Monday, March 12, 2007

Travel Dish: Wrap & Roll

This is the 13th in a special series of food reports from my recent trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Return every Sunday and Monday for the latest postings.It’s Got Spring Roll Franchise Written All Over It
62 Hai Ba Trung St., District 1
Major credit cards accepted; 5 percent service charge
Open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

When you walk through the clear doors of the lime green-and-yellow decorated Wrap & Roll, you can almost close your eyes and imagine that you’re in Manhattan instead of Ho Chi Minh City.

With its contemporary, hipster design and servers dressed in store-branded T-shirts, Wrap & Roll could be replicated easily as a franchise. Fortunately for me, there was just one to try out after walking around the tourist area in District 1.

The tiny restaurant looks almost like a smoothie shop, with an emphasis on healthy ingredients. But the star showcased on the menu is definitely the Vietnamese spring rolls, or cha gio. Serving both lunch and dinner, Wrap & Roll list more than 16 styles of rolls, ranging in price from D18,000 to D35,000 (or $1.10 to $2.18). They also offer salads, hot pots and desserts. And yes, a list of fruit smoothies.
I came in for dinner and started with the Goi Xoai or mango salad. It came nicely presented with the typical shrimp chips on the sides. Like most salads I’ve eaten in Vietnam, it was light and crunchy, with the julienned unripen mango tasting very similar to green papaya, except thicker.

For my entrĂ©e, I ordered the Ca Chinh Mong Nghe, or Grilled Sea Eel with Tumeric and Calanga. I have to admit, I was intrigued by the idea of tumeric and calanga. Even though I can’t recall if I ate anything with these ingredients, they sounded exotic enough to pair up with grilled sea eel, which I imagined to be like unagi (the Japanese barbeque eel popular at sushi bars).
My eel came out in a platter with my various ingredients ready for me to assemble. There was the fresh greens, rice noodles, the rice paper wraps, and the grilled eel. I couldn’t wait to get started. If you’ve ever assembled a spring roll, you know you have to lightly wet the rice papers to soften them. At Wrap & Roll, they bring the rice wraps pre-moistened. You can guess what this meant. Yep, my rice papers stuck to each other or had dried out to be hard. It was difficult maneuvering all the ingredients into the stiff wrapper. And on top of that, I don’t think I really tasted a distinct tumeric spice in the eel (although it was moist).

I probably should have ordered the pre-made rolls, which come out to you already assembled. The entire assembling at your table is a nice idea if they provide a dish of liquid to help you moisten the wrappers.

My highlight at Wrap & Roll, however, was the lychee smoothie I ordered to drink with my meal. It was amazingly tasty in a not-so-sweet but delicate manner that makes you want to bottle it up and take several home with you back to the United States. I would go back just for the smoothies.

While Wrap & Roll is a fun place to visit, I would recommend it more as a fun lunch spot or afternoon snack hang out after a day of strolling Saigon. I wouldn’t recommend it for dinner unless you’re on a smoothie-only diet!

Single guy rating: 3 stars (perfect for foodies looking for an afternoon snack)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Postscript Saigon: The Coop
Shopping in Vietnam happens entirely on the streets from markets like farmers markets here or street vendors and even hawkers that basically just set up shop anywhere they like. But like all cities moving toward modernization, there are a few stores opening up that resemble the grocery stores of the West. One of them was called the Coop (which I assumed was short for co-operative) and this was just at the end of the block of my hotel. It looks huge outside and inside it's this two-story department store with food products on the ground floor and clothing on the second floor. The food products was a nice assortment of things to buy, but I have to say that the produce didn't match the fresh quality of those found on the streets. It's a great place to buy bottled water, though.


Anonymous said...

You know, I've always wondered if places like this exist somewhere. The franchise style that you see in the Quickly pearl milk tea shops, for instance, but focusing on a food item instead. Thank you for answering this question!

Single Guy Ben said...

I know, we'd probably make lots of money if we franchised this spring roll joint in the United States. But I'd probably get fat from drinking the lychee smoothie all day, every day. :)