Before machine-made banh trang (rice paper) became popular, my aunt, Di Yen, and cousin, Trinh, produced rice paper in Viet Nam by hand and sold it locally in their town just north of Saigon. On my last visit back, I asked them to show me how they used to make it. They prepared a special batch from stone-ground, whole-grain red rice. Rice bran, stored in that big metal drum, drops down to fuel an earthen stove. Gently steaming water rises through tightly stretched cloth and cooks the very thin, smooth rice batter in seconds. My cousin, who hasn’t done this for a year, still remembers the rhythmic choreography of stirring, ladling, spreading, rolling and unrolling. Of course, she makes it all look so easy!
Each mat, as it’s covered by still warm and wet banh trang, is arranged in the sun so that the rice paper can dry completely into the delicate, translucent rounds that we love so much. Look closely and you might notice that the roller is covered with the leg fabric from an old pair of jeans.
(The voices you hear are my mom and me.)
Continue reading for more details… (more…)