Vietnamese spring rolls at Saigon Bistro

April 20, 2012 (CHICAGO)

In Thailand, you'd see tofu and vegetables, and probably a sweeter sauce. But in Vietnam, the spring roll is a cold preparation that essentially contains an entire salad within the sturdy walls of rice paper. We found one in West Rogers Park that's as good as anything you'd find along Argyle Street.

If springtime is truly about offering what's fresh, then a spring roll should do the trick on a warm afternoon. A staple on most Vietnamese menus, also called goi cuon, the version at Saigon Bistro in West Rogers Park is particularly noteworthy.

"Vermicelli salad with lettuce, fresh herbs and mints and we have bean sprouts. And it typically comes with pork and shrimp and it's pretty much just rolled in rice paper and it dips in a peanut sauce," said Weiching Mach, the co-owner of Saigon Bistro.

But it's so much more than that. Consider the individual components: first there's roasted and poached pork, then large shrimp is also boiled until just barely cooked. Large, brittle sheets of rice paper have to be dunked into warm water to soften them, then both the pork and the shrimp are sliced into thin pieces. They're carefully set onto the middle of the rice paper, followed by a handful of shredded lettuce, mint and cilantro. Another handful of bean sprouts goes next to it, topped off with a mound of soft, boiled vermicelli noodles. The entire package is wrapped up and then sliced in half, but that's not all.

"But really the main difference is the sauce. Because there is no seasoning in the salad itself, it's the sauce that really makes the difference," Mach said.

The sauce is a slightly sweet hoisin, topped off with crushed peanuts. It lends the spring roll just the right note of additional sweetness and crunch, setting the tone for the meal ahead.

"It's just a really nice appetizer, really cool and refreshing," she said.

There's much more than just spring rolls at Saigon Bisto. Soups and grilled items are noteworthy, as is the iced coffee.

Saigon Bistro
6244 N. California Ave.
(773) 564-9336

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