Have you ever held a Vietnamese roll in your hand and wondered what it was made from? Your friend told you it was rice paper, banh trang, but you are 100 percent sure that you’ve been told that a couple of times before when you were eating totally different dishes. Confusing right?
Along with a huge range of Vietnamese noodles, rice paper is one of the most common ingredients in Vietnamese food. Creative Vietnamese can make tons of different dishes out of just one type of rice paper, and there are many types. It’s not only foreigners who get lost in the maze of figuring out which is what, but also some of us locals, including me! I remember one situation where I was introducing my friend to a rice paper roll, and I was staring at it for at least 30 seconds before I could think of its proper name. Embarrassing, right? Well, I’m going to clarify everything for you in this article.
In Vietnam, we use rice paper (banh trang) as a wrapping material for many kinds of Vietnamese main courses. But in this article, I’ll talk about rice paper snacks – the favorite street snack of many Saigonese. In this article, you will discover general facts about rice paper, what the differences are between the various rice paper snacks, and where to find the best places in town for this snack. For those who’d love to make this at home, keep reading. I divulge all the ingredients used to make this delicious snack.
All About Vietnamese Rice Paper
Origin and name
Rice paper – banh trang was first made in the South of Vietnam and then its popularity spread throughout the country. It has different names as you move further afield. In the North, we call it banh da or banh cha in central Vietnam.
How to make rice paper
Rice paper is made from a mixture of rice powder, cassava flour, and water in a specific ratio. When combined, they create a milky liquid. When the liquid is ready, you use a coconut shell spoon to pour a thin layer onto a cotton fabric cover over a boiling pot of water. Once it cooks (or solidifies), use a thin bamboo stick to hang it on a bamboo woven mat in the sun. Because it depends on how sunny it is, the drying time is flexible. When you check it, and it breaks easily, then it’s ready to use.
You can make the rice paper thin or thick – it depends on its purpose. We use the thin version for wrapping food, and the thicker texture for grilling. Mung bean flour, corn flour, and coconut water are sometimes added to the liquid to make the rice paper taste better, along with some seasoning like pepper, salt, or sugar. You can also choose the topping: sesame seeds, shredded coconut meat, onion, and sometimes tiny shrimp. It’s all up to your creativeness and personal taste.
Where to buy rice paper
It sounds like an odd question to ask, but surprisingly, many people have searched for the answer. So here you go. You can easily buy rice paper on any street side grocery shop, local market, or supermarket in Vietnam. If you are not in Vietnam, it’s available on Amazon. Type in “Red Rose Rice Paper” brand on the Amazon search tool, and you’ll find it. Now place your order! If you are looking for the best, then rice paper from Tay Ninh, a province in the northwest of Saigon, is your best bet. If you are around Tay Ninh, don’t forget to get some, or maybe a lot!
What do people use rice paper for?
Well, eating of course! Edible rice paper is mainly used to make fresh summer rolls (salad rolls), fried spring rolls, and to wrap food from some other dishes like Vietnamese pancakes. Recently, we found another way to use rice paper. We turn it into snacks: rice paper salad, stuffed rice paper rolls, grilled rice paper (aka Vietnamese pizza), etc. You can even eat just the rice paper itself after briefly soaking it in water. Try it. It makes an interesting, chewy, afternoon snack.
Rice paper nutrition facts
For those who wonder if they can have rice paper when they’re on a diet, the following information about rice paper calories will help you make your decision. The number of calories in a piece of rice paper depends on the percentage of rice powder it contains. Some will be around 20 calories per piece, but others can reach to 35 or even 40 calories.
Now I think you are ready to gain more insight into Vietnam’s many rice paper snacks.
Grilled Rice Paper – Vietnamese Pizza
Grilled rice paper, or so-called Vietnamese pizza, is one of the favorite snacks in Saigon. Rice paper is slathered with butter then grilled on coals with some cheese, eggs (either quail or chicken eggs), green onion, shredded pork, chicken or beef, and maybe some tiny shrimp on top. This combination is a common version of banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper) in Saigon. However, there is no definitive “traditional” way of making it. With many different types of rice paper, along with varied toppings, the creative Vietnamese can make up to 30 different options.
The most popular styles of banh trang nuong are from Da Lat and Phan Thiet and are widely available in Saigon. The difference between the Da Lat style and Phan Thiet style lies in the topping. You will find rice paper from Phan Thiet with veggies (cabbage), whereas in Da Lat, you will find it mainly with green onion.
The Best Grilled Rice Paper Places in Saigon
1. Banh trang nuong C002
Located on the street running along the longest canal in Saigon, Banh Trang Nướng C002 is a top option. With a menu listing more than 50 types of grilled rice paper from Da Lat, Phan Thiet, and other areas, this place will offer you a grilled rice paper feast.
