Rice paper is a staple on dinner tables from north to south Vietnam, eaten fresh with fish, fried with pork, or baked over an open flame and eaten like crackers – a popular bar snack.
But regardless of how they’re prepared, one thing most people in the country agree on: homemade is always better.
“It’s better than the factory version, try it, it’s tastier,” Nguyen Thi Hue told AFP, offering a baked coconut version at her roadside snack stop in southern Can Tho province.
She sources her ‘banh trang’ from the nearby Thuan Hung village, which is known for producing some of the finest in the Mekong Delta, long renowned as the “rice bowl of Vietnam”.
Some families earn a living making rice paper, even as factories have popped up producing creative flavours like salted shrimp, coconut or versions made with the notoriously potent durian.
“Customers prefer those made by hand in the village. We don’t use chemicals, they’re just natural,” said 26-year-old Bui Minh Phi, a third-generation rice paper maker in Thuan Hung.
He can earn $65 (RM273) per day spinning the trade, or double that during the busy Lunar New Year period.
It’s a common sentiment in Vietnam, where many diners eschew fast food joints for home-style restaurants serving pho noodle soup or banh mi sandwiches like their grandmothers might have made.
Rice paper-making is a matter of family heritage for many like Ha Thi Sau.
On a recent morning in Thuan Hung, she tutored her daughter in the age-old technique she learned from her aunt: pour the sweetened batter – a secret family recipe – into a pan, before transferring to a bamboo mat.
The operation remains a family affair: Sau’s son-in-law feeds the fire with rice husks, while her 83-year-old mother washes dishes on the riverbank. Though other jobs are available in her village – once a rural backwater, now dotted with modern cafes and mobile phone shops – she doesn’t dream of abandoning her trade.
“I’ve been making rice paper for so long, I don’t want to leave it for another job,” she said, as the scent of coconut wafted in the air. — AFP Relaxnews