Vietnamese Rice Paper Buying Tips

Update: 2/23/2013

What is rice paper?
It is not the stuff used for arts and crafts. That kind of rice paper used for painting, etc. is made from plant fibers such as mulberry and hemp. Rice paper used for Vietnamese food is traditionally made from just rice, water, and salt. They are one of the unique aspects of Vietnamese cooking and dining, and food wrapped up in sheaths of translucent rice paper is utterly charming. Aside from looking pretty and holding a bunch of goodies together, they contribute chewy texture and a slight tang to whatever they encase. 

Basically, rice paper is a thin steamed rice crepe (or sheet, as some people call them) that has been dried. Traditionally, rice paper gets dried on bamboo mats or stretchers of sorts, which explains why they have a woven, rattanlike pattern. Rice paper is a great way to store rice for a long time and it is convenient too. Right before using, it is rehydrated and softened in warm or hot water. Vietnamese rice paper is a cooked ingredient and once rehydrated, it can be eaten as is or fried. It is not for baking so don't think it can be used like phyllo pastry!
Can you make rice paper at home?
No. Vietnamese people buy rice paper just as French people buy baguettes. It’s a specialty ingredient made by artisanal producers by hand or manufactured in modern factories by machines. Most people now use factory-made rice paper.
What to look for when buying Vietnamese rice paper?

Choose a comfortable size. The most widely available size at Asian markets is the 8 1/2-inch circle (about the size of a regular flour tortilla). It’s the easiest to manipulate, and all the recipes in this book use that size. Extra skilled cooks use the smaller circles and triangles for making tiny, thumb-size rolls. Large ones – the size of platters are meant to produce fat, long rolls that can be cut up into individual portions. Square rice papers can be used to create straight edge, neat open ended rolls that are unfried; they may also be used like an eggroll skin to produce closed end rolls for deep frying.

Select a type of rice paper -- all rice, tapioca and rice, or all tapioca rice paper? Rice paper nowadays is much easier to work with than the ones of the past, which were thick, made of just rice, water, and salt, and required super hot water to soften. That’s changed in the recent past as producers have blended in some tapioca starch to make the papers more pliable and thinner. I like these modern renditions as they soften easier. When shopping for rice paper, look for ones made with rice or a combination of rice and tapioca starch. The more rice that’s in the papers, the more opaque and thicker they are. Papers made with rice and tapioca starch are on the translucent side and seem loftier in their packaging; these thinner ones conveniently soften in warm or lukewarm water, whereas the thicker ones need hotter water. 

Avoid the super thin, see-through, all-tapioca starch papers. They lack the tang of rice, go limp in a flash, and tear easily; they’re often labeled bánh tráng dẻo (soft and pliable rice paper) or bánh tráng mỏng (thin rice paper). In English, they're oten labeled tapioca sheets. These rice paper are for skilled cooks who know how to manipulate them well. Some people like all-tapiocal starch papers because rolls made from them stay soft for hours. I don't like their flavor and they're notoriously difficult to tame.

Be skeptical of ingredient listings. Despite what the ingredients listing may say, Vietnamese rice paper does not contain wheat flour; it’s a translation problem. Rice paper should have rice and/or tapioca starch, water, and salt.

Pay more when in doubt. Select the higher priced rice paper and buy several kinds to try them out. They’re not expensive. Asian ingredient manufacturers are very competitive and a 25 cents difference matters in quality.

How to store rice paper? 
Keep it in the cupboard and once the package is opened, store it in a zip-top plastic bag in the cupboard where they will last for several years.
Foods that can be wrapped in rice paper:
Grilled Shrimp on Sugarcane (chao tom)
Vietnamese Restaurant-style Grilled Lemongrass Pork (thit heo nuong xa)
Korean-Vietnamese Grilled Pork Belly (add a few carbs for an extra layer of flavor!)
Check the Recipe Index listing of all recipes on this site for more ideas


For more information click here

Back to Top