“Sweet, a little bit sour but not so spicy,” this is the character of Vietnamese cuisine,” said visiting chef Somnuck Attaworn.
“It should be well balanced.”
If his name does not sound Vietnamese it is because he is of mixed parentage: His mother is Vietnamese while his father, who is also a chef, is Thai.
“Vietnamese food is fresh. It tastes fresh! Their food has many ingredients but whatever the dish maybe, they eat with lot of fresh vegetables, salads and herbs.”
“They also eat a lot of rice noodles, there are about five kinds of rice noodles.”
Somnuck has been cooking for 15 years and is now the executive chef of Cham Charm, a buffet restaurant in Ho Chi Minh that specializes in Asian cuisine.
The chef shared his expertise, graced me with his presence and together we whipped dishes that he felt, best represented, Vietnam.
The menu: Three Flavor Soup, Lotus Fried Rice with Pork, Egg and Prawns; Spring Rolls—Fresh and Fried; Marinated Beef Rolled in Lemon Grass, Grilled Prawn Mousse on Sugarcane, Deep-fried Chicken Wings with Fish Sauce; and, for dessert, Lotus Seed Sweet Soup.
Somnuck’s food tasted exactly as he described Vietnamese cuisine to be—fresh and well balanced. It was simple, easy to eat, with a distinct taste of home.
It’s exactly how I imagined these dishes to taste like. They’re cooked at home, by a loving and devoted Vietnamese mother, who happens to be an excellent cook.
Asked his favorite dish, he replied fresh spring rolls. Perhaps it is because of their uniqueness: No other country has spring rolls quite like the fresh Vietnamese type.
Chef Somnuck unselfishly shared his recipes for both fresh and fried spring rolls and the secrets to cooking them to perfection.
Transparent Rolls with Pork & Shrimp (Fresh Vietnamese Spring Roll)
Transparent rolls/rice paper
20 g shrimp (boiled and sliced into half)
20 g pork chops, loin or butt (boiled and thinly sliced)
10 g rice noodles/vermicelli (cooked)
Basil and mint leaf
Boil the rice noodles/vermicelli for 3-5 minutes until al dente.
Place the rice paper on a flat area. Then stack the herbs, lettuce, rice noodles and pork.
Roll the transparent/rice paper to encase the filing,
Add the sliced shrimp and Chinese chive. Roll and serve.
Fried Vietnamese Spring Roll
5 pc transparent rice paper
30 g glass noodle
20 g ear mushroom
80 g ground pork
80 g shrimp (remove the shell)
80 g crab meat, cooked
20 g spring onion (chopped)
20 g onion (chopped)
20 g shallot (chopped)
20 g garlic (shopped)
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper
Spring roll sauce:
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp fish sauce/patis
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vinegar
10 g carrot juice
Chopped red chili
Add all the ingredients together in one bowl and mix well. Put an ample size of mixture on a transparent rice paper and roll.
On a frying pan, set on medium heat, deep fry the spring roll until golden brown.
Serve with rice noodles, lettuce, sweet basil leaf and sauce.
Secrets to making perfect spring rolls:
Make sure that you choose the right wrapper/rice paper. Check that the rice paper you are buying says exactly if it is for frying or for making fresh rolls. It makes a difference.
In Vietnam, our rice paper is very different. We use brown rice paper for the fried and white for the fresh.
For fresh spring rolls—First get a clean piece of cloth and wet it, but only enough to make it damp. Before stuffing rice paper, fold about an inch of it, then begin stuffing/layering with spring-roll ingredients.
Must be eaten immediately. Wrap and eat. If not, cover with plastic wrap that is then covered with a damp piece of cloth.
For fried spring rolls—To make them crispy, alternately line pieces of rice paper between banana leaves. Cover with cling film and leave in the chiller overnight. The moisture from the banana leaves will permeate into the rice paper, making them moist enough to use as wrappers for fried spring rolls.
Julienne all vegetables, even mushrooms, slice them in to long strips.
Do not fry in very hot oil, doing so will cause it to bubble and sometimes burst, giving the spring rolls an unsightly appearance.
Deep fry rolls in oil 170ºC. It takes about 8-10 minutes to fry them. Fry until golden and crisp to the touch.
Long frying guarantees beautiful, golden brown, crisp spring rolls.
You must have a taste of chef Somnuck’s authentic cuisine at the Intercon’s Café Jeepney. He will be in town until July 14, cooking to pay tribute to the 35 years of Diplomatic Relations between Vietnam and the Philippines. Call 7937000.
I would like to thank the Embassy of Vietnam and Intercon’s Ms Jenny Peña for their help.
For my new cooking class schedules, call 0917-5543700, 0908-2372346, 4008496 or 9289296.