Vietnamese spring rolls are my go-to snack when I’m in the mood for fresh, healthy comfort food. These rolls contain fresh shrimp, rice noodles, and fresh vegetables, all wrapped together in a rice paper roll and with a delicious peanut butter/hoisin sauce dipping.
This cold snack is the perfect summertime snack and is highly nutritious too. Also, I found that I can switch up my ingredients, add or remove a vegetable or add some other fresh ingredients and still get a fantastic custom snack. This article covers everything you need to know about Vietnamese spring rolls and how you can prepare this delicious meal in your home.
History of Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls have attained icon status in Asian cuisine. There are several theories about its origin, with some suggesting that the rolls have their origin in China.
However, Vietnamese spring rolls are commonly believed to have originated in Southern Vietnam. The name Gỏi cuốn literally translates to salad roll in Vietnamese, and some legend claims that it was first made in the time of King Nguyễn Huệ Quang Trung.
While I could not trace back the origin specifically due to a lack of available historical data, it is widely accepted that this snack originated from Southern Vietnam. Due to the warmer climate there, the locals would make this cold dish to keep themselves cool.
Traditionally, this snack contains seasonal spring vegetables, pork, and rice vermicelli, all wrapped in rice paper. For the vegetables, mint, Vietnamese basil, cucumbers, and coriander are a personal favorite, but you can add as many fresh veggies as you like- as long as it fits in the wrapper, that is.
These rolls are common street food in many parts of Vietnam, and many locals do not prepare them at home but rather patronize street vendors. Now, you can also find several variations of the classic recipe in American restaurants enjoyed by different nationals who have a taste for fresh unfried snacks.
Although these spring rolls are traditionally eaten with dippings made with soy sauce and sticky rice, there are now a variety of sauces that are great for this snack. Also, the preferred dipping sauces vary in different regions of Vietnam. However, it is now commonly served with peanut butter and hoisin sauce.
Wrapper Options for Vietnamese Spring Rolls
There are a variety of rice paper wrappers used to make different rolled Asian dishes. For Vietnamese spring rolls, it is best to stick with rice paper that is made completely with rice flour.
However, tapioca flour variations are more popular in the US and work for this recipe as they are stronger and do not tear easily. There are several brands making good quality rice paper on the market, such as Three Ladies (which contains tapioca flour) and The Rose brand.
It is best to go for the 8.5 inches (22 centimeters) ones, as they can contain more filling and are easier to wrap. You might also find brands of brown rice paper that also work for these rolls.
To start making these rolls, you need to boil the proteins first. The pork belly will take the longest (usually 45-55 minutes) to cook, so I usually boil them first with sliced onions, sugar, and salt. While they are in a pot on the stove, I start washing and deveining my shrimp. Ensure that your shrimps are completely defrosted before attempting to devein them.
To devein my shrimps, I simply hold them up to the light and use a toothpick to poke and pull the vein till it comes out (you might have a few unsuccessful tries but keep going). Then, I cook the shrimp in their shells for just about three minutes.
After cooking, I cool them off with room temp water to stop the boiling process; after a few minutes, I take off the shells and slice them into two lateral halves, and set them aside.
Next, to prepare the rice noodles, I put another pot of salted water on the stove and bring the water to a rolling boil. Rice vermicelli is marketed in various ways, and you will likely see it labeled as rice sticks, rice noodles, or maifun.
These are super thin rice noodles that are a major part of the filling of Vietnamese spring rolls. Then, I put the rice noodles in the boiling water and let them boil for about three to five minutes. For the best results, follow the directions on the label of the rice noodles you buy.
After the rice vermicelli boils, I put the noodles in a strainer and rinse them with cool water to stop the cooking process completely. Afterward, I arrange the noodles flat on a tray/plate to prevent them from clumping up in my strainer bowl.
Ensure to use super thin noodles, as these are easier to arrange in the rolls. If those are not readily available, you can go for medium-sized noodles. For the veggies and herbs, you can go all out with various fresh soft vegetables.
I personally prefer to go with cucumbers, lettuce, and mint. However, you can add ball peppers, lettuce, carrots, etc. Thinly slice the veggies and set them aside. By the time I’m done cutting the veggies, the pork belly should be ready. I then slice the pork into thin slices so they can nicely and easily wrap in the rolls.
Divide Filling Equally
To ensure that all your rolls are equal, divide each vegetable and set them aside separately. Split your pork belly into equal parts depending on the number of servings you planned for.
Also, split the other ingredients like so to ensure you don’t run out of filling or rice paper. After a while of doing this, you should be able to eyeball the portion and replicate it for each wrap.
Wrapping the Spring Rolls
- Set up one rice paper on your chopping block or table. As an optional part of the first step, I double up the rice paper to reinforce it so it doesn’t rip at the points where the pork goes. You can cut one rice paper sheet into four strips and place a strip along the middle of your whole rice paper.
- Dip your rice paper for a brief second in warm water. Then wet the board slightly before placing the rice paper on it. At this point, the rice paper might feel a bit stiff, but it’s nothing to worry about- it’ll soften up as you work with it.
