Among the Vietnamese cuisine hierarchy, perhaps Spring Roll is not as well known as Phở, Bánh Mì, or even Bún Chả, yet, it is one of the most elegant, exquisite, and healthy dishes that Vietnam has to offer. Once upon a time, the Spring Rolls were reserved only for Kings and the aristocrats, so when the colonial French came and got to taste it, they decided to give it an equally royal name “Pâté Impériale” (Imperial Roll).
The name of the dish could be a bit confusing, because it could go by spring roll, summer roll, egg roll, or imperial roll, though the general consensus is that "egg roll" or "imperial roll" is the fried version, "summer roll" is the fresh (non fried) version, and spring roll can mean either. In Vietnamese, imperial roll is called “nem” (if you’re from the North) or “chả giò” (if you are from the South), while summer roll is called “gỏi cuốn”, which could be just as confusing as spring, summer, egg, or imperial.
While the traditional royal version of Spring Roll can be quite complex, the modern version is surprisingly easy and even fun to make. For the fried spring roll /imperial roll, put together some ground pork, peeled and de-veined shrimp, fish, diced mushroom, shredded carrot, onion, garlic, basil, cilantro, sugar, pepper, glass noodles, mix them up, put in some spices, roll them with rice paper, and deep fry. Summer roll is very similarly made, except that the meat used has already been cooked beforehand, and after being rolled, they are ready to be served. While that list of ingredients might intimidate some, the fun part is that you can freely change most of the ingredients as you like, using chicken instead of pork, crab instead of shrimp, etc…Yet, do not let it fool you because the secret to an excellent Vietnamese spring roll, for both summer and imperial, lies not in the roll, but in the dipping sauce served with it. A high quality sauce have the perfect balance of different flavours, the saltiness of the fish sauce, the sourness of lemon juice, the sweetness of sugar, the spiciness of chili, and a nutty taste of garlic.
While Phở or Bánh Mì can be more famous, Vietnamese Spring Roll is the quintessence of Vietnamese cuisine because the dish not only uses a lot of healthy herbs, it also requires a delicate use of sauce with a impeccable blend of flavours in order to be served, which are also the two prime characteristics of Vietnamese culinary culture: herbs and sauce.