Summer Rolls

"I didn't want it to be true" — Mom

Anthony Bourdain Les Halles

Mom says over the phone as I try to hold back tears. It had been a long and emotionally draining Friday. 

Almost a month has passed, and I still can't stop thinking about how we lost one of the greatest storytellers too soon. Anthony Bourdain didn't live a perfect life, and he had his demons, but he stood by his beliefs, and through that, he showed us that diversity should be celebrated, not feared. He is one of the few celebrity personalities that didn't give a shit about being a celebrity, and he did what he loved. We should aspire to be a little more like him — maybe the world would be a kinder place, indeed more inclusive then it is currently. 

My goal in starting Soy + Ginger was to tell the stories around the foods that I grew up with — my personal narrative of what it means to be Chinese and American. I'm not rare, there are plenty of us out there. And although our experiences are cut from the same cake, we are still each our own individual slices. These are my stories that go with the foods that I ate, foods that are now becoming more widely accepted because of people like Anthony Bourdain. Because of him, I have grown to embrace the foods of my heritage instead of carrying a secret shame around like I did for most of my childhood. I didn't want to be an "other," so I pretended that I ate mac and cheese at home when really I was happily enjoying things like fish cakes, summer rolls, or ma po tofu — some (if not all) of which are now commonly found on menus across the U.S. 

I wholeheartedly embrace the welcoming of these foods in popular American culture, but it becomes problematic when you erase the culture from the dish, and you don't acknowledge the people who gave it to you in the first place. And it becomes worse when you don't recognize the real talents behind these dishes because they're not white — do you think Fuchsia Dunlop would be as famous as she is today if she were a Chinese person promoting Chinese food? I have nothing against her, but I also don't see her telling the stories of people behind the food. No, not like Anthony Bourdain. That was why he was so beloved because he showed us the food, and then he showed us the people that made it great. 

I met him at a book signing a few years ago, and it was one of the best days of my life. I still carry around the advice he gave that night — just do what you love, don't think about how you're going to monetize it, that way you'll always be genuine, and if it's good, eventually someone will notice.  So I'm going to continue working on my blog, but I'm going to go my own pace and do it for me and not for anyone else. I'm going to share the summer roll recipe that I grew up with — so that I can remember how to make it down the road. This was Grandma's recipe, she picked it up in Vietnam when she lived there for most of her adult life. It's something a simple Google just can't yield. 

Today is Anthony Bourdain's birthday, and I wish so much that he was still here to celebrate it because we need more people like him in the world. Thanks for everything you've done.

Les Halles
summer rolls

Prep: 60 mins. | Assemble: varies


1 pack rice paper wrappers
2 oz vermicelli noodles
1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cucumber
1 small head of lettuce
4 large sprigs of Thai basil

For the dipping sauce, we use a traditional Vietnamese chili fish sauce

what you need for summer rolls


The bulk of the work comes in the preparation stage. You will need to spend some time washing, poaching, and chopping. 

1. Bring a pot of water to a roaring boil. As you wait for that, chop the cucumber into half-inch lengthwise pieces. Set aside. 

2. When the water is boiling, place the vermicelli noodles in the pot and cook for about eight minutes (similar to making dry pasta). Drain the noodles and wash with cold water to make sure it stops cooking.

3. Bring the pot back to the stove refilled with fresh water, and bring that to a roaring boil. In the meantime, wash the lettuce and Thai basil. 

4. Once the water has come to a boil, cook the shrimp for about five minutes or until pink — you don't want it to overcook. 

Ingredients for summer rolls


It's simple to assemble and fold if you think of it as a burrito — it's a similar technique. My advice — don't get greedy with the fillings and put just a little bit of everything in, and believe in the strength of the rice paper — it's not as delicate as it looks. 

putting together summer rolls

1. Fill a large bowl, pie plate, or round baking sheet with water. Place the rice paper wrapper in the water pressing down to make sure all parts are submerged. When it's just a little softer (it should still be a little tough) transport it to a plate and press down around the plate using the rim as a guide until it is completely soften. 

2. Start with a leaf of lettuce, layer in the noodles, Thai basil, cucumber and then the shrimp so that it all forms a nice rectangle that's around five inches long and two inches wide within the circle of the wrapper.

3. Fold the bottom and top end of the wrapper into the filling. Pick up the left side of the wrapper and cover the filling and then start rolling it to the right until you have a perfectly formed roll. 

4. Repeat for each roll. 


As mentioned earlier, we like using the traditional Vietnamese dipping fish sauce, which you can make ahead of time and keep in the fridge. Another alternative is to use peanut sauce, which my secret is to add oyster sauce and not hoisin sauce — it will be unlike any peanut sauce you've ever had in the best way possible. 

This dish is fun to make with a group of friends as it is very hands on. You can use them as the main dish or as appetizers — our family did the latter. Vietnamese bun bowls served as the as the main dish in Grandma's household. 


summer roll fillings