I keep finding the most exotic foods in the most isolated, unexpected places. I like. It takes me by surprise unlike most things in life. It teaches me about something new without asking. It’s easy and it is exciting.
When I first moved to Ithaca I quickly became fascinated by the crazy-diverse food culture of College Town. There was an authentic Korean restaurant serving the best scallion pancakes right next to an Indian place with tasty, warm naan; there was also a Japanese restaurant where we learned to get drunk to the rhythm of sake bombs; and my favorite hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant with enough summer rolls to feed the whole college campus.
Coming from a tiny little island where the Outback is as exotic as it got, I thought I had found an edible tower of babel within this tiny town atop a cold mountain in the middle of nowhere. I expected this kind of diversity to exist only in cosmopolitan cities like New York or London, not Ithaca. I embraced the opportunity to escape the humdrum of foodhall buffet food at least once every other week. Whenever I managed to get out, I felt like we had traveled around the world, one tasty bite at a time.
On a recent trip Martha’s Vineyard (pictured!) I discovered this salad. What are the chances of roaming around a town known for its seafood, only to discover a vegetarian delicacy amongst popped collars, air-conditioned homes, and SUV’s?
The farmer’s market was about to close, so I let my friend grab me a summer roll at his favorite stall while I shopped for dinner. He came back with a tiny little box of Bánh cuốn, otherwise known asbite sized morsels of delight. Drenched in a cold dressing of sesame and soy, I devoured it with the enthusiasm of a starving teenager after swimming practice. Maybe it is because I hadn’t eaten in over 20 hours, but this cold-rolled rice salad was both refreshing and satisfying, a delicious breakfast turned lunch to begin the weekend with. To make this dish, a wide sheet of rice batter is folded into itself, similar to how you would with traditional summer rolls, but without a filling. The rice cakes becomes the centerpiece of this dish, the perfect vehicle to deliciously addictive sweet-salty dressing.
I am still obsessing over the contrast of the dressing against the tangy scallions and the crunchy peanuts; the perfect balance of textures, flavors, and temperatures.
I might never travel to Vietnam, but at least I got this.
Therefore, I want to dedicate this post to all the people that left their countries for this one. We owe our now more sophisticated palates to you. You cook delicious food with passion, joy, and determination. You teach us what the world taste like from the most remote, unexpected corners of the world. You rock.
Vietnamese Summer Roll Salad
For the Pancakes
- 8-10 rice paper spring roll wrappers (about 4-5 per person)
- 4-6 cups of warm water
Place warm water in a large bowl. Place one rice paper wrap inside the water. Soak for one to two minutes, or until rice paper turns soft and translucent. Gently remove from water holding on to the top corners. Place on a cutting board. Fold opposite ends until they meet at the center, then fold the opposite corners 6-7 times until rice paper starting at the bottom end and making your way all the way to the top. Place on serving plate and repeat until all rice papers have been rolled.
For the Dressing
- 1 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tsp. miso paste
- 2 tsp. maple syrup
- 1 tbsp. apple cider or rice vinegar
- ¼ tsp. sesame oil
- ¼ cup water
- 1 clove garlic
- Juice of ½ juicy lemon
Place all ingredients in a container. Whisk until smooth and well incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Roasted peanuts of pistachios, chopped
- Fresh scallions, sliced thin
To serve, pour dressing over the rice cakes, add thinly slice scallions and nuts. Devour!