In the Netherlands the Vietnamese cuisine was introduced by the fried Vietnamese spring rolls, sold at the mobile stalls at markets, fairs and shopping malls. In the 1980s, selling Vietnamese spring rolls were for many Vietnamese in the Netherlands, a way to start a business and make money. These spring roll stalls still exist. But how authentic are those fried Vietnamese spring rolls anyway?

The Vietnamese name for spring rolls is Cha gio, but these fried rolls are called Nem (ran) in North Vietnam. The ingredients are not fixed, all kinds of meat and vegetables can be used as stuffing. This may vary by region or family. The ‘authenticity’ of the spring roll is on the outside, the spring roll sheet.

The ‘real’ Vietnamese spring rolls are rolled in rice paper. Rice paper is almost always eaten raw. Using rice paper sheets, the filling asks for adjusted ingredients because the rice paper is lightly salted. The texture is coarse after baking, and a little sticky. Spring roll sheets can also be handmade, which often have a thick and coarse texture. There are also special sheets on sale which have a woven texture. You can make this yourself by spreading very fine vermicelli banh hoi into packets. This spring roll also gets another name, Cha gio re. All these (original) versions I find quite fat and have a coursely bite. I prefer the ones with the well-known Chinese spring roll wrappers, as we know from the mobile stalls in the Netherlands. They are less fat. But this also applies to spring rolls: it’s the inside that matters.

The Chinese spring roll wrappers are made from wheat flour. These frozen sheets are very good in structure and easy to use. Fried they are nicely crisp and have a neutral taste. Thus, you can completely use any filling you like, because almost everything is good between these sheets, even cheese. Usually the size 21.5 x 21.5 cm is used.

You can note the popularity of Vietnamese spring rolls because it is sold in Asian restaurants (dim sum or appetizer) and supermarkets (freezer compartment). In Vietnam they respond to the taste of (Western) tourists, because the spring roll sheet variant is now being sold alongside the original rice paper spring rolls. They are eaten as a snack or appetizer, but can also be rolled in fresh spring rolls and lettuce leaves, or in vermicelli salads. See for the recipe Vietnamese spring rolls with wheat flower sheets Cha gio and Vietnamese spring rolls with rice paper Cha gio & Nem ran.

Gebakken loempia's van rijstpapier (foto: Pho Vietnam © Kim Le Cao)