Golden Brown Vietnamese Pork Spring Rolls

vietnamese pork spring rolls
Vietnamese spring rolls

There was something different to the spring rolls in Vietnam, something I wasn’t used to. They weren’t the same quintessential spring roll wrapper that I was used to experiencing in Australia. They were bubbly and super crisp and filled with delightful things that made my face smile upon consumption and they were available at every street corner and back alley food market. There would be an old lady with a small coal burner and a wok for deep frying and she would sit there and fry the day away, methodical and efficient like only a person that had been doing this for many years could be, but there was no long-service leave in sight for these patrons of the holy fried roll of goodness, they were doing what they knew and what they needed to do to survive, and doing it damn well. Damn well.

These are the sort of thing you might eat and have a bit of a Homer Simpson moment. That satisfied murmur and maybe just a little bit of dribble coming out of the side of your mouth, kinda like you are in the retirement home and losing control of your faculties.

That famous line from that one song “golden brown, texture like sun” had to have been written about these spring rolls. My argument is only enhanced as the song goes on to further describe pleasurable times, clearly spring roll happiness.

I still crave these deep fried goodies… these magical golden rolls… these… well, you get the picture.

To fulfill my cravings I scoured the vast recipe base of the interweb super highway. After conducting a brief survey of at least two sites on said super highway and decided I had the knowledge I needed to go forth and make Vietnamese/Laos spring rolls and I must say I did plenty good. These were pretty much bang on except I didn’t have rice vermicelli so I used cabbage instead which was fine, but use a few handfuls of soaked dried rice vermicelli if you want the truly authentic result.

Oh and the difference? Well the difference with these little puppies (often not just a figure of speech in ‘nam) is indeed the wrapper. Instead of the spring roll wrapper I am used to seeing, they use rice paper, slightly moistened and then rolled as we would do for fresh rice paper rolls, but then someone chucked them in a wok full of hot oil and the revolution begun! Viva la revolution! Viva la Vietnamese spring roll!

I chopped the cabbage with this really cool shredding double-knife I picked up in Vietnam
I chopped the cabbage with this really cool shredding double-knife I picked up in Vietnam

Squeaky little wood ear fungus. I love the random texture of these
Squeaky little wood ear fungus. I love the random texture of these
My favourite - time to mixy mixy
My favourite – time to mixy mixy
Roll them up
Roll them up
Fry them up
Fry them up
I recommend draining rolls on kitchen towel
I recommend draining rolls on kitchen towel

Dip them in something that looks like this
Dip them in something that looks like this

VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS (serves 6 with other things, maybe a few peeps with beer, or even just me if the mood strikes)

500g pork mince
1 cup dried wood ear fungus, rehydrated, drained and sliced
4-5 spring onions (scallions), sliced
1 carrot, grated
2 large handfuls shredded cabbage
1 egg
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
20-25 sheets dried rice paper
Oil for frying
Chilli-lime-fish sauce to serve

• Once you have stopped being amused by the squeakiness of the wood ear fungus you can mix everything together. Maybe leave the rice paper sheets out as you will need them to wrap the spring rolls, also this will make you appear smart
• Heat enough oil to fry stuff. A deep fryer is great but the stove top does the trick fine too. 180C is good
• It’s a good idea to fry a small sausage of the filling so you can check the seasoning. Once you are happy with it you can start rolling them up
• Drop rice paper sheets into a bowl of hot water for 3-4 seconds. Remove from water and lay on bench
• Form a small amount of pork mix into a sausage about the 6-7cm long and place onto the rice paper sheet close to the front edge
• Roll the paper around the sausage, tucking the side flaps over as you get past half way
• Look a bit like shit? It probably will, and so will the next one. They’ll get better as you go – it’s all about practice
• Fry spring rolls in batches for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and delicious looking
• Eat with a dipping sauce made from fresh chilli, lime juice, fish sauce and a little sugar to balance it out
• Remember the good times in the streets of Vietnam

Black Sombrero, Mexican Taqueria and Tequileria, Lismore

 

The tequila bar
The tequila bar

To say I was excited about our visit to newly open “Black Sombrero”, Mexican Taqueria and Tequileria in Lismore, is not quite enough. So I shall use a few more adjectives to bulk up the sensation for you a bit. I was elated, eager, roused, rustled and thrilled all at once… and yes, I did have my pocket thesaurus out for that one.

