by Doris Evans
Michael Duong and his sister Gina were born in Vietnam. Their parents arrived in New Zealand in the 80ies together with baby Michael. Gina stayed in the Southeast Asian country until she finished her university years. After her exams she joined her family in Auckland. Last year, the two siblings started their own business and opened “Rolls of Vietnam” in Auckland’s Lynn Mall. The eatery offers freshly made scrumptious snacks, Banh Mi, rice rolls with a number of fillings and accompanying sauces.
The clear design of their café stands out with its red and white colours, framed with black lines. Warm tones of brown, and photographs of the appetizing range on offer complete the picture. It is a popular destination. Even on a Monday morning long before lunchtime the two ladies behind the counter are busy as more and more customers pile up.
Michael and Gina are passionate about the food from their home country. Michael’s favourite dish, which he would like to share with us, is summer rolls. “You have this meal usually once a week in Vietnam”, he says. He likes the vibrancy and the freshness that goes into that snack, the distinctive scent of mint. “The freshness of Vietnamese food and the smell are characteristics that make it so different. You can’t beat the smell of fresh mint,” says Michael. The complex flavours and contrasting textures add to this. The dish is often served at a family meal, which is a big thing in Vietnam.
He claims his mother is the reason he loves to prepare food. She taught him how to cook. When his family came to New Zealand, his parents had to start a completely new life. They were leaving their war-torn home country to build up a better future for themselves and their nine kids in New Zealand. Michael’s aunt was already living here, married to a Kiwi soldier, she was the reason that the family decided to move to the islands on the bottom of the South Pacific.
The beginning wasn’t easy for the family. Both parents had to learn English and adapt to a different lifestyle. But they were determined to make it happen. They really worked hard to get their feet on the ground, and were committed to ensuring that all their kids received a good education and could go to university.
“Their motto was work hard and live a good life” says Michael. “This is essentially the spirit of the good people of Vietnam, who have very high work ethics”, he says proudly.
But back to the pleasures of eating. When we think about Vietnamese food, rice paper rolls, innovative soups, and lots of fruit and vegetables come to mind. Influenced by its French colonial past, and its neighbours in China, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, Vietnamese cuisine is an amalgamation of the exciting eats offered in these countries while still maintaining its own identity. Banh mi for example literally translates to bread, but means baguettes made up of a variety of meat or fish products with crunchy vegetables, cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts stuffed into a toasted bread roll. Rice paper rolls are also a popular and traditional Vietnamese dish, full of fresh flavours and usually served with delicious dipping sauces. They are filled with fresh vegetables and herbs, fish, pork or beef, making them a tasty, healthy and balanced meal.
Some 30 years ago, it was not easy to get the right ingredients for a fresh banh mi or rice rolls in New Zealand. Michaels parents had to source ingredients for a traditional Vietnamese dish in the few Asian shops that were around at the time. However, over the years, the variety grew. “There is definitely more choice now”, Michael says.
He and Gina have ambitious visions regarding their business. At the moment, they only operate in Lynn Mall, but expansion plans to grow it into a chain are already in the pipeline. They both work long hours to keep the ‘Rolls of Vietnam’ rolling. The store is open from 9 to 6, and employs one full and two part-time staff. Beside working at the eatery, Gina is also sourcing the ingredients. Which adds to the working hours and takes a lot of time. The Avondale market is one of her main shopping destinations on the weekend.
While Michael adapted easily to his new home country, Gina admits that for her it was harder to immerse into the New Zealand way of life. When asked what she is missing from her home country, Gina says friends and family. Her cousins and other relatives still live in Vietnam and she doesn’t see them very often. Michael mentions the fresh tropical fruits of his home country, the ones that you can hardly get here. Rambutan for example, native to Vietnam, and Durian, known as the stinky fruit, or tamarind, a spice used in Vietnamese cooking.
Despite missing her relatives , Gina is positive about the future. She says it is important to make friends where you live to feel at home. “It’s good when you have nice colleagues. They eventually become your friends, because you share the same passion.”
Michael and Gina, are happy with the success of their business venture. Even during the Covid-19-lockdown, they didn’t lose their enthusiasm and were pleased with how the mall owner dealt with ongoing problems. Michael argues that running your own business is important. “You can reap the rewards of your hard work,” he says. The Facebook comments about ‘Rolls of Vietnam’ are encouraging. Guests love the healthy options and it certainly is an enrichment for the Whau area. There is a Vietnamese community on Facebook, where people exchange advice and learn where to source ingredients for a refreshing Vietnamese meal.
Michael’s summer rolls
- Rice paper
- Vermicelli noodles
- Cucumber, cut into sticks
- Carrots, grated
- Bean sprouts
- Prawn, pork or chicken, cooked
Roll out the rice paper, place a couple of mint leaves in centre of paper. Top with carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts, add cold cooked roast pork, cooked prawns or pieces of cooked chicken, and top with vermicelli. Fold in the 2 ends, then roll up the sides tightly to enclose the filling.
Once done, don’t forget the dipping sauce. Just choose your favourite
– Fish sauce
– Peanut sauce,
– Sweet and sour chili sauce
– Hoisin sauce