The Lee Family’s Signature, World Famous Vietnamese Rolls
- Rice wrappers
- Three kinds of Peppers: Yellow, Red, and Orange.
- Crab meat
- Cilantro (optional)
- Sauce (Chili, Peanut, Fish Lemon)
To say that I sometimes get homesick is an understatement: Living for much of the year in a boarding school on South Korea’s Jeju island, I only get to see my parents and older sister a few times a year when I return home for summer and holiday breaks. Fortunately, my family and I have a tradition whenever we’re all together again, a tradition that’s fun, delicious, and reminds me just how truly lucky and loved I am.
For nearly ten years, our family’s special tradition has been to gather in our kitchen and make our “world famous” Vietnamese rolls. Although none of us are Vietnamese, our borderline-fanatical love of the cuisine caused us to attempt to recreate the magical flavours in our own home. Finally, after much trial and error, we found the perfect combination of meat, vegetables and spices to create the Lee family signature roll!
Working like a well-oiled, gourmet kitchen, each of us has our assigned roles: My mom is the Head Chef, directing operations and chopping vegetables with a speed and dexterity that would impress even the most seasoned Michelin-Star winner. Having learned a considerable amount from her over the years, I now take on the designated role of Sous Chef: washing vegetables and assisting my mom with slicing and dicing. While I’m nowhere near as good as my mom, I’m especially proud of my ability to chop peppers into needle-thin pieces (by the way, did you know that red, yellow, and orange peppers all have distinctly different flavors? Yellow peppers are the sweetest!)
Then comes my sister with her seemingly super-powered taste buds, which she uses to discern the perfect balance of lemon juice and chili oil as our Saucier. Lastly, my dad is our self-proclaimed “beef manager, “ taking charge of grilling the steak until it’s juicy and tender and just the right amount of pink in the middle. Honestly, I’ve had steaks at 5-Star restaurants that haven’t been as good as my dad’s!
Once the prep is done, and before we gather at the table filled with colorful ingredients to add to our rolls, the age-old debate begins: to cilantro or not to cilantro? Our family is starkly divided on this hotly-debated topic: while my sister and mom adore the taste, my dad and I can hardly stand the sight of the dreaded spice! Unfortunately, it’s all due to genetics: my dad and I inherited the gene where cilantro tastes like someone has squeezed an entire tube of toothpaste into our mouths! Every time, without fail, the debate rages to the point where it affects the seating arrangements: my dad and I sitting as far away from the cilantro as possible. However, the heated debate soon dissolves into a resounding chorus of “mmmmmmm’s” as we tuck into the feast we’ve prepared, all the while catching up on months of cheesy dad jokes, mom’s laundry advice, and my sister’s college stories.
It isn’t always easy being away from my family for most of the year: sometimes I envy other kids who get to see their families every day. But then I remember the savory taste of beef and crab, the sweetness of yellow peppers, and the warmth and laughter that emanates from our dinner table. The simple act of preparing a meal together is made all the more special by it symbolizing our reunification as a family. It’s so much more than filling our bellies: it’s an act of love and gratitude for being together again.
I will always treasure this simple ritual that my family and I have built together. While we don’t agree on adding cilantro to our rolls, we do agree on one thing: our special, world-famous vietnamese rolls are both a taste-sensation, and one of the greatest acts of love our family can give.
Jeniffer Lee lives in South Korea and goes to school on Jeju Island. Her favorite hobbies are writing, playing Volleyball, and hanging out with friends.