- Arrange the cooked rice vermicelli longitudinally at the bottom of the wrapper (the part closest to you). You should leave at least 1.5 inches of space on both sides of the wrapper.
- Place your lettuce, Vietnamese basil, coriander, and other veggies on the rice noodles, ensuring that they are the same length or shorter than the noodles.
- Add a row of pork belly next to the noodles (farther away from you), lining it up with the noodles and veggies.
- Line the shrimp in the same longitudinal way next to the pork. Ensure it is the same width as or shorter than the pork. There should be at least four inches of space left above the shrimps.
- At this point, I usually add a sprig or two of chives on the veggies with an inch of the sprig sticking out.
To wrap, simply fold the sides of the entire height of the rice paper. Then begin to wrap upward, ensuring that the roll is tight all through as you roll.
When you roll up to where the pork is, slightly release your grip so that this part is not too tight. Due to the texture of the meat, the roll can tear if it’s too tight, even with double rice paper sheets.
Continue to roll up the rice paper until you reach the end. Your Vietnamese fresh spring rolls are ready to be dipped in your preferred dipping sauce.
Serve these snacks with a peanut dipping sauce or a more traditional Vietnamese dipping made of fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice.
Pre-making Vietnamese Spring Rolls
It’s best to consume Vietnamese fresh spring rolls within a few hours of making them. Since they contain fresh ingredients, they might taste funny after too long. Also, reheating them would mean reheating the vegetables inside, which can ruin the whole snack.
Also, the rice paper sheets become unevenly hydrated after reheating, which is, overall, not a great experience. Ensure to make and wrap your rolls when you’re ready to eat them. Use plastic wrap to preserve them and keep them from sticking together if you have to, but ensure you consume them on the same day.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are Vietnamese spring rolls traditionally called?
The shrimp spring rolls (also called rice paper rolls or summer rolls) are traditionally called Gỏi cuốn in Vietnam.
- What do Vietnamese spring rolls contain?
Traditional Vietnamese spring rolls contain pork belly, shrimp, vegetables (leafy greens and other herbs), and rice noodles. These fresh ingredients are rolled up inside a rice paper wrapper.
- Are Vietnamese spring rolls to be eaten hot or cold?
This fresh snack is to be consumed cool and should not be heated up in any way.
- What other proteins can I add to Vietnamese spring rolls?
You can add imitation crab legs or other proteins of your choice for a custom snack.
- What is the rice paper made from?
Most rice paper brands in the US make their rice paper with rice flour, tapioca flour, and water. However, you can easily find rice paper made with only rice flour and water in Vietnam.
Best Vietnamese Spring Rolls Recipe (Gỏi Cuốn) w/ Peanut Sauce
- 1 pound pork belly
- 1 pound fresh shrimp
- 2 head green or red leaf lettuce
- 1 bunch of mint and Vietnamese basil
- 1 pack of rice paper
- 1 pack rice vermicelli or dried bánh hoi
- 3 small onions
- 1 pound shrimp
- 2 tsp sugar
- Salt to taste
Peanut Sauce Ingredients
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 16 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 5 tbsp peanut butter
- 1.5 cl water
- 2 clove garlic minced
- Start by cooking the pork with water, salt, sugar, and onions. Let the water boil on high heat, reduce to medium heat, and let the pork boil for 30 minutes.
- While the pork is cooking, devein your defrosted shrimp, as explained above. Clean the toothpick with a paper towel after deveining each shrimp before going to the next shrimp.
- Cook the shrimp in a small pot with salt and water for about 3 minutes. Then, rinse with cool water.
- Take off the shrimp shells and slice each shrimp into two lateral halves.
- Cook your rice vermicelli for a few minutes until it's soft, following the instructions on the package. Drain and cool the noodles with running water and spread them out on a flat surface.
- At this point, poke the pork at a thick part, and if the water runs clean, it's ready. You can also take it off the stove if the thickest part reads 145°F on a food thermometer.
- Leave the pot closed till it cools down, then slice the pork thinly.
- Set a rice paper on your kitchen workstation to roll your filling.
Dipping Sauce Instructions
- Sauté the garlic in oil over medium-low heat
- Add in the peanut butter, hoisin, and water, and stir until it's blended.
- Let it boil, then turn off the heat and transfer the sauce to a dipping bowl. The sauce will get thicker as it cools.
- You can also sprinkle peanuts and chili sauce on your dipping sauce.
- Set the veggies, rice noodles, pork, and shrimp neatly, as explained in the above section.
- Roll up the rice paper neatly and carefully.
- Repeat the process till you're out of rice paper and filling. Serve with a fresh spring roll dipping sauce of your choice.
This spring roll is a fantastic easy-to-prepare snack that is hard to get enough of. Traditionally called Gỏi cuốn, this wrapped food can be prepared in under an hour, and these summer rolls make for a fantastic communal meal.
Try them out using our recipe, and share your thoughts with us.