20 September, 2017


This is a traditional Vietnamese food that has travelled across the world, been in the Mekong Delta for centuries, and has a sweet version. The process of making rice paper always starts with making the rice flour, then shaving coconut, and toast the sesame seeds. The flour is steamed in a common pot for 5 seconds to cook then place on a pandan plate to dry. To keep the paper from breaking or bend, we need to use a finely ground flour with the rice washed thoroughly, and the type of rice to be special like the sỏi rice (sỏi: pebble) from Trà Vinh that can withstand drought and salt. The coconut has to be ripe with thick flesh, split in halves, drain, and grind the flesh finely and squeeze to get coconut milk. To make a sesame rice paper, the ingredients are rice flour, coconut milk, and sesame seeds. A milk rice paper would need milk, chicken egg yolk; a meat rice paper would need dried chinese shrimp sausage; a ginger rice paper would need ginger juice. A similar food that has more steps is puff pastries.

Malt rice paper: This rural food has slowly disappear on the street with less and less people selling it every day. Once a while, I would get the chance to see a woman carrying two baskets on her shoulder. The large basket would have malt and sesame mixed together and the small basket would have shaved coconut (just enough to sell since shave coconut can go bad quickly). One basket would have the rice paper covered in plastic. A large rice paper would be cut into 8 pieces and grill. When there is a customer, she would take the malt and spread on the surface of the rice paper, put on shave coconut and take another piece to cover it. Biting in to it, you can hear the crackling sound, crisp and tasty with flavors of rice, malt, and fatty profile of the coconut.

Mỹ Lồng’s rice paper: Along province road 885, across Chẹt Sậy bridge, tourists would find themselves in Giồng Trôm district, Mỹ Thạnh Commune, Bến Tre Province. This place has a village that has a famous tradition in making rice paper for generations that continue to exist, preserve, and prosper even today. When arriving at Mỹ Lồng Village, one will find drying trays of rice paper in the sun on both sides of the street. Here, every house and everyone, from old people, to kids and young adults, participate in the process, with everyone having a part in the making. To make a Mỹ Lồng’s rice paper, the most important part is to choose the rice and make the flour. The meticulous process to choose rice is the secret to the success of this village. Rice has to smell good and not too dry. Other ingredients has to be of the right amount includes sugar, salt, and sesame seeds. For the veterans, eyeing is all it takes to know whether the ingredients are enough. Another secret could be the coconut milk from their hometown. According to the locals, the main differences between Mỹ Lồng’s rice paper and rice paper from other places is the chewy rice and the thick coconut milk. To supply the needs of the tourists and consumers, the village has many different types of rice paper: milk and chicken egg, coconut without milk, milk without coconut, etc. But the best has to be the coconut rice paper which is fatty, crispy, airy, roasted on charcoal with its aroma floating in the air. The heavy aroma of a simple food from a land of coconut.

Cù Lao Mây’s rice paper: Cù Lao Mây’s rice paper from Vĩnh Long province has been around for about a hundred year. It is told that “Trần Thị Vạn from Quảng Ngãi came to this land and brought many people to find a new place to live and prosper. When she passed away, the people built a small shrine in Tân Thạnh hamlet to remember her as the founder. Maybe she modified bánh đa from the North into rice paper in Central Vietnam and brought it to the South.” – according to “Nghề truyền thống tỉnh Vĩnh Long” (Traditional jobs of Vĩnh Long province), by Bureau of Culture, Sport, and Tourism in Vĩnh Long province produced in 2009. Unlike other village that replaced handy works with machine, Cù Lao Mây remains the art of making rice paper by hands. The meticulous hands of the women here has kept tradition whole. Rice paper here has many types: rice paper with sausage, sweet rice paper, roasted rice paper, pepper rice paper, fat rice paper, and salty rice paper. Cù Lao Mây’s rice paper holds an important place in the “wraps” cuisine of many family in the South. Most notably is the rice paper wraps with pork, wraps with catfish, wraps with sausage eaten with herbs, lettuce, and sour and spicy fish sauce or salted plum sauce or eaten with tiny clams and rice would be perfect.

Thuận Hưng’s rice paper: I heard during Tết season that from 800 rice paper producers in Thuận Hưng village, Thốt Nốt district, Cần Thơ province, one producer has existed for two centuries. Almost every house here participate in making rice paper from salty rice paper, crispy rice paper, rice paper with sausage, to coconut rice paper. To make the rice paper well, not tough but not too soft, and can be stored, the producer has to pick the rice from Thốt Nốt area. The rice chosen cannot be too new or too old. The drying and taking off the rack process is an art. To keep the rice paper full, straight, the person drying has to keep an eye on it to make sure it gets just enough sun and remove it at the right time, then work to straighten the rice paper.

Tường Lộc’s rice (wheat) paper: Rice (wheat) paper village Tường Lộc (Tam Bình district, Vĩnh Long province) has existed and grow for over 30 years, with 100 worker houses and 350 workers. Every year, this village produces over 100 tons of products to distribute. Ingredients are wheat flour, egg, black sesame seeds, coconut milk, granulated sugar mixed together in a secret formula. The finish product is crispy, fatty, and more tasty than rice paper from other regions. It is often used as a shell for ice cream, or wraps the sticky rice instead of banana leaves.

Collected by Linh Trang