planning a recipe for rice paper rolls to put on this blog for a long time. I mean a really long time. Like, months. Seventeen months to be exact, just a few short weeks shy of a year and a half. It sounds like a lot of time to be spent preparing a single, and simple, recipe such as rice paper rolls and, as I’m getting ready to publish this post, I can’t help but laugh at how long it has taken.
But it’s finally here and, although it’s not quite what I had originally envisaged, it’s a kick-ass recipe filled with all the flavours of Vietnam including a hefty amount of lemongrass infused pork. Score!
So the idea behind a rice paper roll recipe stemmed, not just from my love of rice paper rolls, but from a trip the Paramedic and I took to Vietnam back in December of 2015. It wasn’t a long trip, but more of a quick taste-test of the country as part of a stop over to take advantage of cheap flights to Europe with Vietnam Airlines. It seemed rude to be transiting in Hanoi without spending a few days to explore, right?
And we did explore and I fell in love, instantly. Head over in heels in love to the point I can’t wait to go back.
Hanoi – for those of you have not been – is the capital of Vietnam and, although the capital, is very different from the capitals of other SE Asian countries such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or even Jakarta. Sure, its busy and bustling, with more people of motorcycles zig-zagging around the streets than your mind can fathom.
But there are no flashy skyscrapers, or huge, modern shopping malls or mega public transport hubs. It’s but a collection of narrow streets (and each street specialises in a specific ware or item such as “Hang Thiec street”, the street of tin smiths) bordered by rustic buildings no more than a few stories high, filled with street sellers, food stalls, communist propaganda poster stores, markets and, once again, a hoard of motorcycles.
Much of central Hanoi can be accessed on foot and I think in most situations this is one of the quickest methods of travelling unless you want to jump on the back of a local’s motorcycle, which we did a couple of times and it makes for an exciting experience – if not a little scary at times.
We walked over the Huc bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, visited President Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, we were in fits of giggles watching the water puppet show at the Thang Long theatre, we even took a couple of days to journey out and sail around the World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay and, even though the bay and its associated activities such as Kayaking, swimming, and other water sports, were not quite designed for the cool winter temperatures we found ourselves in, we did manage to explore some amazing caves, and even managed to get up close and personal with some of the local monkeys which = cute!
On our return to Hanoi for a final night before flying out to England – we were off to spend Christmas with my family – we decided, of course, to take an evening food tour around Hanoi.
We were picked up by our guide who (since, as bad as it sounds, I cannot remember his name for it has been so long ago) I will call Mr. Nguyễn
Mr. Nguyễn had lived his entire life in Hanoi and he knew the city, and its menagerie of food stalls and restaurants, like the back of his hand, and his knowledge of the city and its (at times horrific and saddening) history was vast and absorbing
But of course we were there for the food. And the food we had was beyond words. Not only did we visit some of the most famous food stalls/ eateries in Hanoi, such as the Pho Gia Truyen restaurant, touted as the producer of the best pho in Hanoi, if not the whole of Vietnam itself, but we were also taken to smaller, family-run establishments. These places were not featured on sites such as TripAdvisor, or Lonely Planet, but known and loved and famed by the locals. Indeed, in some of these restaurants, we were the only tourists inside and managed to try local delicacies such as fresh water eel soup!
But the one food stall that stuck in my mind was the rice paper roll place. It was an open shop front with nothing more than a selection of tiny plastic stools and tables and the owner – she had run the place for over forty years – sitting at her station which comprised of a small wooden table with a few knives and utensiles, a massive stockpot filled with an aromatic concoction of beef, beans sprouts, star anise, fish and soy sauce, and two cast iron plates set over gas burners – like the plates you see crepes cooked on.
With fluid and knowing movements only forty plus years of practice and experience could provide, this woman would ladle onto these iron plates a small amount of rice flour based batter. She would spread it out around the plate until a thin, delicate, crepe-like product was formed. Then on would come a spoonful of the beef mixture form the stockpot. The rice paper would be folded into a parcel and, dinner was served.
Over and over again I watched the batter being poured and cooked on the hotplates, filled with the meat, rolled into parcels, then delivered to the eager patrons of this humble and popular eatery.
So when I returned home to Australia I wanted, or should I say needed, to make my own rice paper rolls, from scratch. I needed to make my own rice flour batter, and delicately cook rice paper rounds in a pan before wrapping them around some delicious filling.
So I scoured the internet for recipes and videos and tips and tricks and everything else I could find about making my own rice paper rounds – from scratch.
I went out and bought the ingredients and – like a kid rushing downstairs on Christmas morning in search for presents – I dashed into my kitchen to start preparing this Vietnamese culinary awesomeness.
And that, everyone, is pretty much where my enthusiasm and excitement ended.
