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Sunday, April 14, 2024 — Houston, TX

Budget Bites: $4 Spring Roll vs. $15 Spring Roll

budget-bites-courtesy-sydney-park
Photo courtesy Sydney Park

By Sydney Park     9/27/22 11:52pm

Gỏi cuốn: a classic, yet overlooked staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Competing with the likes of phở and bánh mì, the spring roll is often underappreciated, commonly served as a shared appetizer or side dish. However, don’t be fooled — if executed poorly, the dish can ruin one’s entire experience, from soggy rice paper wraps to low quality filling ingredients. Typically, the spring roll includes some form of meat — think shrimp, pork or tofu — as well as a medley of rice vermicelli noodles, lettuce and other herbs. A fish sauce dip is traditionally served alongside it, but peanut sauce can accompany it as well. 

For a whopping $4, you can try a shrimp spring roll at Viet’s Express, which is an eight-minute drive from Rice campus. While the strip mall location may initially throw you off, the restaurant is decently popular and crowded around lunch time. I ordered the spring roll at the counter, and my food arrived in an impressive five minutes. The dish came with two rolls along with a hoisin-based sauce that had subtle notes of ginger and sugar. The spring roll itself had pretty sticky rice paper, but it was light and refreshing with the lettuce, shredded carrots and noodles. Without the sauce, I found it to be quite bland, but with the hoisin, the palate was somewhat boosted. Unfortunately, the shrimp lacked significant flavor, making it challenging to taste. Overall, the dish’s flavor profile could have been elevated by adding thai basil or mint, which is what was really missing for me. 

Located in River Oaks District, Le Colonial offers a shrimp spring roll for $15 on their menu. A 20-minute drive from campus, the restaurant provides a more upscale dining experience, requiring a reservation and business casual dress code. The dish arrived with three rolls, cut and plated into halves and accompanied with a creamy peanut dip drizzled with chili garlic sauce. I immediately noticed that the rice paper was not sticky and instead tightly bound to the filling. When I dipped the spring roll into the sauce, spice from the chili instantly dominated the flavor profile, overshadowing the other ingredients. Tasting the spring roll by itself, the quality was very high and fresh, but was a bit heavy on the lettuce. Similar to Viet’s Express, the shrimp was also difficult to taste. However, there was basil and mint in the roll that added the nuanced flavor I was previously looking for. 



So, which spring roll is the best value? If you are looking for a quick, close and cheap place, go to Viet’s Express. But if you are looking for a classy, fun and modern dining experience, go to Le Colonial. Le Colonial’s spring roll is almost four times the price at Viet’s Express, but even with the higher price point, it still had many flaws. All in all, Viet’s Express is the best bite for your budget. 



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