[Image: Three deep-fried spring rolls sitting on a white doily on a white plate, garnished with a sprig of parsley. The skins of the rolls are blistered from the frying process.]
Although as I mentioned earlier this week dim sum is a Cantonese tradition, it has a fair number of influences from other cuisines, both Chinese and non-Chinese. Grilled pork dumplings/potstickers (鍋貼/guō tiē), for example, are actually from north China (whereas Cantonese cuisine originates from Guangdong province in the south), which is why they're often referred to in English as "Peking dumplings". Similarly, soup dumplings/xiao long bao (小籠包/xiǎo lóng bāo) originate from the Shanghai area.
Today I'm posting about one of those influences that comes from outside China — Vietnamese-style spring rolls, or 越式炸春卷 (yuè shì zhà chūn juǎn). "Vietnam" is 越南 (yuè nán) in Chinese, and 式 (shì) means "style", so 越式 is "Vietnamese-style". 炸 (zhà) is "deep-fried", 春 (chūn) is "spring", and 卷 (juǎn) is "roll".
One difference from Cantonese spring rolls is the wrapper — Vietnamese spring rolls are wrapped in rice paper skins, which is what makes the outsides blistered rather than smooth. The filling is also different, being a mixture of minced pork and prawns, shredded vegetables, and bean thread noodles (粉絲/fěn sī). Finally, the recipes I've seen tend to use black pepper rather than the white pepper that's more common in Chinese cuisine, though I don't know whether this is original to Vietnam or an adaptation to Western kitchens.
The owner of Vinh Phat once told me that within Vietnamese cuisine, the skins used for deep-fried spring rolls are not the same as the ones used for fresh summer rolls, but I'm not sure exactly what the difference is — I was a bit short of time so didn't press him further. In any case, Viet World Kitchen has some tips on choosing rice paper.
When I made these, I mostly followed the Rasa Malaysia recipe, but taking hints from the method of another recipe I found on vietnam.com — I made sure to mix the filling well, smooshing it down with the spoon I was using (the noodles didn't seem to mind the smooshing, but I put them in towards the end anyway), and I also set it aside in the fridge for half an hour before rolling.
Other changes I made: I wanted to add some wood ears as suggested in the vietnam.com recipe but I couldn't find them in the mass of stuff that got shoved in my pantry after my recent house move, so I used dried shiitakes instead. Also, I used finely-chopped water chestnuts instead of carrots, since I had some to use up. I didn't have crabmeat, so I used an extra ounce of minced prawns instead.
While my filling turned out great, the end result was not really a success. My wrappers almost all came apart during frying, even though I followed the advice of vietnam.com to make sure that the fold of the roll touches the oil first to stop it unravelling. I also followed the advice of both sources to use a fairly low heat to fry the rolls — vietnam.com says the frying time should be about 15 minutes, and I tried to stick to this, but it still didn't help. The best results came from the rolls that I didn't have time to fry on the day of making and hence let sit in the fridge for a couple of days, but even then only two of the three made it through without coming apart.
I will definitely be trying this again, though, perhaps with a different brand of wrapper, and will report back if I ever get them to work!