Exchange Cooking Tradition Super Bowl

Ron Wong shows his barbecue spring rolls with pulled pork and the Rendezvous' mustard slaw and dry rub seasoning in Memphis, Tenn., on Feb. 1, 2020. Wong has been making this Asian specialty with a Memphis spin for almost a decade. (Dann Miller/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

MEMPHIS (AP) — For almost a decade, Ron Wong and Nick Vergos would gather the day before Super Bowl Sunday to make barbecue spring rolls.

The two combined their food heritages to make one heck of a dish.

Wong started helping out at a friend’s Chinese restaurant in his teens. Making spring rolls was a frequent task. Vergos was the son of Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos and spent almost his entire life in the family restaurant. He was an expert in all things barbecue.

This year, Wong wanted to make the spring rolls again in honor of his late friend. Vergos died in September after a battle with cancer.

This was a tradition he knew would remind not just him, but all the friends at the first Super Bowl party without Vergos, that life goes on.

Knowing Wong needed a helping hand, Vergos’ wife, Jenny, called a few friends to help. 

Wong and Vergos could assemble 150 spring rolls in no time flat. He never said it, but Wong was missing his dear friend that day. The two met more than 30 years ago at Rendezvous and instantly bonded over their mutual love of fishing and good food.

Wong had assembled the filling at home. He had finely chopped a smoked pork shoulder and mixed in Rendezvous’ famous mustard slaw and its dry rub seasoning — two ingredients you can find at any Kroger in town these days.

The use of the slaw was explained by Wong this way: it’s important to drain out all the excess liquid before incorporating it into the filling.

“Think about it,” he said. “Chinese spring rolls and egg rolls always have vegetables like cabbage and carrots in them. Slaw is the same thing.”

He carefully showed those in attendance how to spoon just the right amount of filling onto the egg roll wrapper and tightly roll them up.

“Don’t let any filling get anywhere else on the wrapper or it will explode when we fry them,” he warned, sadly more than once as the group struggled to perfect the technique.

Wong was making three to four to each one others made, but he was patient with them.

On Sunday, others arrived an hour before the game to “help,” or as it turned out to “watch,” Wong fry the spring rolls. He used the same pot he uses for his fish fries, keeping the oil at a consistent 350 degrees. Each batch was fried until golden and crispy.

Wong made a sweet and spicy barbecue dipping sauce using Rendezvous barbecue sauce, plum sauce, sweet chili sauce, seasoned rice wine vinegar and teriyaki sauce. Another fusion of the two friends’ backgrounds.

As in past years, the barbecue spring rolls didn’t last long on the table.

Everyone would give anything to have Vergos back at his kitchen counter.

It’s amazing how something as simple as food not only brings people together, but keeps good memories alive.

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