I may have had all the ingredients, I may have watched all the YouTube how-to videos, I may have read and reread every recipe I could find but none of this prepared me, or even helped me, in making my own rice paper rounds. The thought that it would be as simple as, say, making a crepe or pancake was foolish. The ease in which I had watched to owner of the rice paper roll shop in Hanoi make her products was not what I experienced in my kitchen.
I don’t know how many batches of rice flour batter I made, or how many times I ladled it into my pan, crossing fingers and toes that *this* time would be the time I would succeed in making a rice paper round.
It didn’t happen. I made rounds that were as thick as oatmeal pancakes, hardly suitable for folding around a delicious meaty filling (they tasted and felt like rubber). I made rounds that were so thin they broke upon contact. I made some that looked just perfect but, as soon as I went to move/ touch them in order to flip them over, or remove them from the pan, the unfamiliar consistency of these rounds and my lack of experience in handling them caused all sorts of mayhem.
And just when I did manage to have some sort of control over the rice-paper-round-making situation, my so-called “non-stick” fry pan decided it would NOT perform it’s single and most important duty it was designed – and marketed – to do and I was left standing at the sink trying to remove encrusted rice-four batter from the edges of my pan.
This all happened over a series of days but, by the end, I gave up and the idea of making my own rice paper rounds, in order to make my own rice paper rolls from scratch, moved to the back burner. I can tell you, it still sits there today.
And so, for the rest of the year, my Vietnamese cuisine recreations remained in the comforting confines of homemade pho. I stayed clear of types of rice paper rolls.
I then took an eight-month hiatus from food blogging in which time I moved from Sydney to the small reginal town of Mildura in the state of Victoria and, just like that it has been almost a year and a half since the idea for a rice paper roll recipe on this blog first came about.
And now, finally, it is here.
So it may not be a “made from scratch” sort of recipe (well, as far as the rice paper rounds are concerned, but who has time, and the patience for that? See how I’ve changed!), but it certainly is a delicious one bursting with the flavours of Vietnam, namely fish sauce but also lemongrass, star anise and the obligatory cilantro (coriander leaves) and mint.
It’s a quick and simple recipe for the most part, although if you’ve never rolled your own rice paper rolls before you will find this takes a bit of time. There is a great video here that should help with the process.
And you can’t have Vietnamese-style rice paper rolls without Nuoc Cham – the quintessential Vietnamese sauce used in almost all Vietnamese recipes. I was going to prepare a recipe for you here but I just ran out of time so, the stuff in the bottle from your supermarket or Asian grocery will work just fine. I will get round to making my own and sharing with you – hopefully wit will take less than 18 months to find its way on to this blog.
Until next time foodies
Lemongrass Pork Rice Paper Rolls
Bring the flavours of Vietnamese street food into your own home with these lemongrass pork rice paper rolls
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 10 to 15 rolls
- Cuisine: Vietnamese (-ish)
For the Lemongrass Pork:
- 2 tbsp sesame oil (see note 1)
- 500g ground pork (mince)
- one medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp minced lemongrass (see note 2)
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or
- 1 ½ tbsp. fish sauce
- ½ tsp ground star anise
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- pinch of salt
For the Rice Paper Rolls:
- 10 to 15 dried rice paper rounds (this number really depends on how much you fill each rice paper roll)
- 2 medium carrots, grated
- 1 Cup beansprouts
- ½ cup (firmly packed) cilantro leaves
- 1/3 cup (firmly packed) mint leaves
To make the Lemongrass Pork:
- Heat the sesame oil in a large pan or skillet and fry the chopped onion for a few minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more before adding the ground pork. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until completely sealed before adding the lemongrass, soy and fish sauce, star anise, salt and pepper.
- Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until all the pork is cooked and evenly coated. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (At this stage, the pork can be kept in the fridge for up to five days, if you plan on making this ahead of time. You can serve it in the rice paper rolls cold, or simply reheat it on the stove.)
To make the Rice Paper Rolls:
- Place one of the rice paper rounds into warm water and let it sit for around ten seconds or until it begins to soften – don’t let it soften too much or the rolling part will be difficult.
- Lay the softened rice paper round on a damp tea towel. Spoon a heaped tablespoon of the lemongrass pork in the centre of the round and arrange into a long, sausage-like shape. Top with a generous pinch of each of the grated carrot, beansprouts, cilantro and mint.
- Fold the bottom half of the round up and over the filling. Fold in the sides to enclose and finish by rolling the entire roll up towards the top. Repeat with the remaining rice paper rounds until you have no more pork mixture left. Can be served immediately or stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours
- Serve with copious amounts of Nuoc Cham
- I find sesame oil adds a little more flavour to the pork but any cooking oil such as olive or vegetable will do
- Although it is convenient, and sometimes cheaper, to buy the ready minced lemongrass in the tube from the supermarket, I found that this really limits the lemongrass flavour from coming out (must be to do with the fact that many brands of this read-minced lemongrass actually contain less than 20% lemongrass). If you have the time and money I would suggest using fresh lemongrass stalks and mincing it yourself.