Alina Tang's Gỏi Cuốn
It's true when they say that food brings friends and family together. This series of stories about food focuses on young people and their favourite dishes passed down from their mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles and grandparents. It celebrates the connection between food and culture, and how food can often act as a gateway to stories of yesteryear. The dishes in this series are particularly special to our storytellers; all of whom have migrant parents or grandparents, and use food as a firm foundation for their understanding of their family's history and culture, and connects them to foreign yet familiar lands.
My name is Alina, I’m 25. My parents are from Vietnam and I was born here in Australia and the dish I’m going to be talking about is gỏi cuốn or spring rolls.
So spring rolls, or often known rice paper rolls, are a sheet of rice paper which you can fill with different kinds of fillings and eat it at room temperature or cold. Most people know spring rolls as the hot fried version but I prefer the cold rolls because you can make it yourself and it's often a shared group experience.
Traditionally in Vietnamese culture you’d have bún which is rice noodles and lots of vegetables. Our family, we like putting pineapple in our spring rolls, that’s my favourite, and then crunchy things so like bean sprouts, crushed up nuts, and then some sort of meat or protein, or KFC, which is my addition. My grandpa really likes putting hot chips in his spring rolls so you can sort of put whatever you want in there.
I grew up eating a lot of traditional Vietnamese food because my parents are quite traditional and both of them are really great cooks. My dad is a chef and my mum cooks at home. So much of me nowadays is wanting to learn from them because they are just using all these things from their knowledge and their culture, and putting it out in the world and I’m not like that, but I wish I was!
My mum taught me how to make spring rolls. It is pretty simple in terms of the actual putting it together, but choosing the ingredients, there are certain ways of cutting up say, the cucumber. You want to make sure it is not too long and everything is in small quantities. Less is more because you don’t want to overfill your spring roll.
We would prepare all the ingredients together and then sit down and mum would often invite my aunt, my grandma, my grandpa to come around and have dinner with us because she is always saying how with Vietnamese food its better enjoyed as a group. It's a family experience and it is really boring just cooking for a small amount of people.
I guess it's like a feeling of home and comfort as well because it’s something that we had growing up. My extended family is kind of spread out, we all live in different countries and my mum, her side of the family are based in the Netherlands and so whenever we come together as a family which wouldn’t happen very often because there are uncles living all over the place, we would all eat Vietnamese food and spring rolls were definitely one of the ones we’d all have. There's a feeling of community coming together, like a reunion almost.
I remember for my 21st birthday I had a spring roll party. It was when I had just moved into a new house and I invited all my friends to come around and we had like 20 people. Obviously I didn’t have tables for 20 people, so we all sat on the floor on this big blanket and my mum came over and we all cut up all the ingredients and we had them in the middle and my friends were sitting in a big circle and we all had spring rolls.
I make it for my partner as well who isn’t Vietnamese and I think that is a really nice way of introducing him into my culture and now he is really into them and he’ll be like “oh lets have spring rolls tonight” and I’ll be like “okay!". I find that with a lot of my relationships, it's like introducing food as part of like my culture and being able to share that.
Even when we go down south with our friends we will all bring something and have spring rolls. We went to Albany a few months ago and we all had spring rolls and that was really fun. So it's a dish that can travel and be put together at any moment, it is a little bit involved and I am quite particular in how the spring roll is rolled and I am quite critical of other people’s technique but you know you learn as you go. Now my partner, Bobo, he’s really mastered it, he is quite good at rolling spring rolls, I’m really proud of him.
I keep making spring rolls because it's delicious! I really like eating it as much as I can and it is something that I feel is mine and that’s something, I don’t often feel like I struggle with myself identity but I think with spring rolls I feel like it is my family’s, it is something I can share with other people. I feel like it is mine and I can share it, and I love making it with other people. I love bringing all my friends together to sit down and make spring rolls together so I guess in a way, it's about bringing people together.
Gỏi Cuốn (in Alina's own words)
20 mins prep time, then you can eat as you roll!
The following measurements will make 12 rolls. Adjust accordingly.
- 50g bún (rice vermicelli noodles)
- 12 sheets rice paper
- 1 cucumber
- 1 small pineapple
- 50g salted roasted peanuts
- 1 cup shredded lettuce
- 1 bunch coriander
- 100g tofu, prawns, chicken, pork, or if you're like me, KFC!
- 1 cup hoisin sauce (my mum likes to fry up some garlic, add a teaspoon of sugar and ketchup to the pan to make it extra tasty! But it's good on it's own too!)
1. Cut up the cucumber, pineapple, lettuce, and coriander into small/long pieces
2. Crush the salted nuts
3. Cook the bún in hot hot water
4. Cook your protein: tofu, chicken or pork
5. Now comes the hard part...Quickly dip the rice paper into some very warm water. Don't leave it in too long, it'll get soggy! A quick dip will do the trick and it'll soften in a minute or two.
6. Stack your ingredients in the bottom-lower part of the circular sheet (less is better!). Don't be too greedy, otherwise your roll will burst!
7. Pull in the right and left sides
8. Roll upwards and over - super tight, don't have a loose baggy spring roll, it'll spill everywhere when you eat it!
9. Enjoy! You can either roll up several beforehand and line them up to go, or make one at a time and eat it one at a time. Make sure you have enough sauce!
The beautiful illustrations in our Soul Food series are courtesy of Emmi Kerkham at Elks. Emmi loves to create beautiful things that share her ideas and experiences with others. If she's not at her desk, you’ll probably find her exploring new places, whether it’s roaming through her own back yard or wandering around on the side of a mountain 7580kms away from home. She's always on the hunt for new inspiration and experiences that she can share with others through her practice. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @hello.elks
Copyright © 2018 Alina Tang
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.