Do you think it is pretentious that I have insisted on including the polytonic* accents on the Vietnamese name of this lettuce roll and its fermented fish sauce? I definitely have no idea what they portend as to pronunciation. My spoken Vietnamese is limited, to say the least. But I am proud of being able to get these exotic marks to display on my computer screen.†
The culinary interest of this recipe is also polytonic, so to speak. First, and foremost for our current purposes, is the use of lettuce instead of the emblematically Vietnamese rice-pancake “spring roll” skin called bánh tráng. These skins are much crisper than their Chinese counterparts and, after they have been softened with egg yolk, are the canonical wrappers for the omnipresent spring rolls called chá giò.
Second, these equally ubiquitous lettuce rolls are wrapped in raw lettuce, a feature of some Chinese dishes, but what is germane here is that the raw lettuce provides the crunch all by itself that bánh tráng do for chá giò after being soaked in egg and then fried. Whatever lettuce they use in Danang, the locally available American alternative would seem to be iceberg.
Third, the ineluctable Vietnamese fish sauce nὐὀc mấm is, however challenging it may be to the palates of round-eyed first-timers, a living ringer for the oldest recorded sauce in the Western tradition: garum. This barrel-fermented, anchovy-based condiment was a fundamental feature of cooking in ancient Rome.