For months before opening, this place stirred in the towns peoples loins like a bad case of syphilis. There were murmurings in even the most heroin-induced coma affected corners of the ‘Smore. This place had over 1000 likes on facebook before it even opened to the public. Which, to me, dictates one of three scenarios;
1. The town is heaps keen to see some decent night time Mexican eating/tequila drinking joint
2. The town habours a secret community of illegal Mexican immigrants with access to the internet
3. An online group of interweb nerds thought it would be funny to deliberately and maliciously sabotage this restaurants hopes and dreams by falsifying likes and setting it up for imminent failure

Long tables = guaranteed good times
Long tables = guaranteed good times

Anyhoo, we went there and this is what we ate;
Hot wings on the charcoal grill with lime and chipotle aioli $10 – awesome, but a little exy for 7 chicken wing sections… Actually, in hindsight it was a fair price for what we got… I just wanted more
Corn chips with chunky guacamole, $10 – good. It was what it was. Still a bit exy I thought.
Pork in fried tortillas with salsa and sour cream, $10 – really good. Now they were hitting the lead for sure.
Tacos – marinated chicken given a lick of the coals, and pork with grilled pineapple salsa, $15 for 3 – fucking excellent. Now they were well and truly winning. All tacos come with a salsa plate of tomato salsa, a jalapeno and tomatillo looking number and pickled onions so you can custom modify your tacos just like your sweet ride. The pork taco was my pick of the night
Chunky salsa salad, $6.50 – still fucking excellent… and perfect with everything else on the table.
Hot habanero salsa $2 – we had to get some because we like it hot!

…and it all came together like Voltron to make a damn good dining exprience.

The pork taco
The pork taco
The salsa salad
The salsa salad
Those deep fried tortillas with pork. The guacamole and corn chips are in the not-so-interesting background
Those deep fried tortillas with pork. The guacamole and corn chips are in the not-so-interesting background
Chicken taco
Chicken taco

Black Sombrero took me to another place that night. Not my special place, for as we all know that is a magical land filled with pink unicorns, waterfalls made of lemonade and carnies roaming free and an abundance of free poking stick vending machines. It just did not feel like Lismore.

Me and Obi, loving the ambiance
Me and Obi, loving the ambiance

Which brings me to the only low of the night.

The one and only downside of this place, say, compared to Miss Margarita (our other favourite Aus-Mex joint in Byron Bay) is that it is in Lismore (Jennee declared that she would’ve rated the experience 10/10 except we walked out of the place and we were still in Lismore. She deducted 2 points for that, so 8/10 it was from Jennee). You get out of there after a cracking night and you walk out onto the streets of Lismore. No night life (except maybe the few drunken screams I heard from the car park), no beach to go and sit at and watch/listen to the pretty waves roll in, and absolutely no carnies to poke with your brand new poking stick… which makes the action of putting your brand new poking stick in the car 100% pointless. It is certainly a good escape from Lismore though… that is if you’re into delicious Aus-Mex treats that are well cooked and tasty in your face, with a cracking tequila bar to boot (not that I sampled any of said tequila on this visit… it’s a school night, you know).

I think whatever it was that these guys were trying to achieve they have done so. That is, if they were trying to create a funky little kick-ass Aus-Mex joint so the cool cats in Lismore had a home to collectively hang out at night (that wasn’t the back ally near the dumpster). If they can keep that consistency and vibe going this is going to be a Lismore night time destination for many years to come.

Go there. Just make sure you book because this is the only place in town that’s full every night. Oh, and they make their own tortillas every single day.

*Disclaimer. No bastard paid me for this cracking review.

136 Keen St, Lismore. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 5:30pm. 02 6621 3111.

You’re welcome.

Getting schooled about prawns

What do you know about school prawns? Not much. Well I’m sure that has absolutely nothing to with the fact that you live in a dark damp mountain cave in the middle of, err, the mountains…
School prawns. *Insert old English voice here. “School prawns? Prawns that go to school? Absolutely ludicrous man. What will they think of next? The coital union of two bearded men? Or maybe they’ll allow women to vote for Parliament? School prawns indeed”
Off to class with their tiny little bags and lunchboxes…
No, no, no.
School prawn is the name used to describe the translucent brown/green bodied mostly smallish prawns found near river mouths. The prawns that are caught, deep fried and then deposited into my mouth. Sweet and crispy. Salty and lemony. Eaten whole like you’re living in South East Asia. Shell and head and everything. And they are cheap like the South East Asian lady-boy prostitute as well. The only extras you need are some kind of mayonnaise and a cold beer. Or tequila would be nice I think. Or a warm beer if that’s the best you can do.

IMG_5566

CRISP SCHOOL PRAWNS WITH SUMAC AND PAPRIKA MAYONNAISE
(for 4-6 people as beer snacks)
1kg fresh school prawns, the smaller the better (should cost you about 8-10 bucks from the local fish monger)
2 cups polenta or semolina
2 eggs, whisked in a bowl big enough to one day house the prawns also
Oil to deep fry
2 tablespoons sumac
Sea salt
Lemon or lime or both if you wanna get crazy
• Heat oil over medium flame to 180C (Oil thermometer or your finger. Please don’t actually use your finger (I need to cover myself for these things))
• Coat the prawns in the egg mixture
• Toss the prawns in the polenta, then into a colander and shake off any excess polenta.
• In 3-4 batches fry the prawns for two or so minutes until they are crisp and golden. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel. Repeat until all prawns are cooked.
• Season with sumac and sea salt.
• Serve with lemon and smoked paprika mayonnaise (you can work that one out, yeah?)
Don’t be afraid of the shells guys… don’t be afraid.