This traditional Vietnamese Spring Roll recipe (gỏi cuốn) is full of fresh veggies, herbs, soft slices of pork, and shrimp all brought together with a super flavorful hoisin and peanut dipping sauce.
What are Vietnamese spring rolls or gỏi cuốn?
Gỏi cuốn literally means salad rolls, and for the longest time I never made that connection. I just assumed it was a random name for these rolls, silly me.
But these tasty little rice paper rolls are indeed an herby salad mixture, with pork, shrimp, and rice noodles. Dip it in as much sauce (or should we say salad dressing) as you’d like. I love gỏi cuốn–they’re tasty and fun to eat. They’re great as a communal meal where everyone is rolling their own at the table.
Mom says gỏi cuốn or Vietnamese spring rolls were something people never made at home in Vietnam. It has so many components, and is quite an undertaking to prepare. It was crazy to even think of making it yourself when there were literally street vendors selling these outside your house just about everywhere.
Vietnamese spring rolls were meant to be just an appetizer and never a full meal. Although when growing up, her family didn’t always have money to spend on snack foods like this.
What’s in spring rolls?
There are many ways to make spring rolls, but let’s talk about what’s in traditional fresh Vietnamese spring rolls:
rice paper wrapper
thin rice noodles
leafy lettuce, red or green
herbs, primarily mint. but optionally chives, cilantro, whatever you have on hand
thinly sliced pork (belly preferred) and boiled shrimp
dipped in hoisin and peanut based sauce
The rice paper wrapper: bánh tráng
Typically made from just rice and water, the rice paper (bánh tráng) could be easily used for lots of other things. At one Vietnamese market, over five brands of this stuff. All with multi-lingual packaging: Vietnamese, Chinese, English, and French.
During the pandemic right now, the supply chain is wrecked so I was hard pressed to find five brands, and had to hit up three markets to find one brand. And it was smaller than optimal size too but you can make any size work.
Ingredients in the rice paper wrapper
Rice paper or spring roll wrappers in America tends to have tapioca flour added, and isn’t pure rice flour, to increase the strength of the paper. It makes it easier to handle and roll without breaking.
However typically in Vietnam you can get ones that are actually 100% rice flour. We’re lucky enough to have family that visits Vietnam often enough and were nice enough to bring back the super thin 100% rice flour wrappers for us. The thinner wrapper makes the wrapping and eating experience a bit different–since it’s thinner it highlights the filling ingredients more instead of making you full off wrapper.
Spring roll wrappers used worldwide
Bánh tráng is not just something Vietnamese people eat. Cambodian people have a similar roll made of the same rice paper called nime chow–it’s a meatless version dipped in a vinegar-based sauce instead of hoisin. The Chinese have a version with duck and cucumber with a hoisin based dipping sauce. Japanese restaurants are also commonly using regular and dyed versions of rice paper for rolls too.
The meat: pork belly and shrimp
The most common and traditional meat fillings for gỏi cuốn or Vietnamese spring rolls is pork and shrimp. Nowadays you can find vegetarian versions and new twists on this with fancy beef cuts and others but if a place only makes one variety you can bet it’s gonna be pork and shrimp.
For the pork, you will typically find leaner cuts since it’s cheaper. Since we’re making it at home, we’re gonna fancy it up with fattier, better tasting pork belly!
For the shrimp, medium sized shrimp around size 31/35 is ideal. If your market doesn’t stock it, you can go a little larger or smaller and it will be fine. The medium size just makes wrapping easier. Just keep in mind when planning out your roll sizes that shrimp will shrink a little when you cook it.