In Summer 2022 I got curious about who made the best egg rolls. New England Chinese Food is its own thing. There's a story about how Joyce Chen started here, in the Central Square/MIT academic part of Cambridge Massachussetts, because her egg rolls were so popular at PTA meetings. Earlier restaurants tend to have Cantonese origins, then non-Cantonese restaurants start appearing in the 1960s, followed by Polynesian-Cantonese in the 1970s, and now the various pan-Asian/fusion and contemporary imports of the 1990s and onward.
What I'm looking for are Egg Rolls which are similar to burritos in how they are wrapped, filled savory cabbage-pork filling. I will also eat any other roll forms:
- Spring Rolls are thinner with thinner flaky skins, still deep fried and sometimes have bean sprouts in them.
- Vietnamese Rolls are similar to spring rolls, served with a sweet sauce and often have carrots as a filling. The wrapping might be rice paper as it is with Vietnamese Fresh Rolls, which are crunchier and have shrimp in them so I can't eat 'em.
- Thai Rolls are similar to spring rolls, not quite sure how pervasive they are.
- Popiah uses a thin elastic skin and is filled with cooked vegetables and proteins, and is not deep fried. Taiwan has a version of it too that I dearly miss...it's called Lumpia in Hokkien. I've read that Bo-piah is the Vietnamese version of the Chinese cuisine via Fujian/Teochew.
I'll note my best guess as to what era I think each one belongs, as well as whether I liked it or not. Ranked from top to bottom.
I had a spring roll and an egg roll, had to drive 20 minutes to pick it up and then back, so it was about 20 minutes old. But you know what? Though the egg roll I thought was a little dry, it was packed and seasoned well with minced red-cooked pork and cabbage. It looks like it was made there. The skin was not overly thick, and was cooked through. And when it's dipped in duck sauce as is common at Chinese American restaurants, it's not dry. Spring roll was OK, not saucy but not bad. Sun Shui also has the advantage of serving actual "authentic" Chinese dishes. Rice is provided separately when you order authentic Chinese dishes, so you have to ask for it. I also tried another Chinese American staple, Beef and Broccoli (not a thing in Taiwan or China), and it was actually quite good. Good flavor on beef, crunchy broccoli, not watery. (Chinese) Sebbens Brook Marketplace (strip mall) 410 South River Road Bedford.
I had a spring roll and an egg roll, and though they were not fresh at 4PM they were still pretty good. I would go back and try them again. This seems to be run by Chinese immigrants so it tastes good. (Chinese) Merrimack Premium Outlets food court.
This is in the food court of Pheasant Lane Mall, and I was surprised at how nice their food looked. I got an egg roll and a spring roll. The egg role had a good filling but was not fried long enough, so the inner layers of the wrapper were undercooked and doughy. The spring roll had a good flavor too but was a lacking in having more of a crunchy texture. Still, the fillings were not overly dry and tasted normal. (Chinese American) Pheasant Lane Mall food court.
This is one of the few places in the area that has an actual "authentic Chinese menu", and while egg rolls are not part of that I had hopes they would be at least better made. Their egg roll was one of the better ones, better seasoned, a bit more moist. Not anything amazing. I noted the skin had nice bubbles of crispness that would have looked nice as a picture; previous egg rolls lacked this. They also had spring rolls which were not bad, a little dry perhaps. Sometimes spring rolls almost has a saucy taste to them, not sure why. These did not. (Chinese+Japanese) Sun Plaza off of Daniel Webster Hwy South Nashua.
Saturday, September 24 evening. Crane is a sit-down Asian restaurant in downtown Nashua off Main Street, around 10 years in that location I think. Originally there was more of a mix of interesting dishes, but during COVID they have streamlined to the area's traditional expectations of "asian food" (pu pu platters, beef and brocolli, general tso's chicken, plus sushi). They had both egg rolls (2 for $5.95) and spring rolls (2 for $4.95). The egg roll was smaller than expected, but very flavorful by itself, with good texture. The spring roll had a distinctly different texture and flavor, which on inspection seems to come from the use of rice stick noodles chopped finely. It was maybe a bit too mushy overall, but points for being different from the egg roll which is sadly rare in this area. Per volume, this is one of the most expensive egg rolls sampled to date, but it would say it is the best tasting. I tried two of their Chinese American dishes, "Mala Chicken" and "Eggplant with Garlic Sauce" (relatively cheap at 12.95), and although the spicing was sweet in the style of New England Chinese American food, the seasoning and preparation was very good. This has always been my experience here; it's just that the type of dishes they offer generally aren't interesting to me so I rarely come here. Would be great if you were with American friends hanging out and wanted to grab a bunch of appetizers and sushi rolls in the evening. (New England Asian) Pearl Street, downtown Nashua.
Chen Yang Li
This used to be regarded as Nashua's best Chinese restaurant until the plaza it was in was torn down, and I believe the name was purchased by a different restaurant group. It's a sit-down style service restaurant, with a menu of the original favorite dishes and many New England Chinese staples and a full bar. Their egg roll did not have the astringent taste, but tasted a little under-seasoned to me. I rarely go here, except if I am curious about a Chinese American dish that I am not familiar with, as this is (or used to be) one of the restaurants that has been most successful in the area. (New England Chinese American) Somerset Plaza, Nashua. (There is another location in Bedford that I should try)
Their egg roll was appealing and well-cooked, no astringent taste, with very little meat. I saw a few tiny specks of minced red char siu. They have a vegetable-only egg roll too and I wonder if it's different at all. I think this egg roll is really designed to be eaten dipped in duck sauce, the way that a McDonald's Chicken McNugget is only good with when used as a scoop for (in my case) Hot Mustard Sauce. Two for about $6 which seemed like a good deal, but flavorwise it was "eh". They had unusually cheap beef and broccoli (at 12-13 bucks, compared to 15-19 elsewhere) so I tried it, and it was easily the worst Chinese food I've ever had: watery, seasoned only with soy sauce and corn starch, more steamed than stir fried so everything was kind of paste-like. (Chinese American) Pennichuck Square Shopping Center in Merrimack
This place has been here for a long time, one of the area staples. Got two pork egg rolls, and while the flavor profile was about right the dryness+astringent taste was present again. Not sure what it is. They had a stronger sweet and sour sauce, more vinegary that was nicer than the treacly pink-orange stuff. (Cantonese) in Nashua off Amherst Street
This restaurant is right on Main Street and offers Asian food that have "novel" substitutions, so I mentally file it as an Asian Fusion restaurant. I've only eaten here a few times over the past 20 years, and never come here if I want Chinese food. I got two pork egg rolls. They seem to have some kind of soy sauce braised pork in it, and the cabbage filling was quite dry overall with a slight astringent taste...was this due to using a rehydrated cabbage product? Does such a thing exist? The pork flavor I did not love. Would not eat again. (Pan Asian) on Main Street in Nashua
They didn't have egg rolls or spring rolls, but they had Thai rolls which were served with a sweet sauce. Not bad. (Thai) at Merrimack Village Center off Route 3 Exit 11s