While travelling through Vietnam I had the opportunity not only to taste fresh edible rice paper but also to watch how it is made. In Vietnam edible rice paper is used for making fresh or fried spring rolls and is called bánh tráng I couldn’t believe the ingredients for rice paper is only white rice flour, tapioca flour, salt, and water. It shouldn’t be hard to make then should it? But I found out that for something that is made out of so few products it is quite a complicated process. I got to watch an artisan banh trang producer in Phan Thiet, just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.
This woman had been practicing her craft for decades and as their rice paper is made by hand and are bigger than normal they can sell them at a higher price than the factory-made ones.
First she ground soaked raw rice with water into a pulp before spreading the batter onto a cloth that’s stretched over a wide pot of boiling water. After the batter had been thinly spread (note the wide tool that she uses below), a bamboo lid covers the rice sheet and it’s steamed for probably about 30 to 45 seconds.
Next she used a long narrow stick to lift and transfer the cooked rice sheet to a cooling “rack”. The cooling rack is a very wide slightly domed round bamboo rack with a cloth covering it. The rack spins around and by the time the rack completes a full spin, the rice paper is cool enough to handle.
Another woman then picked up the cooled rice paper and placed it on a bamboo drying rack that resembles a narrow 6-foot-long stretcher. To dry the cooked rice sheets into rice paper, the racks are placed outside under the hot sun for a day.
It is the woven pattern of the racks that gives the rice papers their distinctive appearance, which factory-made ones only mimic. The dried, finished rice papers are stacked up, then tied into smaller stacks and taken to market. These rice papers, which were about 14-inches wide, are sold for a premium because they’re made by hand.
After watching this whole process we got to taste some of the fresh, hot rice sheets with a fish dipping sauce, which was fabulous. Fresh rice paper tastes completely different from the dried ones that you have to wet with a bit of water to get them supple again.