Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls (Nem Rán / Chả Giò)

Crispy on the outside, steamy, fragrant and light – if a plate full of Nem Ran or Vietnamese deep fried spring rolls aren’t enough to get you salivating, then I don’t know what is. 

On my first trip to Vietnam, I was lucky enough to spend a day on a private food discovery with one of Hanoi’s then leading chefs Nguyen Thanh Van at the distinguished Hotel Metropole. 

Throughout the course of the day, I learnt all about the ingredients and flavours at the heart of Hanoi’s distinct cuisine and… you guessed it, how to make some of the incredible dishes I’d come to love at home. 

Winning.

I still think back to that day, the sensory experience of smelling freshly-plucked herbs at the market, watching women carving vegetables for elaborate dishes, the sounds of the traders at dawn, then carting all the produce we’d bought back to the Metropole’s kitchen to make a Vietnamese feast – Hanoi style. 

“The first thing we are going to cook today is Nem — deep-fried spring rolls. This is traditionally a North Vietnamese dish, though it has now become popular through­out the whole country,” Van ex­plained.

Of all the dishes we made in that kitchen, this is the one that I return to again and again – let me tell you, there are always rice paper wrappers hanging about in the Barnaby household, on hand to indulge any spring roll-making whims (of which there are many). 

I could rave about these spring rolls (wait, I am raving about these spring rolls). Made with rice paper, they’re light and bursting with flavour and take about 20 minutes from start to finish (if you’re dextrous, a bit longer if you’re slightly clumsier with the rolling like me).

The finished product
The finished product

Enough raving and eulogising. Here’s how you do it. 

How to Make Vietnamese Pork Spring Rolls: Practical Tips and Q’s

Preparing the Filling 

Although they’re made with pork, the key to their unique flavour is that the pork is only a small part of the filling.

You chop sweet turnip, black mushroom, vermicelli, bean sprouts, spring onions, papaya and carrots and mix them with the pork so you might say that these are maybe the healthiest deep fried things you can find.

Maybe.

How to Roll Spring Rolls That don’t Burst when Frying

Julianna Barnaby Learning how to roll the spring rolls
They see me rollin’ they hatin’

Chances are, you’re going to need to practice this a bit to get it right. If you don’t roll and seal your spring rolls correctly, they’ll just explode in the hot oil, leaving a trail of disappointment in their wake. 

There are two key pieces of advice that I’ll give you here. One is don’t overfill your spring rolls. Tempting as it can be to load them up, rice paper rolls are relatively small and you won’t be able to fold them. End result = exploded spring rolls. 

The second is a bit of a cheat, but Ngyugen taught me and, if it’s good enough for the executive chef at a five-star hotel, well, it’s certainly good enough for me. 

Mix up a flour and water paste before you start rolling the spring rolls and then dab a little bit on each one as you finish rolling it to seal the end. 

It 100% makes a difference and increases your chance of making actual spring rolls rather than a fried mess about a millionfold. 

Pay Attention to the Nem Dipping Sauce 

The Nem with the Dipping sauce
The nem with the dipping sauce

The real key to fantastic Nem though is the dipping sauce, Nguy­en elaborated; something I was in­clined to agree with once I’d tasted one of the small rolls dipped in the sauce.

You make the dipping sauce from fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, carrot and green papaya tossed in salt.

It complements the spring rolls and brings out the flavours of the meat and vegetables. You can make passable Nem with half of the attention to detail, but it’s those details that make Vietnamese cuisine what it is.

“In northern Vietnamese food it’s traditional to keep our dipping sauce quite plain, whereas the further south you go, the spic­ier the dipping sauce tends to be,” Nguyen continued.

Are Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls Gluten Free? 

Yes, these rice paper spring rolls are gluten free, as long as you ensure that you use gluten free fish sauce (some brands are, some brands aren’t).

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