Rachel Johnson

While you certainly can enjoy these two distinct flavors in all four seasons, there are some stark differences you should know about the fan-favorite Vietnamese staple appetizer.

June 23, 2017

From formal Vietnamese fusion dining rooms tucked away in major culinary destinations to local Asian-American takeout joints across the U.S., the spring roll has become the accessible entry-point to Southeastern Asian cuisine – a distinction from the Chinese egg roll that has largely been Americanized in the states.

Many Asian cultures serve this dish in the springtime, hence the name, near the start of the Lunar New Year celebrations. There’s a few key components of the spring roll that many gourmands will recognize immediately.

The first thing you might recall about spring rolls could be the crunchy exterior – yes, these rolls are normally wrapped in a wheat-flour skin consisting of egg as well as other ingredients before being deep- or pan-fried. The spring roll is versatile enough for a slew of fillings and finely chopped mixtures, including go-to ingredients like pork, glass noodles, carrots, onions, shallots and mushrooms of all varieties.

These ingredients are most common with a Vietnamese approach to the dish, but adaptations of the spring roll include crab, shrimp or exclusively vegetable-based mixtures as well.

The key appeal of any type of spring roll for diners everywhere is the first steamy, snappy bite of the freshly fried roll, often served alongside a variation of fish sauce.

But you might find yourself enjoying a crisp, clean hand-crafted roll that is distinctly not fried (or cooked at all) nor as hearty as the traditional spring roll, and that is where the summer roll comes in.

Also peddled as a “salad” roll or the “fresh” variation of a spring roll on menus, the summer roll is often a stark contrast to the spring roll for many diners given that it is normally a raw dish.

There’s the signature aspect of freshly julienned aromatic herbs that is immediately apparent to one’s palate, accompanied by the refreshing relief of the Vietnamese rice paper exterior. These transparent rolls are served cool, including a mixture of pre-cooked chilled shrimp that is apace with raw carrots, cabbage, daikon and a selection of herbs.

The visually appealing Vietnamese fare all comes together with a fragrant peanut dipping sauce or another sauce of the chef’s choosing.

But just because spring and summer rolls have long dominated the menus of refined dining rooms, such as the tri-city upscale collection of French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this insanely flavorful yet fundamental Southeast Asian dish at home.

We’re sharing our best recipes for both spring and summer rolls below – you can choose which iteration you’re in the mood for: whether it be the fried, savory and robust notes of a spring roll, or the clean, crisp and pungent flavors of the summer roll. 

1) Spring Roll Pot Stickers

The classic filling in Vietnamese spring rolls goes into wonton skins that are browned in a skillet, and is a great way to quickly whip up this dish at home. 

2) Tuna Summer Rolls

 Photo: Jennifer Causey

The most refreshing protein for a summer roll is definitely a cut of sushi-grade tuna, and seasoned sushi rice substitutes the traditional rice noodles in this variation. Call it your version of a mini-sushirito. 

3) Crispy Pork Spring Rolls: 

 Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi

Serve this crowd-favorite with spicy Sriracha sauce or a sweeter red-chili sauce, and remember that these can be prepped and frozen until your next get-together.  

4) Cambodian Summer Rolls 

The fresh herbs, sweet shrimp and crisp lettuce all come together with a kick of spicy heat that contrasts nicely with the fresh rice paper wrap's texture.

5) Spicy Samba Chicken and Pineapple Summer Rolls 

 Rachel Johnson

These summer rolls combine chili-flavored chicken with chunks of sweet pineapple for a contrasting bite that you won't easily forget.

6) Fresh Spring Rolls with Dipping Sauce

Our fresh summer rolls are packed with shrimp and crisp, colorful veggies accentuated by a ginger-and-lime-based dipping sauce.