Veggie Summer Rolls

Summer Rolls

The early bird gets the worm, right? Yuck. Worms?

Well, okay. Maybe if eating worms was like eating veggie summer rolls. I like to think birds feel about worms and caterpillars the way I feel about summer rolls. Sticky, awkward, crunchy, flavorful, and full of yummy god-knows-what. I mean, sometimes the rice vermicelli even looks like innards to me. Delicious innards that need to be dipped into peanut sauce.

Every restaurant makes their veggie summer rolls a little differently. You can usually be greeted by a fresh roll or two of sticky rice paper tucked neatly around finely shredded veggies like carrot, cabbage, celery, lettuce, or cucumbers (and tofu if you find the right place). If it’s not specifically veggie, you may be getting a roll with pork or shrimp, the traditional ‘other’ ingredients.

The real pleasure is in the fresh herbs that are wrapped into this squishy packet of fun. I’ve never been impressed with fresh mint in a savory dish, but it’s absolutely critical in the flavor balance with the cilantro, and basil–and the scallions, which stick out of the roll on one end like green antennae. And of course a peanut dipping sauce brings an earthiness to the fresh, herby roll.

I rarely ever pick up my summer roll and pretend it’s a caterpillar with green scallion antennae. I promise. I think The Man would stop taking me out in public if I did that too often.

We generally go to either if the Ichiban Sushi places here in town, or to either of the Chopstix (but they’re a little clunkier there). But the absolute best, if you’re ever in Tampa, is Trang Viet Cuisine.

Trang is a little hole-in-the-wall storefront in a sketchy neighborhood. The d├ęcor is reminiscent of low-budget prom. It hardly looks like much when you walk in. It’s one of those places that are so good, you only tell friends about so that it doesn’t get too crowded. They have a really good veggie selection, including a platter that had two each of four kinds of rolls (including summer rolls) and complimenting dipping sauces. We waddled out of there that day, let me assure you.

I’m linking to another blog here for Vegetable Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce on Two Peas & Their Pod (the names spring/summer rolls can get swapped back and forth apparently). I want to go back and try the recipes for myself and this is easier than bookmarking them. So if you try the recipes, let me know if they’re any good, m’kay?

And while you’re there, follow their link through to the next blog for some disgustingly gorgeous food pics.

Trang Viet Cuisine
1524 E Fowler Ave
Tampa, FL 33612
(813) 979-1464


Wakame Salad

Wakame Salad

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who don’t like sushi, and those that pretend to.”

I don’t know where the quote came from or what the exact words are, but it’s how I felt about sushi for a long time. I’m not going to get into how Westerners have completely bastardized the cuisine and the culture around proper sushi. I just didn’t care for it.

When The Man first started dragging me out to sushi places, I put up token resistance. His family loves sushi and I couldn’t NOT go. He started shoving sushi at me with the same results as when you try to make a cat take a pill. Fortunately I was persuaded to try wakame salad early on, or I’m sure there would have been bloodshed and tears eventually.

Ironically, wakame is a kelp/sea weed type of plant, and is in the top 100 of the list of the world’s most invasive species. Sea farmers have been cultivating it for hundreds of years, but it’s now showing up in waterways around the world that it should not be in, and it’s freaking hard to get rid of. I guess we’re supposed to eat our way out of this dilemma. It is a good source of vitamins and minerals, but also high in sodium. Many Japanese and Korean dishes incorporate wakame, and it’s commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Wakame salad is a very loose term for almost anything combined with wakame. It usually has a dressing involving soy sauce, sesame oil, and/or rice wine vinegar. But again, with the bastardization of traditional sushi and the homogenization of ‘Asian cuisine’, wakame salad can include kale, cucumbers, scallions, ginger, garlic, shallots, carrots, and on and on and on.

I love the simplest version possible, so I prefer getting it at Ichiban [pictured] or Chopstix. Summer rolls, wakame salad, and miso soup makes a simple yet delicious meal in itself. Finish it off with inarizushi, a pocket of fried tofu stuffed with slightly sweet rice. Mmmmmmm.

The Man is a pescetarian (yes, this is a real word), so our sushi dinners are where he goes a bit crazy with the fish. Vegetarian sushi isn’t quite as exciting to me, but I have found I crave the wakame salad incessantly. Crispy, crunchy, slightly sweet-tart-salty. And bright green like you’ve never seen.

I’m still not a sushi addict, but I don’t fight it like I used to. Mostly because The Man is a match for my stubborn streak, and also quite convincing about getting me to try crazy foods. So he won the war with wakame salad.


Ichiban Sushi Downtown

Ichiban Sushi Downtown

I am a vegetarian and The Man is a pescetarian. Yes, that’s a real word. It’s basically a vegetarian that also eats seafood. Fancy, right?

There are people in the world who sometimes actually say things like “I love sushi!”, or “Oh my god, if I don’t have sushi soon, I’m going to die!”. I’ve never been one of those kinds of people. My sister has been trying to convert me for years though, bless her cotton socks. I guess as a vegetarian, raw foods are just a little more common than most diets. So yay!, it’s rolled up can get dipped in ponzu or umeboshi instead of flat on a plate. Woo hoo! (Note sarcasm.)

Well, along comes The Man and his family who are all a little sushi crazy. And I find myself at sushi places more often. The family favorite has always been the Ichiban Sushi up on north 43rd St (in the same plaza as 43rd St Deli and Las Margeritas), but now that there’s one opened up downtown near Emiliano’s, we’ve been going to that one more often.

Of all the times I’ve been, with all of the assorted friends we’ve taken to dinner, I’ve not seen anyone unhappy with the food. Except for when they eat too much and sit there carefully as if they’re about to explode raw fish out of their ears. The Man generally goes a little crazy when he orders rolls and pieces, and I let him order for me because he knows his way around the menu. (I’m going to let him talk about his favorites in another post since that’s a whole book.)

My favorites are the asparagus and the veggie rolls, and I always have to have a wakame salad (cruncy threads of seaweed). And of course inari to finish–little fried tofu pockets stuffed with slightly sweet sushi rice. Inari can be savory as well, but at Ichiban it is a lovely little two-bite sweet to end a meal. Or just order about ten of them and that can be your meal, if you’re crazy like me. But really, don’t do that. More than once anyway.

Because I’m not a sushi fanatic, I also explored the rest of their veggie options which includes some delish Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and other noodle dishes. You should try the yakisoba and the pad thai if you want to dodge the sushi one day. And they do serve the usual variety of Asian beers, wine, and some fancy mixed drinks. If you like ginger, try the ginger martini. Yum!

The downtown Ichiban is a nice alternative to the usual downtown restaurants, but it still tries to be hip and trendy. It’s a little less homey than the 43rd St one. And it gets a bit busy, so don’t plan on this being a one-hour dinner. This is a place to go with friends and enjoy a dinner. This is a place to share food, boast about sushi-eating abilities, and do stupid things with chopsticks.

We tend to spend a bit more here than most places we go for a casual dinner, but it’s usually the opportunity for The Man to binge on seafood which he doesn’t do often. The meal can be as inexpensive or “Wow, I ate all of that!?” as you want it to be since you build your own dinner from rolls, pieces, and extras. If you’re on a budget, bring a pen to make a list so you stay on target because it’s easy to let the food go to your head.

And a helpful hint from your favorite food spy, park somewhere a few blocks away. You’ll appreciate the little walk (or waddle) back to your car to get the digestion going.

Ichiban Sushi
15 SE 1st Ave
Gainesville, Fl 32601