Spring Rollin’ – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Reclusive American poet Emily Dickinson insisted a light exists in spring that’s not present at any other time of year. If you’ve ever spent a winter in the Northern Hemisphere at a latitude of 42° or more, you know what it’s like to long for that light. You can relate to the irritability and restlessness of having only eight hours of sunlight during winter months. You know what it’s like to head to work in the dark and return home in the dark. You know the confinement of cabin fever when persistent rain or snow keep you indoors for prolonged periods of time. If you’ve experienced long, dark winters, you celebrate the return of spring.
In northern climates, the advent of spring is celebrated as a return to warmer weather, new growth and increased daylight. While most countries celebrate spring festivals a couple of weeks after the much loathed Daylight Savings Time, China’s Spring Festival (better known as the Chinese New Year) begins somewhat earlier. Generally falling on a day between January 21st and February 20th in the Gregorian calendar, this spring festival is the grandest festival in China. China’s spring festival is a seven-day long holiday in which foods with symbolic meanings are eaten to bring celebrants good luck during the coming year.
Not surprisingly, one of the lucky foods associated with the spring festival are spring rolls (which explains the origin of their name). Traditional spring festival spring rolls are constructed with fresh vegetables, green shoots, and light wrappers to give them a delicate flavor and light texture meant to evoke spring. In Chinese tradition, spring rolls symbolize wealth. There’s even a saying about their wealth-imparting qualities: “A ton of gold‘ (because fried spring rolls look like gold bars) — a wish for prosperity.”
While spring rolls may have originated in China, they’re popular throughout Asia with several nations making their own variations on the basic form. Sometimes the term egg roll is used interchangeably, though more often there’s a clear distinction. Most people use “egg roll” to refer to the heavier versions of the dish which are wrapped in dense pastry and fried and “spring roll” for lighter rolls that often have paper-thin translucent wrappers and a more delicate flavor.
Evocative of the new growth associated with spring, an eatery dedicated to the spring roll opened its doors in March, 2019 at the Riverside Plaza in Albuquerque’s burgeoning west side. Fittingly named Spring Rollin’, the Lilliputian lair is owned and operated by the great folks who’ve wowed the metropolitan area with The Paleta Bar. It’s also fitting that the city’s second instantiation of the popular paleteria sits immediately next door the Spring Rollin’. Among its other neighbors at the Riverside Plaza are Hannah & Nates, Sakura Sushi & Grill and The Last Call.
Spring Rollin’ describes its product as “fresh gourmet spring rolls.” Emphasis is on the term “fresh.” All spring rolls are custom-made to order in front of customers. Ingredients for spring rolls and egg rolls are chopped, diced, cut, sliced and otherwise prepared from scratch daily. The menu includes four signature spring rolls and three egg rolls. Intrepid diners also have the opportunity to “create your own rollin’,” a five-step process that lets you pick your own wrap (rice paper or lettuce), pick your own noodle (rice, egg or cucumber), pick your own protein (chicken, shrimp, beef, pork sausage, shrimp sausage, beef jerky or tofu), pick your own veggies (pickled daikon, radish and carrots; bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, basil, cucumber), and pick your own texture (crunchy fried egg roll skin, hot Cheetos, shrimp chips and cheese puffs). Oh, don’t forget the dipping sauces: peanut, sweet chile, green chile, Sriracha lime and nacho cheese sauce with hot Cheetos crumbs.
One Yelper described spring rolls as “mini translucent burritos,” but only one of the rolls is evocative of New Mexican cuisine. That’s the Fried New Mexico Egg Roll (mac n’ cheese, broccoli, green chile). Of course, what makes it New Mexican is the green chile, a blend which would rate about medium on most piquancy scales. For many of us, a good mac n’ cheese is elevated to a great mac n’ cheese with the addition of green chile so the pairing is a natural. Broccoli not so much. Try the other dipping sauces if you’re curious, but the most complementary sauce is the green chile sauce, a neon green chile with a nice flavor. Because of the characteristic crispiness of egg roll skins, your brain might be temporarily fooled into believing you’re enjoying a standard Chinese egg roll. Once your brain gets over that, you’ll quickly fall in love with these delicious designer egg rolls made the New Mexico way.
The pork sausage spring roll (pork sausage, rice noodle, daikon, carrot, cucumber, lettuce) is more conventional and evocative of the spring rolls you’ve enjoyed at Vietnamese restaurants for years. Also reminiscent of your favorite Vietnamese restaurant are the peanut sauce and the sweet chile sauce which is definitely not made with New Mexico grown chile. If there’s one thing that sets Spring Rollin’s rendition apart, it’s the larger piece of sausage and greater quality of rice noodles. This is the type of sausage with which you’ll happily celebrate any life event, especially spring. Worthy accompaniment to the egg and spring rolls are the honey Sriracha shrimp chips, reminiscent in appearance of packing material, but with a delightful texture and flavor.
You’ll want to wash these rolls down with housemade beverages such as the fresh mango-lemonade or maybe Vietnamese coffee. Spring Rollin’ is a delightful and fun new way to celebrate spring or anything else any time of year.
6241 Riverside Plaza Lane, Suite C4
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 March 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Fried New Mexico Egg Roll, Fried Pork Egg Roll, Pork Sausage Spring Roll, Mango-Lemonade, Honey-Sriracha Shrimp Chips