Uoc Le is a trade village which used to be located in Thanh Oai District, Ha Dong Province, later belonged to Ha Tay Province and several years recently it belongs to Hanoi; Uoc Le village is about 25km distant from the city in southwest direction. This village is well-known at producing some traditional dishes under the general name of “gio cha” (spring roll). The kinds of spring roll are categorized following the materials. For example, made from pork, there are: gio lua (pork bologna), gio hoa (mixed with some pork fat), gio bi (mixed with pork skin), cha (pork pie), cha que (roasted cinnamon pork), and cha com (mixed with Vong village’s grilled rice). Made from beef, they have gio bo (mixed with some beef fat and peppers). Made from buffalo meat, they have cha trau (mixed with pork skin and dill leaves)…
Uoc Le spring roll
Familiar to pho – originally from Co family in Nam Truc – Nam Dinh but it is more famous in Hanoi, although spring roll comes from Uoc Le village, it is exceptionally well-known in Ha Noi. In fact, spring roll used to be one of the essential dishes of Hanoi people’s traditional feast “4 bowls – 8 plates” in special occasions like Tet, wedding parties, death anniversaries…Almost every popular spring roll store in Hanoi came from Uoc Le village, such as: Do Mang store (Hung Vuong street), Viet Huong store and Tan Viet store (Hue town), The “dwarf” lady and Mr. Dao’s store (Dai La street), Mrs. Tan’s store in Hom market, Phuc Loc store (Tran Khac Chan street, near Hue town); other spring roll stores in Bach Mai street, Tay Son street (near Dong Da mound), Tue Tinh street…There is a company which is professional in producing spring roll and traditional dishes located in Hanoi. The company owner is a Southern lady; she got married with a Uoc Le’s man and succeeded her husband’s family’s profession.
Spring roll is usually made from lean pork. Back to the old days, people used to kill pigs in traditional method. To get the lean meat, we have to be careful at the shaving-pig step. Put the stuck pig on a small bamboo bed so that when we pour boiling water on, it will not remain, withering the meat. Water to shave pigs must not be very hot to keep the meat from being withered. If lean meat gets pale, spring roll will be tasteless and loose – this is the most important requirement in making spring roll.
After killing and shaving pigs, we have to separate immediately the lean part to make spring roll. The tastiest lean meat would be the griskin; the second tastiest is the meat of the rump. Shoulder cut and pig’s trotters cannot be made into spring roll because these parts include fat and nerves. Before grinded, meat must be subjected to preliminary treatment: get rid of the fat and nerves parts, cut into thin slices, put it into a stone mortar and use wooden pestles to grind. Grinding meat is a very important part that must be done through 3 steps: cursory grind, well-kneaded grind and pressing out grind. Cursory grind means making the meat lose its original shape, creating a slightly smooth meat cube. This step is hard; it requires a strong grinder. Well-kneaded grind means making the meat block become polished. This step requires an experienced and skillful person; the more polished the meat gets, the more delicious it tastes. The grinder must sit on a wooden small chair; two hands hold two wooden pestles grinding with a moderate pressure. When the pestles hit the mortar, the grinder must shake them a bit to create a slit between the pestles and the meat, then draw up the pestles. If not shaking, the pestles would get sticky into the meat, the grinder – no matter how strong, would hardly draw up the pestles. Pressing out grind is the final step of the grinding part. The grinder pours a spoon of fish sauce to the mortar and then continues to grind until the fish sauce is totally mingled with the meat. Now we have fresh spring roll to be wrapped into gio lua (pork bologna). If we want to make the meat into cha (pork pie) or gio hoa, we need to put some pork fat (already cut up into tiny cubes) into the stone mortar and continue grinding. Or making the meat into gio bi, we put some pork skin in the mortar. Making the meat into cha com, we put several spoons of Vong village’s grilled rice into the mortar.
The most well-known spring roll restaurant in Hanoi – Do Mang restaurant, located at the end of Phung Hung Street, near Hang Bong Street. In front of the restaurant was the hidden place of Yen Phu tramcar – Bach Mai hospital. The restaurant was named in French, Croix Sement, following Vietnamese interpretation, it was Do Mang. There used to be the spring roll grinding scene at this place every morning, at about 7 AM. The furthest position was a lady majoring in cleansing meat and cutting it into slices; in front of her was the cursory grinder’s mortar. Next to her was the second mortar of the well-kneaded grinder. When this man finished his grinding work, he put aside the pestles, two hands holding two spathes of areca tree, ladling out the meat cube in the mortar. He put the meat cub into the third mortar of the pressing-out grinder. The third grinder continued the work; in front of him were a bowl of fish sauce and a flat winnowing basket of pork’s fat and skin. After he had done with the work, the meat cube was moved to the spring roll wrapper. This man was the restaurant’s owner. He spread out some fresh, green banana leaves on tray, weighting 1-2 kg meat, put in the middle of the leaf and wrapped it up. He used some bamboo strings tying four vertical lines and four cross-lines over the spring roll, then rolled it over on the ground to make the shape of a cylinder. If the meat was to make into cha (pork pie), he would spread it on a banana leaf about 1cm thick and shape it like a big round plate, setting apart on a tray.
