Best Spring Rolls Ever

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hoi An, Vietnam

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Nguyet from the cooking school, Baby Mustard, met us at the homestay at 8.30 am. She was riding a motorbike and we followed behind on bicycles. First stop was the market to buy fresh produce for the three dishes we would be cooking today.

Walking through the market, we learnt lots about the different vegetables including how to pick the right carrots for spring rolls (from the mountains in the north), buying the taro that grows in sandy soil for more flavour, and that tomatoes which are ripe, red and with 'big bellies'are best for cooking.

We learnt that you need to make sure that the squid is not too big otherwise it is tough and prawns need to be clear and flexible as this is a sign that they are very fresh. We discovered that Hoi An special noodles are cooked with ash for colour, and sticky rice is the most filling followed by white rice whilst red is the least. We also learnt that small, female crabs have more flavour, and small fish that come from the river are cheaper and tastier. We bought limes crossed with mandarins that were extremely juicy, and found fish sauce that doesn't smell. We also had to buy the right rice paper to make fried spring rolls.

Shopping done, we hopped back on the bikes and followed Nguyet about 6km past rice paddies to Tra Que village which grows a range of herbs and vegetables. On arrival at the cooking school we did a tour of the gardens and tasted a range of herbs including baby mustard, normal mustard leaves, Vietnamese mint and normal mint, Thai basil, garlic chive,fishleaf and cumquats.

Then we set to work. First of all, we made the spring roll dipping sauce. Then we cooked the taro and chopped the prawns for the spring rolls. We added all the marinade ingredients including garlic, shallots, spring onions, sugar, salt and pepper and mushed it all together to make the spring roll mix and wrapped it all in rice paper.

Next we prepared the ingredients for the Hoi An specialty pork with noodles. We finely chopped tomatoes and cooked them in oil and then we made the marinade for the pork. After marinating the pork we removed it from the marinade, cooked it and then put all the ingredients together to simmer.

Finally we prepared the lemon grass and marinade for the calamari which we wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on the BBQ.

Then it was time to fry the spring rolls. And eat.

The spring rolls were sensational and we all agreed that they were the best we had eaten yet. The pork and noodle dish was also a winner but we were too full to really enjoy the calamari.

We definitely needed some exercise to burn off lunch so we cycled round the back roads past the rice paddies and then headed out to An Bang beach. By this time it was raining very heavily so we sheltered in a beach side restaurant and had drink.

The rain eased and we cycled on the Cao Dai beach. Part of the beach was being rebuilt and a big coffer dam was holding the waves back.

We passed a few resorts then a wasteland of derelict and abandoned buildings that had been started but never completed. It was very odd, particularly in the rain.

The ride back to the Homestay was particularly scenic down quiet rural roads. We saw people working in the rice paddies and water buffalo swimming in the river. We arrived back just on dusk.

We had a quiet evening in with a delicious noodle soup at the homestay for dinner and then bed.