Spring rolls are the sort of dish that seems to be intrinsic to the cuisines of several Asian nations. Chinese traders over the span of centuries took them to their ports of call. The locals liked them so much that numerous variations have been built on the basic theme of meat and veg wrapped in rice paper.
Vietnam has its goi cuon, those refreshing summer rolls stuffed with chopped bean vermicelli. A similar dish, albeit deep-fried, is served in neighboring Thailand. Singapore has its popiah and the Philippines has both lumpiang gulay (a deep-fried roll filled with a savory mix of mung bean sprouts, slivered green beans, and tofu) and lumpiang ubod (similar to popiah but filled with slivered hearts-of-palm), as well as the meat-filled lumpiang Shanghai.
The Japanese, however, do not seem to have jumped onto the spring roll bandwagon. Indeed, whenever we speak of Japanese maki, we automatically think of the nori-wrapped rice roll stuffed with raw fish. This is why I was surprised to encounter haru maki over at Kitaro quite recently.
Haru maki – literally spring [haru] roll in Japanese – can be found on Kitaro’s appetizer menu and is actually worth trying though it does seem incongruous on the sampler of goodies. These rolls are filled with what appears to be a dry-ish sukiyaki mix: wood-ear mushrooms, bits of shiitake and beef, bean vermicelli, carrots, bits of shrimp, and nori. The appearance of the fried rolls may make you think that these will probably taste like an ersatz version of goi cuon, but when the hint of soy and seaweed hits you, you just know you’re in for an unusual treat.
These are great as an appetizer, particularly when dipped in the chili-spiked soy dip that goes on the side. It’s also good as a main course; just get a bowl of miso soup and another of rice and you’re all set. 😀