They are perhaps an unlikely lifeline, but the spring rolls made in the kitchen of Bowie resident Hoang Phan, in addition to being delicious, enjoy a reputation for saving lives abroad.
What began as an annual fundraiser for Vietnamese orphans evolved into a passionate campaign to assist South East Asians stranded at sea following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Together with friends and relatives, Hoang has been responsible for contributing thousands of dollars to the victims' cause from the sales of her homemade, delicately fragrant spring rolls.
The plight of the so-called "boat people" has been a steady concern of Hoang and her husband, coowners of Vietnam Food and Drink, a soy sauce factory in Landover. Since 1975, the couple has opened its home to more than 50 refugees. On a more personal level, both husband and wife have siblings, nieces and nephews who remain in Hanoi.
The funds from this year's undertaking, noted Hoang, will go directly to the San Diego-based Boat People SOS Committee, headed by Nguyen-Huu Xuong, who has taught physics, chemistry and biology at the University of California-San Diego. "There are still a lot of Vietnamese leaving after 10 years -- 8 to 10 thousand a year," he said recently. The committee's primary aims, he added, are to focus continued attention on the mass suffering and raise funds for rescue ships.
Thus, beginning this month and continuing through April, Hoang and her friends will be accepting orders for their authentic Vietnamese spring rolls, which are prepared upon request and sold frozen, along with instructions for frying, for $18 for two dozen. Ten dollars from each order will be sent to Boat People SOS Committee, 6970 Linda Vista Rd., San Diego, Calif., 92111. Orders may be placed by calling Hoang at 262-3735 or 322-7948.
Below is a spring roll recipe from Hoang which requires no frying, unlike those spring rolls she offers for sale. To make your own, following a trip through the express lane, all you'll need to have on hand are sugar and oil. For authenticity, the tuong -- lighter in color and thicker in consistency than regular soy sauce -- can be obtained at Vietnamese markets.
Express Lane list: lettuce, chicken or pork or shrimp, fresh mint or basil leaves, onion, vinegar, rice paper, tuong (Vietnamese soy sauce, optional) PHAN HOANG'S SPRING ROLLS (Makes 48 rolls)
3 heads boston lettuce
1 1/2 pounds chicken or pork or shrimp, cooked and shredded
1 cup fresh mint or basil leaves
1 onion, julienned
1/2 cup vinegar
24 sheets rice paper (preferably the Elephant brand, available in oriental markets)
1 cup tuong (optional)
3 tablespoons sugar or to taste (optional)
Wash and dry the lettuce well.
In the center of a lettuce leaf, place a few pieces of the shredded chicken, pork or shrimp, some mint or basil, and then a slice of onion dipped in vinegar. Roll up the lettuce leaf.
Wet the rice papers, one at a time, and cut in half with scissors. (Handle very carefully to prevent breaking when dry or tearing when wet.) Dip each half in water again, then quickly take it out and lay it flat on a cutting board. Seconds later, it becomes soft enough to roll. Place the lettuce on the half circle of rice paper. Roll up tightly and clip the ends, so that the 6-inch rolls look like filterless cigarettes. Place on a large platter and cover until serving time to preserve the softness of the rice paper wrapping.
Serve as is, or dip in a mixture of the Hoangs' Bodhi brand soy sauce and enough sugar to taste.
Adapted from "An American Folklife Cookbook," by Joan Nathan (Shocken Books, $18.95)