I feel like an imposter writing this post. I cook a lot of different cuisines, but the food that I grew up with is somehow the hardest for me. Every time I try, it doesn’t turn out exactly right. By that I mean that it doesn’t taste exactly like how my mom makes it. Maybe because I don’t cook with the same motherly love that my mom does (although I have a very strong cat-mom instinct so that can’t be it). More likely it’s because my mom doesn’t cook with recipes. Like any true master of the art, she just tastes here, adds there, etc etc. I haven’t developed that skill yet for Vietnamese food. I taste here, add there, and still it’s off. (Isaiah cheekily pointed out that maybe the reason why it doesn’t taste like my mom’s is because I don’t cook with meat… he makes fair point).
If you google Vietnamese egg roll recipe you won’t find one that looks like this one. That’s because this one is special. It’s my mom’s. And they’re the best freaking egg rolls you will ever eat in your life. My mom’s egg rolls have the power to stop two nations from going to war. They will one day bring about world peace. Trust me.
Here’s the cast of characters. Carrots, cabbage, cu mon (taro), cu san (called bangkwang in Singapore), onions, salt, and pepper. No, there is no salsa in egg rolls. That is salt. Did you know that after you finish a jar of salsa, if you wash and dry it out, pour in salt, and write “SALT” on the lid with a permanent marker, it will no longer be a salsa container but instead become a salt container?
I forgot the egg because I just forgot, but I didn’t include the shrimp because raw, shelled shrimp with their heads and little legs attached totally freaks me out and I wanted to spare y’all. You’re welcome.
You can buy all these strange vegetables at Sheng Siong. Try not to feel incredibly ripped off when you see how cheap everything is. Cold Storage is thievery disguised as a grocery store. Yet somehow I still shop there.
Prep the veggies. This will take a long time and your arm will be numb when you’re done but don’t give up. Remind yourself that it is worth it. I used the widest holes on a box grater to shred the carrots and cu san, and cut the onions, cabbage, and taro by hand.
I had a moment of panic when I got to the onions because I blanked and couldn’t remember how my mom preps them. I tried calling her but it was late in Texas and I couldn’t get through. So I called my sister, who told me that she cuts them in “small squares, you know, like onions in guacamole.” Otherwise known as diced. There you have it ladies and gents. My Vietnamese-American sister whose frame of reference for onions is guacamole. Is it obvious that we’re related?
Mix all the veggies in a bowl with a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper, squeezing out any excess liquid as the veggies shrivel. Add 1 whole egg and 1 egg white (reserving the yolk), and add minced/chopped shrimp whose prep I intentionally did not take any photos of. At this point you can also add minced pork like my mom does. Don’t tell me and I won’t judge you.
And there you have it. The filling!
Now the fun begins. Remove the egg roll wrappers from the fridge and peel one off. Fold it nearly in half, add ~2 tablespoons of filling, fold the sides over, and tightly roll. Dab a bit of egg yolk at the end to tightly seal. It sounds simple, but this is actually a highly prized skill that some people are naturally born with, and some, simply, aren’t. I’m not naming any names, but never ask a certain Jewish husband to help you with this. Ever.
Keep going until you run out of filling or you run out of wrappers. I made 50. It took me about 1 hour. I should have said before we started this whole process that you shouldn’t make these unless you have a lot of helpful friends or some free time. Or a lot of free time.
You have two frying options. You can fry them the traditional way in a big pot of hot oil, or, if you want to be a bit healthier and you have an air-fryer, you can air fry them. Anyone who tells you that you can bake egg rolls is a liar and you should never trust them again. If you’re going to go through all the trouble of making these, do not ruin them by baking them. Just don’t.
Air frying actually gives you very decent results but you cannot air fry them dry. You must brush all sides liberally with oil.
Fish the gorgeous, glistening egg rolls out after 10 or so minutes. Resist taking an immediate bite and burning yourself. Or don’t resist. It’s so worth it.
Printable recipe below.
Mom’s Cha Gio (Vietnamese egg rolls)
Makes 50 egg rolls
Prep time: 1.5 hours (with help you can halve or quarter this time)
Cook time: 10 minutes
1 package Chinese egg roll wrappers, 50 count
2 cups cabbage, shredded
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup cu mon (taro), shredded
1 cup cu san (jimaca, turnip, bangkwang), shredded
1 large or 2 medium onion, diced
1 pound shrimp, divided
1 tbs salt
1 tsp pepper
- Wash, de-shell and de-vein shrimp. Soak in salted ice water.
- In a large bowl, combine all veggies with salt and pepper and massage until the veggies shrivel to about half of their original size. Drain any excess liquid.
- Remove shrimp from water and pat dry with paper towels. Separate in half. Mince one half with a sprinkle of salt and sugar. Cut the second half into 1cm pieces.
- Add shrimp to vegetables and mix well to combine.
- Separate egg yolk from white. Add the egg white + 1 whole egg to the filling mixture and sir to combine. Reserve 1 egg yolk.
- Press the mixture down with both hands, cover with saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
- When ready, remove egg roll wrappers from fridge and peel them apart. Don’t peel too many at a time or they’ll dry out.
- Fold one corner over and place ~3 tbs of filling. Roll the edge of the wrapper tightly around the mixture. And fold the two side corners towards the middle of the wrapper while continuing to roll up. Paint the top edge with egg yolk and wrap tightly the rest of the way.
- Continue until you’ve rolled all the egg rolls. Keep egg rolls in tightly sealed containers. They will keep in the fridge for 2 days and freeze well.
- When ready to cook, heat oil in a pan over high heat. Once hot, add several egg rolls in a single layer – do not overcrowd. Fry for 10 minutes until golden brown, turning occasionally.
- Serve with sweet chili sauce, or bun (recipe to come)