Order Tara's Bicycle Touring Cookbook Today!

Street Food in the Rain

by Tara

Under heavy gray skies, a steady drizzle bounces off the conical rice hat of a roadside chef—she is sitting in front of a cauldronful of embers and ash, tending to an array of pork skewers. As we take a seat next to her, she turns them one by one, revealing an irresistible caramelization on the coal-kissed sides of our lunch-to-be.

Thịt Nướng (Barbecued Pork)

Once the grill is tended to, the woman prepares our meal, stacking ingredients onto a large plastic tray: peeled garlic cloves and chopped chili, heaps of fresh herbs, thin rice paper wrappers, and a bowl of what looks to be hoisin-peanut-chili dipping sauce. Then, she grabs a handful of skewers from the grill and loads us up.

Vietnamese Woman Preparing Platter for Springrolls

A few moments later, I have a messy spring roll resting in my fingertips. One bite later, and then two, I've stopped mid-chew to look at Tyler is disbelief. There must be some secret ingredient! Whatever is in this sauce, or however this meat was marinated… it has elevated this deceptively simple dish into something transcendent.

Tara Eating Barbecued Pork Spring Rolls (Best Meal of Her Life)

How is it possible that anything can taste this good?

Twenty skewers and countless springrolls later, our satisfied groans mark the end of this euphoric meal. Whatever magic came together to create that symphony of flavor slowly disperses, and soon I'm back on earth, sitting in a tiny plastic chair by the side of the road in Vietnam, with a bit of herb stuck between in my teeth.

Intent on being able to to recreate this dish, this experience, at home, I practically beg the woman to tell me the secret of her culinary alchemy. Alas, she has no idea what I'm saying. Instead, she smiles and goes about her business, unaware that she has just served me one of the best meals of my entire life.



Tara- although I am sure that this roadside stand will top the food here at home, there is a newer restaurant in Sartell called the Viet-Flavor run by some super nice vietnamese folks and my neighbor and I go for lunch quite often and the spring rolls are lovely and the rest of the food is pretty darn good too, so perhaps we will have to make a trip and you can compare when you guys get home :)
Posted by Amanda on March 26th, 2011 at 2:21 AM
Amanda, that sounds wonderful; we'll definitely have to go! I could really go for some spring rolls or even a plate of grilled meat and rice. I think I've had enough noodle soup to last a lifetime though! ;-)
Posted by Tara on March 26th, 2011 at 4:46 AM
Ooh, yum! This post makes my stomach growl!
Come visit Seattle one day and I'll make you some spring rolls! (Not sure if I know what the magic ingredient is though...)
Posted by Amie Thao on July 25th, 2011 at 6:42 AM
Ooooh, sounds great! I'm sure we can come up with something delicious, even if it isn't exactly the same. :-)
Posted by Tara on July 25th, 2011 at 3:17 PM
I made an emergency I-miss-home spring roll after I commented! Sadly, it only had cucumber and greens inside...

Just in case you don't know, a shortcut way to pretty decent peanut sauce is to melt together a bit of peanut butter and hoisin sauce (thin with water to get desired consistency), and serve with Sriracha and slices of lime for a kick.

I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it! :)
Posted by Amie Thao on July 25th, 2011 at 4:15 PM