The Crispy Vietnamese Chả Giò That Welcomes Us Home

published Jan 26, 2022
Chả Giò (Fried Spring Roll) Recipe

Andrew X. Pham's chả giò (fried spring roll) recipe is one his family goes back to time and again.

Serves8 to 16

Makes32

Prep1 hour

Cook30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Chả giò (fried spring rolls) on a platter with hands setting the platter down on a table.
Credit: Photo: Jenny Huang; Food Styling: Thu Pham Buser; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

Tết, the Lunar New Year, is the biggest holiday on the calendar. It’s the Vietnamese equivalent of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, all rolled into one festival stretching roughly two weeks. In Vietnam, every family celebrates Tết with lots of food consumed in multiple rounds of feasting. The one favorite dish everyone looks forward to is chả giò. 

My mother makes the world’s best chả giò, a version of fried spring rolls, from an heirloom recipe handed down many generations. This is our food of happiness. This dish can be found at weddings, birthdays, homecomings, and various celebrations. At times, we have even made it in the depth of despair, with the hope that it might lift our spirit and hail better days ahead. 

Chả giò was at our family’s reunion meal after my father was released from the Việt Cộng reeducation camp. It was my maternal grandmother’s first meal after her release from the French-Viet colonial prison for running an underground medical supply tunnel. It was also my maternal great-grandaunt’s requested last meal when she lay down on her deathbed and announced that she was ready to depart to the other shore. And it was the farewell meal my family ate in Phan Thiết before escaping Communist Vietnam on a leaky fishing boat. 

When we first came to America, Mom fried up trays of chả giò for a potluck held by the ladies of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana. They didn’t know what it was. One of them noted that it looked like a skinny version of the fat “egg roll stuffed with cabbage and flecks of pork,” served with a red gooey sweet sauce found at the local Chinese restaurant. Of course, our chả giò had nothing in common with the American-Chinese version except for the shape. Mom’s “egg roll” was a showstopper at the potluck. The church ladies loved it so much they requested her recipe for their official church cookbook, a lovely spiral-bound volume published in 1978. Thus, Mom’s chả giò became possibly the first Vietnamese “egg roll” recipe to be published in America.

Credit: Photo: Jenny Huang; Food Styling: Thu Pham Buser; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

In our new homeland, certain ingredients were hard to find, so chả giò became a rare treat. Chinese wheat flour wrappers were substituted for rice papers, which were harder to find. As the years passed, our connections to the old country gradually faded away. We ate more Western food and less of the food from the land of our birth. Mom was aware of this. Every time she made chả giò, Mom would announce it several days ahead to get the family excited and give us something to look forward to. Sometimes, Mom made chả giò as a way to mend fences with Father after they had a big fight. When I went off to college, she gave me a foil-wrapped bundle of chả giò. She did the same for my other siblings when it was their turn. Chả giò was also the first thing she’d make for us when we came home. I can’t recall a single Tết feast or a major celebration dinner that didn’t include chả giò. 

The aromas of chả giò never fail to send my thoughts flying back to our early years in America. I could see my mother in our suburban hovel preparing this expensive dish for her big brood of children. On a poor immigrant’s budget, she bought the inexpensive small crabs and sat at the table for an hour, meticulously picking out every bit of meat. When the special day came, she timed the preparation so it would be ready precisely at mealtime. She stood at the stove, frying up chả giò and handing them immediately to us, hot and crispy, so we could enjoy them at their best. When everyone had eaten, she would fry the last few chả giò for herself. 

Cooking has always been my mother’s creative outlet and her way of communication. Biting into those crunchy rolls, redolent with pork and a hint of the sea, have never failed to give me a fuzzy warmth at my core. Chả giò is our family’s food of happiness, and it’s also my mother’s expression of love.

Chả Giò (Fried Spring Roll) Recipe

Andrew X. Pham's chả giò (fried spring roll) recipe is one his family goes back to time and again.

Prep time 1 hour

Cook time 30 minutes

Makes 32

Serves 8 to 16

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the chả giò:

  • 1 (16-ounce) package

    refrigerated or frozen lumpia or spring roll wrappers (not egg roll wrappers, about 30 wrappers)

  • 1 bundle

    (1 1/2 ounces) dried cellophane noodles (also known as bean thread noodles or Chinese vermicelli)

  • 3

    large eggs, divided

  • 8 ounces

    carrots (3 medium)

  • 3 ounces

    fresh shiitake mushrooms

  • 3 ounces

    fresh black fungus or cloud-ear mushrooms

  • 2

    medium shallots

  • 4 to 5 cloves

    garlic

  • 8 ounces

    uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp

  • 1 pound

    ground pork, preferably pork shoulder

  • 8 ounces

    lump crab meat (if not available, substitute with additional chopped shrimp)

  • 3 tablespoons

    fish sauce

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 cups

    (32 ounces) sunflower or rice bran oil, divided

Serving options:

  • Nuoc cham (Recipe below)

  • Cooked dried thin rice vermicelli noodles

  • Green leaf lettuce leaves

  • Fresh mint sprigs

  • Fresh cilantro

  • Pickled carrots and daikon

Instructions

  1. If frozen, ​​​thaw 16 ounces lumpia or spring roll wrappers in the refrigerator until you can separate the sheets, about 3 hours.