Spring roll after being wrapped up would be put to be boiled. Cast the spring roll into water and continue boiling for 15-20 minutes according to diameter of the spring roll. From folk experiences, we can take an incense stick which has the exact length of the spring roll and burn the incense stick as soon as the spring roll is being boiled; when the incense stick is totally burned, it means the spring roll is fully ripen. Cast down the boiling pot and leave the spring roll in water for 5 minutes extra, avoiding the spring roll is “long dao” (underdone). To make cha, we have to steam the meat carefully, let it get cold and put the whole meat into a boiling pork fat’s pan, frying it until the meat gets yellow-ripened and smells attractively. Particularly, cha queis roasted, not fried. Pour a spoon of cinnamon water on the meat, cover the meat with about 0.7 cm thick over a tube and roast steadily on a brazier. Sweep a layer of pork fat surround the meat before roasting. When the outer layer gets yellow-brownish color, it can be considered ripened. Gio song (uncooked spring roll) is used to make several different dishes and kinds of soups. It is also the main material to make nem chua (fermented pork roll).
Spring roll usually accompanies com tam (a kind of special rice, grown in Me Tri rice village, located in the outskirt of Hanoi, currently belongs to Thanh Xuan District – now it has been urbanized, the rice fields no longer exist). People named it together “com tam gio cha”. It used to be a luxurious dish of Hanoi natives. A full meal consists of a 200-gram slice of spring roll – cut and arranged in the shape of a turtle, a plate of cha (pork pie) cut in lozenges, a plate of salted vegetable and a bowl of gio songsoup with dracontomelum. The rice accompanied is cooked in an earthenware pot. A piece of burned rice (burned at the bottom of the pot) along with a piece of cha would be an amazing taste, of course, for people who have a good teeth. It’s very crisp, tasty, and fragrant.
It would be a serious draw back if not introducing two popular foods made from spring roll, they are banh gio (pyramidal rice dumpling) and banh day (kind of rice-cake). Banh gio is sold in almost every Uoc Le’s spring roll store. But Uoc Le village alone is not famous for banh gio but banh chung (square glutinous rice-cake). The kernel of banh gio’s made from crushed lean meat which was dropped out from the meat cubes before grinded. The crushed lean meat is well minced. Pour on it a little fish sauce, some pepper, some cat’s ear mushroom, some onion – mix it up and fry. The cover of banh gio is made from finest flour. Cut the cooked flour into small square cubes and dry them up. To make banh gio, we knead dough with water to make it viscid. Ladle out some flour on a clean fresh banana leaf, pour on it some spoons of processed kernel, wrap the leaf up according the pyramidal shape and tie it by bamboo strings; then we put it into boil. Banh gio must be eaten when it’s still hot. If the buyer wants to use instantly, the banh gio seller takes off some layers of the cover, revealing the pinkish color of meat and the color of cat’s ear mushroom. The seller cuts banh gio into three pieces and gives it to the guest. The buyer stands near the seller stall and eats banh gio. Back the the old days, banh gio in Do Mang restaurant is quite famous. 10 years ago, there was a banh giostall in Mo market, at the end of Bach Mai Street; the owner was from Uoc Le village. At about 3PM every day, she used to carry two loads of banh gio to the market. As soon as she had settled down, many guest surrounded over the loads, many ate instantly, many brought it home; within an hour, two loads ran out of banh gio. Several years recently, next to a spring roll store in Tue Tinh street (near Hue town), at B area of the collective zone of Kim Lien – Dong Da, Ha Noi, there‘s been a famous banh gio store. It’s very crowded there.
Banh day is a kind of rice-cake just to be used with spring roll. The cake is made from sticky rice. Steep sticky rice within a night, wash it, mix with some salt and steam it into glutinous rice. Ladle out the rice on a trellis matting, plaster two sides of the trellis matting with pork fat and put in on a straw plane. Two strong men use two long pestle (the top of the pestles are also covered with trellis matting), alternating to grind the glutinous rice until it gets smooth and white. Next is the rice squeezing step. The squeezer washes his hands, applies a little cooked pig brain into the palms of his hand (to avoid getting sticky), pinching some sticky rice, slipping through his thumb and left index finger to get a pinch of rice with the shape of a ping-pong ball. Put the pinch of rice on a washed square banana leaf. When the rice gets cold, it becomes flat. Put two slices of rice towards each other, cover it by a banana leaf. Banh day is sold along with spring roll. In the past, Cam Giang station (the top of Hung Yen Province), over 20km distant from Hanoi, was the hometown of three brothers of the famous writers’ group Tu Luc Van Doan. This group consisted of: Nhat Linh (Nguyen Tuong Tam), Hoang Dao (Nguyen Tuong Long) and Thach Lam (Nguyen Tuong Lan). There was huge reputation of banh day – spring roll here. When there was any train heading to the station, a dozen of people started bursting out with loads of banh day, spring roll, advertising their goods professionally “Who wants “banh day” ehhh…”When someone stopped by to buy, the seller took off the load, put a spring roll in the middle of banh day, wrap it up and give it to the guest. The guest gradually tore down the banana leaf and ate. The sweet smell of sticky rice, the amazing taste of spring roll…together created a unique flavor. Several years recently in Hanoi, there’ve been a popular spring roll store named “Phuc Loc”, located at Tran Khac Chan Street (at the end of Hue town) and a spring roll stall in Thinh Yen market nearby; these are two most crowded and famous spring roll selling places. Everybody has their own work, the seller, the cashier…At about 11 AM every day, employees from some companies take their break, urge each other to come here, buying spring roll, banh day, banh gio to use for lunch. On average, a person buys two pairs of banh day (7,000 VND/ a pair); they are sufficient to use for lunch, instead of a meal taken at a normal food store.
Nowadays, making spring roll seems to be easier. The grinding part has been done by engines; as a result, the “cok-cok” cheerful sound before is also lost. In the countryside, that sound used to be very popular, especially in a couple days before lunar New Year. It is like the signal of joy, a special occasion, a party…Now it is quiet all the time. There are engines instead of wooden pestles, instead of stone mortars. People of those days can no longer hear that unique sound again in festival or Lunar New Year. What a pity!