There’s little that could more perfectly encapsulate Hanoi street food than a plate of bun cha with a side of nem ran, their crisply fried rice paper wrappings giving way to a well-peppered medley of finely diced vegetables, minced pork and wood-ear mushrooms. There’s almost always a bowl of fresh herbs and leaves on the table, and wrapping a roll in some lettuce and dunking it in the bowl of nuoc cham provides a wonderful contrast, with the cool refreshing leaves against the hot dense filling of the roll, and the salt-sweet-tanginess of the dipping sauce cutting the fat content. The tricky bit is avoiding the temptation to dive in immediately: the rolls are almost invariably refried just before serving and arrive at a temperature primed to burn the unwary.
A common variant in Hanoi is nem cua bể, spring rolls with pork and ocean crab, in two varieties: a square type which originates from the nearby coastal city of Haiphong, and the more traditional cylinder type that can often be ordered alongside bun cha. The former is particularly delicious but as fresh crab is pricey in Hanoi they’re often somewhat expensive at $2.23 (₫50,000) each – when a good meal can be had for $1.56 (₫35,000), it’s a lot for a snack.
You’ll also see gỏi cuon, fresh spring rolls that aren’t cooked and simply filled with prawns and herbs and salad, bun rice vermicelli. These make a tasty fresher-tasting alternative to the deep fried versions.
In the south you’ll find nem ran by their more commonly known name of cha gio.
For such a long time, fried spring roll has contributed to the shaping Vietnamese cuisine. Spring roll is a dish that once you have tasted, you just want to have more. With it origin in the Southern Vietnam, fried spring roll was brought to Hanoi and became a favorite one of Hanoian. Essentially, spring roll is a must-have dish for special occasions such as Tet, family gatherings, etc. Nowadays, the dish can be served all year round, and present in almost every menu of Vietnamese restaurant abroad. In Vietnam, spring roll is called “nem” for short by the Northerners. In Central Vietnam, the dish is given the name “nem cuốn”, depicting its shape. Meanwhile, the Southerners call it “chả giò”. Spring rolls is not always accompanied with rice but can also be eaten with round noodle in the mouth-watering “bún nem “dish.
To Vietnamese people, fried spring roll is the embodiment of tradition, skillfulness, quintessence of Vietnamese fine cuisine. For an authentic taste, all the ingredients must be carefully chosen and prepared. Ingredients used for the fried spring roll can be different depending each region but usually it consists of lean minced pork or beef, sliced mushroom, glass noodle, finely chopped carrot, spring onion and onion, duck or chicken eggs. There are also special variants of the traditional pork-based roll, such as Crab spring rolls or Nem Cua Be. Optionally, dried shrimp can be added for more flavor. The ingredients will then be seasoned with salt, pepper, and mixed thoroughly before being wrapped with thin rice paper into small rolls. These rolls are then fried in boiling oil until golden
The dish itself is a masterpiece but it’s not yet complete without the perfect-made dipping sauce. A quality dipping sauce should be the harmonious combination of nước mắm (savory fish sauce), a bit of sugar, salt, umami, some drop of lime juice or vinegar. Water, pepper and fresh chilli will then be added and adjusted to suit the one’s reference. Spring roll is always served with herbs and vegetable, namely cilantro, lettuce, etc.
Nowadays, Vietnamese come up with many recipes for spring rolls; however, the traditional spring rolls still have a favorable place in people’s heart.
- Quán Nem: 123 Bùi Thị Xuân, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội
- Nem vuông phố cổ: 35 Đào Duy Từ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
- Bún chả Đắc Kim Hàng Mành, 1 Hàng Mành, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
- Quán Gốc Đa: 52 Lý Quốc Sư, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Spring roll can be easily found in vermicelli or noodle restaurants. Don’t hesitate to ask the store owner, you might find the best spring rolls in unexpected places.
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