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Activity: The Joy of Vietnamese Cooking Aboard Paradise Cruises

Whether you fancy yourself a chef or your idea of home cooking is unwrapping and heating up a pre-made dish, you’ll be amazed at how simple, fun, and delicious it can be to cook Vietnamese food. A cooking demonstration is part of every Paradise cruise, taking you to step by step through the process of making fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. Those who book a 2-night stay get the added bonus of learning how to make the crispy, crunchy deep-fried version of these spring rolls as well. 


Origins of the Vietnamese Spring Roll

But where did this fabulous spring roll originate? Called gỏi cuốn in the south of Vietnam and nem cuốn in the north, most culinary experts agree that this dish most likely originated in China. Throughout Vietnam’s storied history, China and Vietnam have had contentious relations characterized by invasions from China, temporary Chinese control and colonial settlement, and eventual expulsion by rebel forces in Vietnam (and it’s worth noting that during the French colonial era, France took on a similar role in influencing Vietnamese culture). This ebb and flow between China and Vietnam are responsible for many modern Vietnamese cultural elements in language, cuisine, traditional clothes, holidays, and family hierarchy, which all include parts that are imported and adapted from Chinese culture. 


Linguists estimate that a whopping 50-70% of Vietnamese language consists of loan words from Chinese that have essentially been changed and “Vietnamised” into differing tones and pronunciations--to the extent that in many cases, to the untrained ear, the same Chinese and Chinese-borrowed Vietnamese word may sound almost nothing alike. In the same way, much of Vietnamese cuisine has been heavily influenced and adapted from (mostly southern) Chinese cuisine, and while some of it bears many similarities, most of it has been totally reworked into distinctive new versions featuring unique, quintessentially Vietnamese flavors. A broad range of Vietnamese dishes can be traced directly to dishes that anyone with some familiarity with Chinese cuisine will instantly recognize, like mì hoành thánh (wonton noodle soup), há cảo (dim sum), and thịt xá xíu (char siu pork). Vietnamese spring rolls, as they are often called in Western countries, are also borrowed from Chinese cuisine, but have been adapted to uniquely Vietnamese tastes and flavor profiles not found in China or anywhere else. 


Bánh Tráng: the Foundation for Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Of course, the most critical component of a Vietnamese spring roll is bánh tráng, or rice paper, which is used to wrap the ingredients of the roll and hold them together in a convenient package that can be enjoyed using only your hands. Traditionally, bánh tráng is made with steamed rice flour batter that is spread into a thin circular “pancake,” then left out to sundry on a flat bamboo surface. 


Though many Vietnamese still use this traditional method to make bánh tráng, this popular ingredient used widely in many Vietnamese dishes can be machine-made for mass production that results in a thinner “paper” that is also more hygienic and suitable for export. Though you will likely encounter this traditional rice paper being made throughout your travels in Vietnam, the more hygienic variety is what you’ll be using as part of the cooking demonstration aboard Paradise Cruises.


Beyond spring rolls, bánh tráng is a surprisingly versatile base for many different Vietnamese dishes. It can be fried, baked, grilled, soaked, and even served sliced up into strips with a mixture of spicy and savory oils and spices, a popular snack for Vietnamese children and adults alike called bánh tráng trộn. If you’re curious to try it, keep an eye out next time you’re walking around any Vietnamese town or city, as it is ubiquitously sold throughout the country in street food eateries, convenience stores, and local markets. 


Assembling the Vietnamese Spring Roll

Now that you’re familiar with the origins of Vietnamese Spring Rolls and the importance and versatility of its primary ingredient, bánh tráng, you’ll surely be curious to try it for yourself! Not to be missed, the expert chefs aboard every Paradise cruise will take the time to show you how it’s done in an easy-to-follow, methodical approach that’s actually a lot of fun to try.


