When my brother and I were much younger, our parents took us to a tiny Vietnamese restaurant, just a wee hole in the wall of a place, in Pasay just a stone’s throw away from the former ADB Headquarters where Dad worked. It was small, but the food was amazingly good: grilled pork soaked in a sweetish marinade, phở with fragrant broth and chewy noodles, and those delectable salad-filled fresh spring rolls known as gỏi cuốn [summer rolls] along with their fried counterpart cha gio.
Gỏi cuốn involves wrapping a crunchy mix of lettuce, shredded carrots, shredded cucumber, torn herbs (basil and cilantro [coriander] are the most common), rehydrated sotanghon [cellophane noodles / bean vermicelli], and bean sprouts in thin, translucent rice pancakes. If so desired, poached and peeled prawns or shredded cooked chicken may be added to the mix before wrapping. The resulting rolls are filled with contrasting textures and flavors. As the name suggests, these are usually served when the summer heat wilts even the heartiest of appetites; they are cooling, refreshing, and certainly satisfying.
I arrived home one evening and found that my dad – who rarely ever cooks – made a batch of these. He tossed the prepped-up veg in a tongue-tingling mix of patis [nam pla; fish sauce], soy, a bit of kalamansi juice, and a hint of sugar. Since my mother can’t stand cilantro, he used fresh basil and mint (worked just as well), along with some minced chives. He made half of the rolls with chicken (my mother being allergic to prawns) and the rest with prawns, serving the lot with some bottled Thai pad Thai (!) sauce which made these refreshing rolls go down a treat.
There was still quite a bit of the salad filling left over, so Dad stored it – dressing and all – in a covered dish in the fridge. Later on, he tried the same recipe, but skipped the rice wrappers and tossed in some shredded green mangoes for a spin on Thai green mango salad. The resulting salad was just as delightful as their Vietnamese-inspired predecessors.
The next day, I gave my breakfast a “French Indo-China meets British boarding-school fare” sort of vibe. I paired the salad with kippered toast (buttered whole-wheat toast with a good schmear of smoked fish pate and a drizzle of anchovy oil) and builder’s tea (strong, sweet tea cut with milk). It was definitely an amazing meal. :D