I’ve been out of the country and upon my return, Simon Bao notified me that Top Chef contestants in season 4 are putting interesting twists on Vietnamese culinary concepts. Perhaps with Hung’s win last season, the door is opening up to incorporating Viet ideas into the food.
Recently, contestant Spike Mendelson and Manuel Trevino make this little ditty:
Summer Roll with Black Vermicelli (see recipe)
Let me make a few points, and I suppose I’ll get my aggression out first and then you’re free to weigh in…
The name "Summer Roll" — What’s with calling these hand rolls summer rolls? Is it versus Chinese spring rolls? These Vietnamese rolls are a year round food. Chinese spring rolls are literally called that in Chinese, and they’re a traditional food that’s enjoyed during Lunar New Year. I translate the Viet rolls as salad rolls because their original name goi cuon is literally salad roll since most of the common elements of a goi (special event salad) are cuon (rolled up) in a sheath of rice paper.
Now, there’s a bit Chinese garlic chive that gets tucked in there and that’s a summer veggie. Is that why they’re called summer rolls by so many English-speaking people? Because of the seasonality of the chives?
The other name that I’ve often seen is "fresh spring roll." Is that opposed to an old one?
In Saigon, there’s now a restaurant dedicated to rolling stuff up in rice paper. It’s a roll-your-own joint called "cuon" because that’s the generic name for these rolls — rolls.
This is a global issue that I’ve noticed for years and no one has been able to answer the question for me…what’s with "summer roll" and "fresh spring roll"? Do tell if you have a hunch!
As for the specific recipe presented on Top Chef, it seems to have been rather creative. I like the Chilean Sea Bass (which frankly shouldn’t be used because it’s a no-no fish on the overfished list; see the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch page for information on sustainable seafood) . Catfish, regular seabass, trout, or butterfish would have been nice. As for the black vermicelli (bun), I’ve seen that pricey product at the Asian market so it was a good, trick to use.
The odd thing was with the dipping sauce, called Apple clam — which I mistook for a kind of mollusk. Lo and behold, it’s a sauce make with — ahem… fish sauce, apple soda, apple cider vinegar, lime juice and chiles. I suppose that was to match the apples in the roll.
I often feel that cooks take modern/nouveau twists on sushi and roll it up in rice paper. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it tastes good.
I’m not sure if this tasted good — especially on the bed of chard. I guess it wasn’t great since one of the chefs was eliminated…
Any insights from you all?