You’ll have the option to include shrimp and thinly sliced pork, but vegetarians can also enjoy a spring roll made with tofu. Once you’ve decided on a protein base, you can begin assembly. The chef first places two sheets of bánh tráng on a sanitized damp cloth to make the paper soft and flexible. Then, you’ll watch as the chef neatly arranges each of the ingredients in a row at the base of the paper: vermicelli noodles, fresh sliced carrots and cucumber, cooked egg cut up into strips, and for those who choose, the thinly sliced pork. The chef then gathers the paper and rolls the ingredients together once, with some paper remaining. For those who like shrimp, these are traditionally added in last, before the final layer of bánh tráng wraps around the roll completely, to make them stand out and give them an aesthetically-pleasing presentation as they will be easily visible under the outer layer of wrapping.


After you’ve watched how simple this assembly process is, it’ll be your turn to try. You and two other volunteers can come up to the table and work together to make your own spring rolls. If it’s your first time, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make, even if the final result isn’t quite as shapely as the professional roll made by the Paradise Cruise chef. After your successful assembly, our kitchen staff will take the roll you’ve made and set it aside for plating. A few more guests may try their hand at it as well, and overall the experience turns into a great supportive exercise with fellow “classmates” encouraging and supporting each other, giving each other advice, and cheering each other on to persist through an unfamiliar assembly and rolling process.


Once the rolls are all made, it’s time to sit back and enjoy! The Paradise Cruise kitchen staff return your rolls to you sliced into easily manageable, bite-sized pieces, as well as a delicious dipping sauce that really gives your spring roll a burst of fresh, savory, citrusy flavor. It’s a delicacy once considered fit for Vietnamese royals that you’ve learned to make yourself!


Vietnamese spring rolls are a crowd-pleasing dish that is popular in Vietnam, as well as their variants in other countries throughout Asia. What better way to share a slice of authentic Vietnamese culture for your friends and family back home to enjoy than by impressing them with homemade Vietnamese spring rolls? Better yet, making spring rolls can be a fun communal activity--a great way to share what you’ve learned in your travels while treating yourself and your loved ones to fresh, delicious Vietnamese cuisine that you can enjoy making together.


Aboard every Paradise overnight cruise, you’ll have a chance to make this dish and experience authentic, delicious, fresh Vietnamese cuisine for yourself. For the two-night cruises, you’ll also learn how to make the deep-fried variant of Vietnamese Spring rolls, which involves assembling finely diced ingredients all mixed together in a big batch, then rolling them up similarly to the way you would roll a fresh spring roll. The kitchen staff then takes your hand-made rolls, deep-fries them until crispy and golden brown, and then slices them into bite-sized chunks with a delicious dipping sauce for you to enjoy. It’s an incredibly fun experience, with a delicious taste that you’ll find yourself craving long after your travels in Vietnam come to an end.


Cuisine Comes First Aboard Paradise Cruises

There’s no doubt that Paradise Cruises set themselves apart by offering Halong Bay’s finest dining experiences. You’ll get the very best of the best fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, cooked into a variety of Eastern and Western dishes by our expert chefs. And aboard our new Paradise Grand cruise, which takes our guests on an excursion to nearby Lan Ha Bay, the menu has been curated and carefully crafted by none other than Michelin-star celebrity chef John Burton-Race.


Paradise Elegance features an incredible breakfast and lunch buffet, featuring a sumptuous spread of Western and Eastern favorites. Aboard all Paradise cruises, you’ll have the option to dine wherever you like: in your room, on your private balcony, in the restaurant, or out on the sun deck. And of course, all dishes aboard Paradise cruises are adaptable and customized to your dietary preferences and needs. Just inform the staff of any changes or considerations that need to be made, and they’ll be happy to accommodate you.


The cooking demonstrations aboard every Paradise cruise are a fantastic way to surprise yourself at what you can do, and not only enjoy authentic Vietnamese cuisine, but get to know the process of making it intimately from start to finish. For everything else you enjoy onboard, you’ll be floored and amazed at the unique and delicious flavors that make up all of our dishes and look forward to your dining experiences as much as you do any other activity during your stay in Halong Bay.