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06/12/2019 - 07:37

Delicious, fresh sour shrimp rolls

Fresh sour shrimp roll is a favorite dish of Hue people. Its uniqueness lies in the magic hands which can turn simple ingredients into delicately delicious food.

The rice cake is clear, smooth and fragrant with rice flour mixed with tapioca. A sheet of rice cake is smooth, very thin and tender. And with the mention of Hue sour shrimp, surely the stomach would start rumbling.

The distinct flavors blend together, making the sour shrimp rolls even more delicious 

Greasyback shrimp is the “VIP” raw material to make sour shrimp. These lagoon shrimps are small but high in quality with a sweet and rich taste (probably the smell of mud, the smell of sunshine and wind and the smell of the water have created this special flavor). The greasyback shrimps are carefully pre-processed, mixed with young bamboo shoots, garlic, galangal, fresh chili, salt, and paprika. Young bamboo shoot is an interesting ingredient.

My aunt, a long-time sour shrimp maker, always sends her youngest son to find bamboo shoots. Bamboo in my village is not rare, but to meet the need of making dozens of sour-shrimp jars every day is too difficult. Big bamboo shoots are always available, but they lack the crisp and soft texture of young bamboo shoots that are the size of a finger. 

Often, after crawling through the bamboo fences, getting scratched by the bamboo, my cousin's result would just be a little jumble of bamboo shoots. Picking pieces of bamboo shoots often entails no noon nap and lots of hard work. 

This time is the season of water spinach shoots, with fat, soaring stalks. Young stalks must be chosen and any leaves trimmed. Julienne ripe sweet potato, add some noodles, herbs, and lettuce and you have got enough ingredients for a fresh rice roll. Place all ingredients on the cake sheets, hand roll tightly and carefully and then cut into slices. The green color of the vegetables, the golden color of the sweet potato, and the white color of the noodles combine to create a very eye-catching dish.

The thick gravy is the final connection between all ingredients for sour shrimp rolls. Steam sweet potatoes (if diligent, use baked potatoes for more a distinct aroma) and smash until fine.

Heat oil and add shrimp paste (which is an added Hue flavor) spices, garlic and sweet potatoes. If you want to make this gravy more special, you can use pork broth. The mixture will be viscous, fatty and juicy.

Pick a slice of roll, a thin piece of boiled pork belly, serve with sour shrimp and gravy and you can taste all the sweet, rich, spicy flavors on the tip of the tongue. The fresh cool roll, together with the fatty pork, spicy and sour shrimp, and rich gravy create an unforgettable dish.

All flavors are distinct but blended together. The salty taste of the sea, the freshness of the mountains, the richness of the lagoon - the depth of those flavors awakens all senses.

It is said that the essence of fresh sour shrimp rolls lies in the sophistication, freshness of the cakes, vegetables, sour shrimp, and meat. For me, this dish is also delicious because of the soul of the person who put their dedication in each small component.

And it is because of the skillful hands, carefully rolling, the sweat of the boy searching for young bamboo shoots, the smile of the fisherman catching greasyback shrimps…

And what else? Well, it is the appreciation of the eater, the inhalation and the nodding are also valuable gifts. It is a sincere, simple response of the person enjoying it.

Story and photo: Mai Hue

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