On our last night in Saigon, we had no definite plans about what nor where to eat. We started packing, double wrapping ceramics in paper and plastic, and making sure they were cradled between soft items. Then, we zipped the bags, put on our pants and shoes, and left the apartment just as the sun was starting to set.
A day earlier, we caught a glimpse of what looked like an open air food court a couple of streets from the apartment and we agreed to make time to take a closer look before flying back home. And so, we did. But we didn’t like what we saw. Apparently, it was an establishment ruled by beer and all kinds of grilled food that are good with beer.
We walked past it, glancing at restaurants and eateries along the way. Then, recalling driving through Pasteur Street days before and noticing the many interesting-looking restaurants and cafes, we decided to try and locate Pasteur Street.
We turned left, we turned right… had we walked farther, we would have reached Pasteur Street. But we passed a narrow restaurant with a copy of its menu displayed prominently out front. There really was no need to walk farther. We went in.
The place is called Wrap&Roll. There were so many items on the menu that we were tempted to order but, knowing it would have been impossible to finish all of them, we settled for a platter with sliced beef, rolls, sticky dumplings and grilled shrimp on lemongrass. There were vegetables and herbs on the side and, on a separate plate, rice paper and noodles.
Because we had been instructed well on how to eat wrap-and-roll style Vietnamese food, we knew exactly what to do. Wet the rice paper, place the vegetables and noodles on it, add the rolls or meat, wrap and roll, dip in sauce and bite. We loved it. The food, how we ate them and the fact that when we ran out of vegetables and herbs, we were given more at no extra charge.
Meanwhile, at a table across the aisle, a middle-aged white woman ordered rolls, and ate them leaving the vegetables, herbs, rice paper and noodles untouched. Too bad. She missed the best part of the wrap-and-roll food experience.
Days later, at home, Alex and I tried to recreate the wrap-and-roll experience. I simmered a slab of beef brisket, sliced the meat thinly then used the beef as the focal point of our rolls. It’s similar to one of the rolls we had at Wrap&Roll but, for convenience, instead of serving the vegetables, herbs and rice paper on the side, Alex formed the rolls so that all we had to do was dip them in sauce and eat.
If you want to make something similar, here’s an illustration.
Beef and Mustard Greens Wrapped in Rice PaperPrint Pin
- 300 to 400 grams beef brisket uncut
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 handful Thai basil leaves
- 1 handful mint leaves (spearmint is best)
- 1 handful cilantro
- 12 to 16 whole mustard greens (young, small ones are best)
- 10 sheets rice paper (ours were large so we cut them in half using kitchen shears)
For the sauce
- 6 tablespoons fish sauce
- 6 tablespoons calamansi juice or lime or lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons white sugar
- 6 pinches chopped garlic
- 6 pinches chopped chilies
- Rinse the beef then pat dry.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot.
- Brown the beef in the hot oil, turning it around every few minutes to brown every inch of the surface.
- Pour in enough water to reach halfway up the height of the beef. Sprinkle in about a tablespoon of salt and two to three pinches of pepper.
- Simmer the beef until tender, about two to two-and-a-half hours. Add more water, no more than half a cup at a time, if the liquid dries up before the meat is done.
- Scoop out the beef, transfer to a rack, cover loosely with foil and allow to cool slowly.
- Rinse the vegetables and herbs and pass through a salad spinner.
- Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce.
- When the beef is cool, thinly slice.
- Place the sliced beef in a mixing bowl and drizzle in half of the sauce. Toss well.
- Stir in three tablespoons of water to the remaining sauce and set aside. That’s for dipping later.
- To assemble the rolls, take a piece of rice paper, lay it flat and dab with water.
- Place two to three mustard greens near one end of the rice paper.
- Arrange beef slices on top of the mustard greens, and top with basil, mint and cilantro.
- Roll up the rice paper to enfold the filling. As you reach the other end of the rice paper, dab more water on it to make sure that the rolls don’t burst open.
- Repeat until all the filling has been wrapped.
- Cut each roll in half horizontally, arrange on a plate with the dipping sauce on the side.