One of my favorite small gustatory pleasures has been the fresh basil rolls at Surin of Thailand. They’re a cold appetizer of rice paper surrounding rice vermicelli, fresh Thai basil, lettuce, bean sprouts, and bits of shrimp and pork, served with a sweet-hot plum-peanut sauce. They’re a definite luxury at $4.50, but absolutely divine.
Now there used to be two other places who made them identically. Surie, which was Surin of Madison until it was sold, maintained the original recipe for a while. Then, something about them changed. I can’t quite isolate the difference, but it’s a lot like the difference between the pho at Saigon and the pho at Viet Huong: it’s still good at the latter, just not as vibrant.
Phuket also prepared them the same way, but they destroyed them a long time ago, I’m guessing in the interest of economy. (It was about the time they replaced the coconut soup with miso on the lunch specials, too.) I didn’t even finish the basil rolls the last time I had them there. They were small and sticky, and nearly all noodle inside.
Let’s talk about the stickiness. One other thing about the perfect basil rolls is that they used a rice paper that was thicker, only slightly moist, and nearly opaque. “The parchment of rice papers,” I always thought when I picked one up. Surie and Phuket went to the thin, sticky, cheaper kind long ago, but Surin hung in, refusing to compromise the experience.
Then I met Saintseester at Surin today. Hadn’t been since Jeff died, I don’t think, so I was nervous about whether the rolls had persisted. I was briefly encouraged when I noted the price had gone from $4.50 to $5, because I hoped that meant Surin had left perfection alone and were just charging a bit more for it. (I had lamented specifically to her that I wish they’d just increased the price at the other places, rather than destroy the product.)
Alas, they’ve gone to the sticky, run-of-the-mill rice paper (above).
Now best I can tell they haven’t changed anything else. The sauce is as I remember it, and the contents were fresh and plentiful. So this is still a tasty item, and likely still the best Thai basil roll in town. It’s just not perfect anymore. It was an A+; now it’s an A-.
Surin, I’d buy ’em at $6 if you’d go back to the better rice paper.