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.
These are quite similar to what are commonly called summer rolls at Vietnamese places, but they’ve always just popped! at Surin. They’re larger, fresher; the sauce complex, delectable.
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.