When I serve a “roll your own” rice paper meal, one of the biggest pains in the butt is the water bowl used for softening the papers. This type of semi-DIY meal involves a lot of stuff on the table -- platters of lettuce, fresh herb sprigs, bun rice noodles, grilled meats, seafood, or tofu. Little bowls of dipping sauce too. The requisite large vessels of warm or hot water used for softening the banh trang rice paper take up a lot of prime real estate. They have to be wide enough to make dipping easy. Plus, if the water cools too much, you have to replenish it in the middle of the meal.
Enter Mr. Spring Roll, a new gadget from Vietnam. I have Tuyet Nguyen to thank for the tip. She wrote me about it, asking if I’d seen or used it. No I had not but I wasn’t looking for Mr. Spring Roll either. Then I spied it at one of my favorite Viet markets in San Jose, Thien Thanh. It sold for about $7 and the cashier said that it was a new and popular item.
I was skeptical at first because it seemed flimsy. The packaging and plastic didn’t instill confidence. The fact that the Vietnamese “To Nhung Banh Trang” (bowl for dipping rice paper) looms largest means that it’s geared for the solid Vietnamese market, not for outsiders. The distributor’s name is Evershing Trading Incorporated (maybe that’s suppose to be Everything Trading Inc.?) However, Mr. Spring Roll does have a website and Facebook page – he’s marketing savvy.
Last night, my husband and I took a Mr. Spring Roll for a spin. I’d cooked some marinated sliced pork on our cast iron stovetop grill for our rolls. (See the grilled garlicky five-spice pork steak, page 143, in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, or the grilled lemongrass pork recipe on this site.) What we discovered when using Mr. Spring Roll rice paper dipping bowl:
Small footprint: It’s slim so the table is not overly crowded with stuff. Huge plus.
Rice paper caddy: I slid the rice paper right in the back for easy access, thereby saving more table space. There’s a plastic bar to ensure that the papers stay in place; the foot of the bowl supports too. Despite Mr. Spring Roll’s packaging photo, I kept the rice papers in their plastic packaging to avoid getting the papers wet. A good 1/4-inch stack of papers fit in the caddy.
Rotating action: I usually quickly rotate my rice paper in the water to moisten it. My husband prefers to dip and pull the paper through several times. With Mr. Spring Roll, you dunk the rice paper into the water and rotate it around with your hands.
That movement is the traditional Viet approach to moistening rice paper without over saturating it. Rotate for too long and your banh trang rice paper goes limp like a wet rag and becomes unwieldy. By design, Mr. Spring Roll converted my husband to my technique. Hurray.
Water kept its temperature: The narrow opening means that heat escapes slowly. The result? The water maintained its dipping temperature for a good 45 minutes. Love that.
Is Mr. Spring Roll a winner? Yes. I’m going to buy one for my mom one, a diehard banh trang user. If you’re in that camp, get Mr. Spring Roll. Otherwise, stick with a regular bowl or even a shallow, wide skillet. I don't encourage you to buy something that you don't really need.
How to buy Mr. Spring Roll? Venture to a Vietnamese market and check the kitchen equipment or house ware section. Or try ShoptheEast.com, which seems a little goofy but that’s where Mr. Spring Roll directs people. I think these are Viet businesses that are all trying hard to make it. Support them, if possible.
If you've experienced Mr. Spring Roll, what are your opinions? Or, what do you use to dip rice paper?
- Vietnamese rice paper buying tips
- How rice paper is made
- How to wrap rice paper rolls
- Mama Says: For neat rice paper rolls, use chopsticks (video tip)
- Vietnamese Noodles 101: Bun rice noodles