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Pronounced /chay ya/

cha gio are Vietnamese spring rolls. In my opinion, they're completely different than other spring rolls; probably because of the use of nuoc mam, but also the freshness of the vegetables and herbs you wrap them in and the nuoc cham you dip them in. Cha gio are originally a "market food"; something most vietnamese wouldn't have made in their own home and would instead have bought at a market from a street vendor.

Here's a recipe:

1/2 pound ground pork
2 ounces shrimp (peel, devein, etc.)
1/2 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
2 to 3 shallots
1/2 cup jicama (optional. carrot works well, too)
1 ounce cellophane noodles
1/4 teaspon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons nuoc mam

40 small round rice papers (maybe 5 inches across) or wedge-shaped or square; fewer larger ones work fine, too.
Peanut oil to deep fry things in (you can typically find big containers of this cheap at an asian market). Lard was the original traditional way to do this; I suggest peanut oil, or failing that, soybean oil (typically labeled "vegetable oil")

1/2 pound thin dry rice noodles. Soak in warm water for about 20 minutes, drain, cook in boiling water for 2 minutes, drain, rinse with cold water, drain again. (optional. exact prep depends on your noodles; they should be soft and cold, though)
nuoc cham
xalach dia (Vietnamese salad plate) with plenty of lettuce leaves

Soak the noodles for 20 minutes in warm water. Chop or mince the shrimp, onion, garlic, shallots and jicama. Cut the noodles into 1 inch or so segments (use scissors, it's easiest). Mix all the filling ingredients together; makes about 2 cups. Set aside.

Get your wrappers. The correct wrappers are rice paper; brittle sheets. These you soak in warm water (or a warm half and half mixture of water and beer) and then wrap around an appropriate amount of filling. I've had better luck with a more "pasta" type of wrapper that you just wet the part you want to stick. Either way, you'll need a plate with a moist towel on it to work on and a plate with moist towel under and over to store the wrapped rolls. Basically you put a line of filling in the middle, fold the near side over it, fold the left and right over (wet to make it stick if necessary) then fold the far side towards you (wetting to seal properly)

Now you should have a bunch of wrapped and sealed rolls being kept moist by some towelage.

Heat some peanut oil in a wok or an appropriate pot or a deep fryer or a deep skillet. It should be deep enough to completely cover your rolls, maybe about 3/4 of an inch to an inch (more oil for larger rolls). You might actually want 2 (stable) woks so things don't take too long. The temperature is correct when a piece of moist rice paper sinks and then immediately comes back up, without darkening. If it comes up quickly and darkens, lower the temperature a little. medium to medium-high is likely to be right.

Add the rolls one at a time. With the rice papers I found sticking to be an issue in a wok; something with a flat bottom is easier. Rolls shouldn't touch each other. (multiple batches will happen unless you've got a lot of cookware going on) Turn the rolls as they cook so they cook evenly, but be sure not to tear the skins. Cook 7 to 10 minutes; golden all over.

When they're cooked, transfer them to a rack or a large plate covered with paper towels. Let them drain.

Serve with the xalach dia, noodles and nuoc cham.

This is what makes them unique from other "spring rolls" you've had (other than that the details of the actual ingredients are totally unlike chinese spring rolls): To eat one, you take a lettuce leaf, put a roll on it, add various interesting things from the salad plate and/or noodles. Wrap it all up in the leaf, dip into the nuoc cham and enjoy. If the rolls are long, cut in half. I've also seen them cut lengthwise.

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