  2. Place 1 bundle (1 1/2 ounces) dried cellophane noodles in a medium bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Let soak until pliable while you prepare the remaining filling ingredients.

  3. Beat 2 of the large eggs in a large bowl. Prepare the following, adding each to the bowl as you complete it: Trim and finely dice 3 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms (about 1 cup). Trim and thinly slice 3 ounces fresh black fungus or cloud-ear mushrooms (about 1 cup). Peel and finely chop 8 ounces carrots (about 1 1/2 cups). Peel and finely dice 2 medium shallots (about 1/2 cup). Finely chop 4 to 5 garlic cloves (1 tablespoon).

  4. Drain the noodles, cut into 2-inch lengths with kitchen shears, and add to the bowl. Stir to combine.

  5. Finely chop 8 ounces uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp and add to the bowl. Add 1 pound ground pork, 8 ounces lump crab meat, 3 tablespoons fish sauce, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined, but do not overmix.

  6. Beat the remaining 1 large egg in a small bowl. Remove the wrappers from the package and place on a work surface or plate. Cover with a damp paper towel to keep from drying out. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

  7. Place one wrapper on the work surface in a diamond shape (keep the remaining wrappers covered with the towel). Place 3 tablespoons of the filling 3 inches from the bottom corner and form into a 4-inch long log. Fold the bottom corner up and over the filling, pulling the wrapper taut over the filling. Fold the left and right sides over the filling so the points overlap at the center and crease the sides so it now looks like an envelope. Roll from the bottom up into a tightly log, stopping when you get close to the top and you have a small triangle left. Dip a finger into the egg (or use a brush) and use it to dampen the triangle, then finish rolling all the way up (the egg wash will help “glue” the wrapper together).

  8. Transfer the chả giò to the baking sheet seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling (they can stack and be touching on the baking sheet).

  9. Heat 3 cups of the sunflower oil in a large high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until 350ºF. (If you don’t have a thermometer, gently dip a wooden spoon or chopstick in the oil: If little bubbles form on the wood, the oil is ready.) Meanwhile, line a second baking sheet with a rack and top the rack with a paper towel.

  10. Fry in batches of 8: Carefully add the chả giò to the hot oil one at a time. Fry, turning them occasionally with tongs, until cooked through and an even golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chả giò to the paper towels. Add the remaining 1 cup oil to the pan after the second batch. Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with nuoc cham for dipping and cooked rice noodles, lettuce, mint, cilantro, and pickled carrots and daikon if desired.

Recipe Notes

Cha gio should be eaten with a huge plate of fresh vegetables, including lettuce, mint, cilantro, pickled carrot & daikon, and cooked rice noodles. Use one packet of dried rice noodles and cook according to instructions on packet. Cha gio can be eaten as finger food (wrap pieces of cha gio with lettuce, mint, cilantro, and noodles and dip in fish sauce) or in a bowl with chopsticks (mix chopped lettuce, mint, cilantro, and noodles in a bowl with fish sauce). Cha gio can also be served as a tapas or appetizer.

Make ahead: The chả giò can be assembled and frozen before frying for up to 2 months. Fry directly from frozen, adding a minute or two frying time.

Nuoc Cham: Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce Recipe

For extra irresistible flavor, serve this 5-minute sauce with chả giò.

Prep time 5 minutes

Makes 1 cup

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup

    warm water, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar, plus more as needed

  • 3 tablespoons

    fish sauce, plus more as needed

  • 1

    Thai birds-eye chile, plus more as needed

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 2

    medium limes

Instructions

  1. Place 1/2 cup warm water and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small glass or ceramic bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 3 tablespoons fish sauce and stir to combine.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to the bowl as you complete it: Trim and finely chop 1 Thai birds-eye chile, mince 2 garlic cloves, and squeeze the juice from 2 medium limes until you have 2 tablespoons juice. Stir to combine. Let sit for a few minutes for the flavors to meld.

  3. Taste and season with more finely chopped chile, water, fish sauce, sugar, or lime juice as needed.