Viet­nam rice pa­per ar­ti­sans roll with tra­di­tion de­spite chal­lenges

Global Times - Weekend - - DINING -

Stuffed, rolled, baked or fried: Rice pa­per rules in food-ob­sessed Viet­nam, where din­ers have spurned fac­tory-made ver­sions for home­spun ones, prop­ping up a thriv­ing cot­tage in­dus­try in the Mekong Delta.

They’re a sta­ple on din­ner ta­bles from north to south, eaten fresh with fish, fried with pork, or baked on an open flame and eaten like crack­ers – a pop­u­lar bar snack.

But re­gard­less of how they’re pre­pared, one thing most peo­ple in Viet­nam agree on: Homemade is bet­ter.

“It’s bet­ter than the fac­tory ver­sion, try it, it’s tastier,” Nguyen Thi Hue said, of­fer­ing a baked co­conut ver­sion at her road­side snack stop in south­ern Can Tho Prov­ince.

She sources her ‘banh trang’ in nearby Thuan Hung vil­lage, 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 fla­vors like salted shrimp, co­conut or ver­sions made with the no­to­ri­ously po­tent durian fruit.

“Cus­tomers pre­fer those pro­duced hand­made 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 per day spin­ning the trade, or dou­ble that dur­ing the busy lu­nar new year pe­riod.

Rice pa­per mak­ing is a mat­ter of fam­ily her­itage for many.

On a re­cent morn­ing in Thuan Hung, she tu­tored her daugh­ter on the age-old tech­nique she learned from her aunt: Pour the sweet­ened bat­ter onto 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 river bank. Though other jobs are avail­able in her vil­lage 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.

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