Wow, where do I begin?
I have a lot of uncles and aunts around the world. My parents' siblings and their descendants span across four different continents. My Dad's parents actually live right here in Los Angeles. On occasions some of his siblings would come in town and visit. One aunt of mine from Canada visit quite frequently since she's rather close. I always look forward to her visits because I know I would get some really good homemade Vietnamese foods. The irony is that I generally do not crave Vietnamese foods, though lately I ate a lot of Vietnamese foods because I dated a Vietnamese-Chinese guy for a short while. This year since my aunt is in town for Christmas, we decided to do a half Vietnamese and half Chinese meal for our big family Christmas day dinner.
One of my absolute favorite Vietnamese dish is the Spring Rolls. I am a big fan of rice products, especially thin rice noodles. Rice paper is used as the skin to the wrap. The content varies from person to person making it. My aunt uses rice vermicelli mixed with a little oil and chive to keep the strands from clumping, shredded lettuce, shrimp and Vietnamese cold cuts as the main ingredients. Half of the batch had an assortment of mint inside while the other half had a long strand of green onions. My Dad made the dipping sauce with fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, chilly pepper and a little bit of sugar. This is by far one of the best appetizers on the planet. It's light and I can eat this all day long. I stuffed down at least six of them since 4pm in the afternoon.
To compliment the spring rolls, my aunt made egg rolls. I found out the secret to a good and non-oily egg roll is in the skin. My aunt bought some amazing egg roll skin and it was the least oily egg roll I have ever had in my life. There was no need to use a paper towel to soak up excess oil. It was perfectly crunchy without oil dripping everywhere.
The egg rolls were stuffed with taro and pork as the main ingredients with shredded carrots and black fungus, cloud ears in Chinese. It's always fascinating how weird foods in Chinese always have pretty names. I wouldn't order black fungus off a menu, but I would consider a cloud ears. I actually love black fungus. It's a jellylike substance that is similar to a jellyfish, only much flatter. Most of the stuffings are normal egg roll ingredients with the exception of the taro. The taro made the egg rolls just a bit lighter than a all pork egg roll, while still retaining a similar texture to an all pork egg roll. An tasty egg roll with fiber inside is definitely not something you can easily find in stores or restaurants.
Of course no Chinese or part Chinese meal would be complete without a soup. My family absolutely adores a good crabmeat and fish stomach soup. I have had this so many times in restaurants but this one was fresh and light. The crabmeat were hand shredded from live crabs. The fish stomach was very high quality presoaked and cooked before cutting it up to put into the soup. Fish stomach is also a jellylike substance but with a much less crunch than a jellyfish. Add to the soup a bit of vinegar and it's perfect. However my parents bought the light vinegar which wasn't strong enough to really bring out that vinegar sting. Still the soup was just fantastic and we have plenty of that leftover.
Bun is another one of my preferred Vietnamese dishes. I generally prefer bun than I do Pho. It's actually pretty simple to make. We used the same rice noodles with oil and chive and shredded lettuce as the spring rolls. We actually had some shrimp and cold cuts left from the wraps so we tossed those in. Then we just add sprouts, pan stirred beef and onions and pan fried bar-b-que pork. Toss a sprinkle of grounded pan fried peanuts and the same fish sauce and vinegar sauce and it's a nice dish. I would say though this wasn't one of the best buns I've had in my life. But it really was almost made as an afterthought while the spring rolls were the main event. The appetizer and the entree really were flipped backwards in terms of emphasis. The whole family ate more soup and appetizers the whole night than the bun and the vermicelli noodles.
This was our other entree that really wasn't eaten the whole night. Partly it's because we eat this dish way too often as a family than we do the spring rolls and egg rolls. A good beef vermicelli noodle is hard to make at home because it really requires a stove that has a really big flame. We sometimes actually use a special stovetop that can be hooked to a small tank of natural gas to cook this dish. But we didn't do that tonight. I totally understood since the rest of the meal was so much work, it was just way too much trouble to break out that stove to make this dish. The dish basically is composed of vermicelli noodles, beef and spouts. It was good, but the other dishes totally out shined it.
Of course no dinner at my house is completely without our homemade lemonade with brown sugar. By using brown sugar, which is slightly healthier than refined sugar, the color of the lemonade almost looks like tea. We generally blend the sliced lemon with the sugar first by crushing the sugar with the lemon before we pour in the hot water to melt the sugar. Then we add cold water and ice to it to make our light and easy to make instant drink. The lemons are also from our backyard.
We also had a bottle of my favorite bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling that I mentioned in another post a week ago. Riesling and I suppose various white wines do go well with lighter types of Asian cuisines. A lot of Rieslings are pretty sweet but this bottle was dry enough so that it didn't intrude in the flavor of the foods. It really worked very well with especially the wraps and the other lighter items. Of course it didn't work as well with the pork ribs and the beef, but then most of us who drank the wine actually didn't eat much of any of that. So we really did enjoy the bottle very well.
This was actually the first time I had my aunt's pumpkin and taro sweet soup. There were also a little bit of small tapioca balls inside to give it a little thickening. The soup was lightly sweetened served warm. It was definitely a very delicious way to follow a generally light meal.
I was asked here in the comment about what the brand of the egg rolls skin were. Here's the picture. It's called Spring Home.
Egg rolls often are very oily. I was told that the key towards having non-oily skin is in both having a good skin to begin with as well as to deep fry them in fresh vegetable oil; do not reuse old oil. After removing the egg rolls from the oil, lay them over a sheet of paper towel to absorb some of the excess oil before serving. There will always be some oil whenever something is deep fried, but this combination will help keep that to a minimal and keep them from being oily.