Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls with Nước Mắm

Just over six months ago (though it now seems like half a lifetime) I was in Vietnam. Our holiday was organised around food, including visits to markets, food producers and, of course, cookery classes. We travelled up river from the ancient town of Hoi An to the Red Bridge Cooking School, where today's recipe comes from. I will say at the outset, don't be intimidated by the unpronounceable Nước Mắm. It's just a dipping sauce, one which is virtually identical to a Thai standard.

When I first travelled to Asia 40 years ago I was beguiled by the differences from anything I had experienced: now I marvel at the similarities and the subtle local variations. Vietnamese cooking has a reputation for being light and healthy. Spring rolls are to be found anywhere, but virtually always deep fried. Although you can get the fried versions in Vietnam, this is the only country I know of which serves a fresh version.

They are made with rice paper. At Red Bridge, we actually made our own paper wrappings. Less difficult than you might think - provided someone else has done the seven hours of soaking and three changes of water for you. These days you can buy them. Blue Dragon do a range which you can find in Waitrose or Sainsburys, and I'm sure they can be found in Asian supermarkets. (if you've never ventured into one, treat yourself. The range of goodies is fascinating, and the fruit, veg, herbs and spices are often great value.)

If you don't fancy these raw, you could of course fry or steam them, but that rather misses the point. I've reproduced the recipe as we were given it. A cup equates to about 200 - 225g. From memory this is enough for about 8 rolls. You might prefer to use individual unchopped shrimps.


For the spring rolls

Wok Mixture

100g raw prawns finely chopped; 1 tsp veg oil; 1 pinch sugar; 1 pinch salt.

Salad Pickle Mixture

½ cup grated green papaya (or green mango, or bean sprouts); ½ cup grated carrot; ½ tsp finely chopped or grated ginger; 2 tsp lime juice or white wine vinegar or rice vinegar; generous pinch of sugar; generous pinch of salt.

8 rice paper wrappers; shredded lettuce; roughly chopped fresh herbs - ideally coriander, mint and Vietnamese/Thai basil. You can use ordinary basil as a substitute.

For the Nước Mắm

2 tbsp light fish sauce; 1 tsp crushed garlic; 1 tsp finely chopped chilli, seeds left in; 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp water, mixed; juice of 1 lime; 1 tsp grated ginger (optional).


Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan to medium. Cook the prawn with the salt and sugar for one minute. Remove and leave to cool. Next, mix all the salad pickle ingredients together in a bowl. Leave for half an hour or so for the flavours to mingle.

To make the Nước Mắm, simply stir all the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved.

Finally, assemble your spring rolls. For a demonstration, click on the link. Immerse the wrappers in cold water for about 20 seconds. Then place a little of each of the wok and salad pickle mixtures, together with some lettuce and herbs on the rice paper. Fold up the edge nearest to you, then fold in the sides, and roll up. Serve on a bed of lettuce - this will stop the rolls sticking to each other - and give each diner a bowl of the dipping sauce.

1 Comment

  1. Liz on 5th September 2020 at 5:20 pm

    Looks delicious and I second your encouragement to visit your local Asian supermarket. We live near a great Korean one here in Toronto. It’s a treat!

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