Vietnam rice paper artisans roll with tradition

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In this picture taken on July 7, 2017, a dish holds rice paper rolls filled with sugar at a home in Thuan Hung Village in the Mekong Delta. The village is renowned for the quality of the rice paper produced by the villagers who take great pride in their homemade craft. Stuffed, rolled, baked or fried: rice paper rules in food-obsessed Vietnam, where hungry diners have spurned factory-made versions for homespun ones, propping up a thriving cottage industry in the Mekong Delta. / AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT
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In this picture taken on July 7, 2017, Nguyen Thi Hue cooks rice paper over a makeshift charcoal stove at the exit of a ferry crossing near Thuan Hung Village in the Mekong Delta. Stuffed, rolled, baked or fried: rice paper rules in food-obsessed Vietnam, where hungry diners have spurned factory-made versions for homespun ones, propping up a thriving cottage industry in the Mekong Delta. / AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT
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In this picture taken on July 7, 2017, Ha Thi Sau pours a rice and sesame mixture onto a hot fire stove as she and her daughter make rice paper at their home in Thuan Hung Village in the Mekong Delta. Stuffed, rolled, baked or fried: rice paper rules in food-obsessed Vietnam, where hungry diners have spurned factory-made versions for homespun ones, propping up a thriving cottage industry in the Mekong Delta. / AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT
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In this picture taken on July 7, 2017, 16-Year-old Dang Thi Bich Thien washes the dishes during a morning monsoon downpour at her home in Thuan Hung Village in the Mekong Delta. Thien and her family stopped making rice paper in the morning due to the weather forecast announcing rain for the rest of the day as the sun is essential to dry the rice paper properly. Stuffed, rolled, baked or fried: rice paper rules in food-obsessed Vietnam, where hungry diners have spurned factory-made versions for homespun ones, propping up a thriving cottage industry in the Mekong Delta. / AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT
Updated 24 September 2017
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Vietnam rice paper artisans roll with tradition

CAN THO, Vietnam: 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 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’ 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 flavours 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.
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 it.
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 on the age-old technique she learned from her aunt: pour the sweetened batter — a secret family recipe — 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 — 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.


Where We Are Going Today: Urth Caffe

Updated 16 August 2018
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Where We Are Going Today: Urth Caffe

During a recent visit to a friend in Riyadh, she insisted we go to Urth Caffe to try its Matcha Green Tea Boba. A healthy, vegan-friendly drink, it is high in antioxidants and provides a much-needed energy boost, which can help to soothe body, mind and spirit during the simmering heat and sizzle of summer.
Located on Prince Muhammad bin Abdul Aziz Road, the cafe is a specialist tea/coffee house of sorts, known for its traditional teas and organic coffee blends. In particular, it specializes in three international palates — Moroccan, American and Italian — as well as vegan options.
Upon arrival, I realized I was in Riyadh’s new hip place, a spot where people gather for quick bites or languid conversations. Businessmen and families lined up for a table at the European-inspired establishment.
The interior resembles a wood-house. Trees take root between tables, providing an outdoorsy atmosphere, as chilled music plays softly in the background while guests catch up and enjoy their food.
We ordered a margarita and mushroom pizza, Parmesan fries, and a diablo chicken sandwich. The cafe also offers a wide range of desserts, including pies and cheesecakes.