On Friday the Cross Country Ski team was having their end of the season pot luck. Everyone was strongly encouraged to bring a dish to pass. With it being a Friday during lent I had to come up with a dish that was easily shared, delicious and meatless. This was also a perfect opportunity to cook asian food. I decided that spring rolls would be an easy dish to make for everyone.
The recipe I used can be found here. I would consider the type of spring rolls that I made of either a vietnamese or Indonesian variety, similar to fresh vietnamese spring rolls or Lumpia Basah. However the flavors of my spring rolls may have had a little Thai inspiration, with generous amounts of cilantro. They were fresh, not fried with a spicy peanut sauce.
Making the spring rolls was extremely easy. I used pre-made rice wrappers. All you have to do is soak them quickly in warm water, place a fair amount of the filling in the middle closer to one side and then wrap it like a burrito. The trickiest part was figuring out how long to soak the wrappers. If you soaked them too long they became extremely sticky and hard to work with. If you did not soak them long enough they were not sticky or stretchy making them difficult to roll up. I also had to cut the vegetables into small matchstick pieces. Cutting up the carrots really tested my knife skills, however I came out unscathed.
For the sauce I had an idea as to what ingredients were supposed to go into it, but I did not have any measuring devices, so everything was measured just on guesstimation. I started off with the peanut butter, and added the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili sauce in small amounts until the flavors balanced each other.
Once I was done I met up with everyone for our pot luck. For being a very not diverse group of people our dinner represented a mixture of different cultures. We had homestyle mac and cheese, sourdough rolls, tacos, and spring rolls. The spring rolls were a big hit. Alone they were not very exciting. However when dipped in the sauce they were delicious. The rolls themselves were very fresh and crisp. Also they had many different textures to chew on. The wrapper was chewy; the vegetables added a nice crunch and the bean threads almost felt as if they popped when you bit down on them. The sauce was spicy, sweet, and salty. The peanut butter was not overpowering, but instead it added a nutty undertone. It was a prefect pairing to the spring rolls. Also according to a few people the sauce went well with Mac and Cheese. It’s not something I would suggest but I guess that is for you to decide.
Throughout the making of this dish I began to question the exact origins of this dish. I wasn’t sure if I was making a vietnamese fresh spring roll or an Indonesian Lumpia, or some other variety that I had never heard of. It was also very possible that I was combining many varieties to come up with one that I came to know as a spring roll. Before our discussion in lecture I was not even aware of all the different types of spring rolls. All I knew was that you could have fried ones or fresh ones. I agree with Chan Yuk Wah in a way; I don’t know that it is even necessary to determine the exact origin of the version of the recipe I followed. However for other reasons I do not agree with Chan Yuk Wah. In lecture it was stated that most scholars believe that spring rolls originated in Fujian, and took many years to get to Southeast Asia (Lecture 21 slide 18).
It appears that the spring rolls that I made were of a vietnamese influence, which we now know were of a Chinese influence. I determined that the spring rolls I created were most similar to the vietnamese fresh spring rolls because the filling was raw vegetables and bean vermicelli, and the sauce was a spicy peanut sauce. These things are typical to vietnamese spring rolls. A vietnamese spring roll often has fresh herbs such as green onions and cilantro (Wikipedia, Spring Rolls). However I think that my spring rolls mostly display a layered influence and cannot be called a solely vietnamese, Chinese or any other specific culture. I would also have to say that my spring rolls show the power of local adaptation. For the most part spring rolls have some sort of protein in them, however with my religious view and cultural upbringing I could not have meat on a Friday, and I did not have any tofu around so I changed the recipe to omit those ingredients.
Chan Yuk Wah, “Banh Cuon and Cheung Fan: Searching for the Identity of the ‘Steamed Rice-flour Roll,” in Tan Chee-Beng, Chinese Food and Foodways in Southeast Asia and Beyond (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2011), 156-74.
Lecture 21 (Spring Rolls).