A Thanh Hoa eatery has been serving mouthwatering shrimp rolls to locals and tourists for nearly 50 years, becoming a must-try specialty in the city.
That's shop, situated at 9 Le Thi Hoa Street in the city center, nearly three hours car drive south of Hanoi, has gained fame for its shrimp rolls, which are small bites made of minced shrimp and pork, wrapped in a pho noodle sheet, and grilled over charcoal.
The shrimp rolls are grilled over charcoal, resulting in a smoky aroma.
Operating for almost half a century, the 50-square-meter shop can accommodate from 30 to 45 guests at a time. It opens at 3 p.m. until the ingredients run out, serving both dine-in and take-out customers.
"During busy days, we are sold out by 8 p.m.," said Le Thi That, the 80-year-old owner of the establishment. In the summer season, with an increasing number of tourists, sales can reach over 6,000 rolls.
The shop consists of both outside and inside dining sittings. There are six stainless steel tables for six people outside, while inside, four tables cater to four people. Adjacent to the shop's entrance is a charcoal grill, accompanied by sticks of shrimp rolls.
On an average day, the shop prepares nearly 5,000 rolls. Bamboo sticks are used to hold four rolls each. The preparation includes 30 kilograms of fresh rice noodle sheet, 30 kilograms of shrimp paste and minced pork belly, 60 liters of sauce, herbs, and other spices.
Despite its small size, the shop has 10 helpers, including That's children and neighbors. In the mornings, they partake in tasks such as preliminary processing, cutting noodle sheets, washing vegetables, and rolling the rolls. In the afternoon, some of them grill the shrimp rolls, while others plate the rolls and serve guests.
The shrimp paste filling is made by small pieces of pork belly, shrimp stir fried with fried shallots, pepper, and flesh of sweet gourd to achieve a vibrant color. After cooling, the mixture is ground or pounded into a smooth paste.
The wrapper is made from rice noodle rolls cut into rectangular pieces measuring 7 x 4 centimeters. According to That, the shop uses fresh, thicker pho noodle sheets that are more resilient than regular ones to prevent tearing during the rolling process. To create a roll, the sheet is spread flat, a spoonful of the prepared filling is placed, and then it is tightly rolled. This stage is the most challenging as it requires straight rolling to keep the wrapper intact, and the right amount of pressure to avoid tearing and filling spillage during grilling.
The shrimp rolls, secured with bamboo sticks, are then grilled evenly on a charcoal stove for approximately 7 to 10 minutes. The cooked rolls have a golden yellow color with brown edges. They are best enjoyed while hot, offering a crispy crust and a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth filling. The combination of savory pork belly and shrimp creates a familiar yet unique taste. Despite being ground into fine paste, the filling retains the shrimp flavor without any fishy aftertaste. The sizzling sound of shrimp rolls grilling on a charcoal stove adds to the allure of the dining experience.
Served alongside the rolls are salted figs, papaya pickles, carrots, green mangoes, and a selection of vegetables such as lettuce, perilla, marjoram, and coriander. Diners can accompany the rolls with chili sauce or sweet and sour fish sauce, self-served from the table. Each serving consists of ten shrimp rolls and costs VND12,000 (51 cents).
Le Thi Tuyet, the manager of Lam Son Ward, said that That's shrimp rolls is one of the oldest and most renowned snack shops in Thanh Hoa City. The shop is renowned for its flavors, generous amount of fillings, and reasonable prices.
Hoang, a visitor from Hanoi, said: "The just-cooked shrimp rolls have a crispy shell, tender filling, a fragrant shrimp aroma, and an eye-catching golden color."
An order of shrimp rolls is served with a variety of herbs and pickles.
Shrimp rolls have become a popular afternoon snack among the locals in Thanh Hoa. Nguyen Hang, a resident of Thanh Hoa, said that she has been coming to That's shop with her friends for around nine years. She prefers the aroma of the charcoal grill and the rolls' tender crust, which distinguishes them from other establishments. Additionally, she finds the dipping sauce and pickles at That's shop to be perfectly suited to her taste.
Due to its small scale, the shop's service can be less attentive during busy periods, resulting in longer waiting times. Moreover, That's advanced age poses challenges in communication with guests. While the tidiness of the shop leaves something to be desired, the abundant parking space is definitely a highlight.
Apart from shrimp rolls, visitors to Thanh Hoa can explore other culinary delights such as Hanh Kinh spring rolls, Ben Ngu snails, banh khoai tep (shrimp crispy pancakes), banh rang bua (steamed rice cakes) and rice rolls.