Address: 002 C, 23/49 Apartment building, Dinh Tien Hoang, Binh Thanh District, HCMC
2. Banh trang nuong Turtle Lake, District 3, HCMC
Turtle Lake is a famous hangout spot for local teenagers. There are many different food stalls here and they are all open until late at night. Rice paper is one of them. They serve the basic kind of grilled rice paper here with quail eggs and green onions. It’s simple but tastes so good, especially during the cool afternoons of Saigon’s rainy season.
3. Banh trang nuong Da Lat
Address: 53 – 57 Cao Thang Street, District 3, HCMC
The name states it all. If you are looking for Da Lat style rice paper, this is it. This spot is located on the sidewalk on Cao Thang Street and uses tiny plastic chairs as tables. It may be a bit uncomfortable for you to sit down, but the grilled rice paper here tastes like heaven.
Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls
What are rice paper rolls? They are spring rolls, summer rolls… well, actually…, 99% of any kind of roll you’ve seen in Vietnam is wrapped with rice paper. And that’s why it makes sense for you to call them all rice paper rolls when you don’t know what else to name them.
The spring roll (nem cuon or cha cuon in Vietnamese) has a crunchy exterior. Before being deep or pan-fried, the spring roll is wrapped in rice paper (banh trang) with a mixture of egg, onion, garlic, minced pork, and other ingredients inside. There is no strict rule on what the ingredients should be. It can be carrot, taro, sweet potato, cellophane noodles, coriander, mushroom, shrimp, crab, etc. Let your imagination run wild.
Summer roll, or salad roll (goi cuon), is another way to have your rice paper wrapped roll. Summer roll is a crisp, clean hand-crafted roll that isn’t fried (or cooked). It contains a vegetable-based mixture with some cooked crab, shrimp, or pork. Dip it in the fish sauce and feel the magic happening in your mouth.
Stuffed rice paper roll (banh trang cuon) is the younger brother. This dish is a recent invention, and since its debut has never failed to satisfy foodies hunting for its great taste. Wrapped in moistened orange rice paper, and stuffed with shredded mango, quail eggs, salted tiny shrimp, shredded pork, beef jerky, and coriander, the roll has a beautiful, tasty look. You then pour oil, spicy sauce, spicy salt, mayonnaise sauce, and sprinkle peanuts over the top. Finally, it’s ready to eat.
This dish is a recent invention
There are more and more types of rolls that exist in Saigonese’s list of daily snacks. This article will never end if I mention all of them. They all contain different ingredients, type of rice paper, the accompanying sauce, and preparation (cooked or fresh). We’ll explore these differences in another insightful article coming soon on our blog. Stay tuned.
The Top Places in Saigon for the Best Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls
Summer rolls and spring rolls are common dishes found in most Vietnamese restaurants, and I’d highly recommend ordering a dish. Summer rolls are eaten raw so you shouldn’t eat them in a random place in the market or else you might end up with some stomach problems. To help you find the best, we’ve added a list of recommendations for summer and spring rolls below:
1. Secret Garden
Address: Top floor, 158 Pasteur, District 1, HCMC.
2. Mountain Retreat
Address: 36 Le Loi, District 1, HCMC.
3. An La Ghien Restaurant
Address: 74 Suong Nguyet Anh, District 1, HCMC.
*This restaurant also serves great banh xeo and banh khot (Vietnamese pancake and mini pancake).
4. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant
Address: 32A Cao Ba Nha, District 1, HCMC.
If you are a vegetarian, no worries, this place has fascinating veggie-only spring rolls and summer rolls.
Stuffed rice paper roll is a classic street food snack and the only place you can find it is from the ladies on the sidewalk or with their mobile carts. We’ve added some good spots below so you can track them down:
5. Turtle Lake, District 3, HCMC
It really is too easy to find a perfect Vietnamese rice paper snack here. In addition to the rice paper snack feast, the street food vendors in the area also sell a special dish called grilled egg cake (banh trung nuong). They cleverly use the tiny round cake mold which is divided into six tiny triangular sections. Then the cook will add butter, quail eggs and green onions, and torch it. When they open up the cover of the cake mold, they pour in chili sauce and mayonnaise sauce, and it’s done.
6. Nguyen Thuong Hien Street, District 3, HCMC
This street is full of ladies selling everything that has to do with rice paper. Stuffed rice paper is not the only thing. Pick a lady and enjoy your rolls on the spot.
Consider booking a food tour which includes not only grilled rice paper but also other local dishes. During the tour, the local guides will explain everything about each dish, how to eat what’s in front of you, and its meaning in our culture. What more could you ask for? Friends, food, and facts! Why not try booking your own tour? Onetrip Food Tours in Da Lat and Sai Gon are great choices if you like the sound of grilled rice paper snacks.
Hopefully, the information I provided has not only helped to enrich your food knowledge but also will satisfy your hungry belly as well. If you have any questions or want to tell us about your favorite rice paper snack, let us know in the comments below.
And while we’re keeping track of the Vietnamese rice paper and cuisine, don’t forget to check out the articles below: