Vietnamese business people can be hyper-entrepreneurial and competitive. When an idea succeeds, copycats and rivals inevitably appear – springing up practically overnight like mushrooms.
That, my friends, is happening with the plastic Vietnamese rice paper dipping bowl that I recently wrote about. Vinh, Mr. Spring Roll’s maker, commented in the post and thanked everyone for supporting his product. He also apologized for the hiccups in distribution. He was working out of his apartment!
Not long after that post, a Viet chef friend, Terrence Khuu, pointed me to a rival product, New Star International, which had a fledgling Facebook page but no website. (The first 100 people to like their page get a chance to win a dipping bowl.)
New Star’s to nhung banh trang (bowl for dipping rice paper) comes in three colors and is fashioned from “high-quality PVC” (PVC is a type of plastic that I typically associate with plumbing pipes but it has many industrial uses). Terrence’s friend is distributing New Star International and sent a lime green one for me to test drive. The other options include blue and clear.
My first thought was, “Mr. Spring Roll works fine. Who needs another one of these?” New Star thinks that its rice paper water bowl beats out Mr. Spring Roll. This week, I compared the two on these points:
Design: Mr. Spring Roll has a charming, nearly FOB (fresh off the boat) quality that I really like. The delicate curved shape and flimsy appearance belie its thoughtful design, solid performance and strength. It embodies Vietnam in certain respects.
Similar in shape and with a bamboo design on the front (just like Mr. Spring Roll), New Star International comes in Ikea-ish colors and has a husky, robust look. It’s comparatively slick but that’s not a bad thing. The base is solid and bigger than Mr. Spring Roll’s so it seems to stand more sturdy.
The real plus is that New Star has a nicer, fully enclosed slot for holding rice paper. That back area has a rice paper pattern on it.
Poking around online, I found that Mr. Spring Roll’s model 2 has a little foothold to keep the rice paper in place.
Regardless of the rice paper caddy design, I still preferred to keep banh trang in their plastic package, rather than slide a stack into slot. Without full vertical support, they kind of bend and bob a bit.
Performance: From the looks of things I thought that New Star would take more water than Mr. Spring Roll. Lo’ and behold that’s 4 cups in both of them in this photo:
You can fill them up more but the water capacity is basically the same.
Then I wondered about how well each water bowl kept its temperature so I stuck a meat thermometer in each and waited 15 minutes.
They both declined slightly from the 110F where they started. So that was the same.
What about dipping the papers? Both provided good performance. Rotating the papers was simple. I initially used two hands to rotate but quickly found that I could manage it with one so long as I didn’t over wet the paper and it went completely limp.
Price: I have not seen New Star International sold at an Asian market so I don’t know what the price point is. However, since my post on Mr. Spring Roll, he’s now sold on Amazon. You can purchase the original version for about $13 plus $12.95 shipping on this official looking Amazon page or go for “Model 2” for $12 plus $6.58 shipping from this slightly ambiguous page.
New Star International sells on Amazon for $13 plus $7 shipping from MV Trading company, a restaurant supply and houseware store in the Bay Area. If you order through MVTradingCo.com, it’s $9.99 plus shipping (though there’s no clear info on what that cost is until you check out). If you live near one of the MV shops, check to see if you can buy one and save on the shipping.
Price-wise, it’s splitting hairs between the three options, though Mr. Spring Roll Model 2 is clearly less expensive.
The bottom line: Both Mr. Spring Roll and New Star International are fine products. If you’re an avid rice paper user, one of these rice paper water bowls would be great at the table. For a detailed discussion of their marvels, see my original post.
Terrence told me that word on the Vietnamese street is that there’s another rice paper bowl coming out soon. Trời ơi ("choy oy" -- OMG in Vietnamese), when will people respect other people’s innovation?
I noticed that New Star has somewhat protected itself. On the product label, which doesn’t give an address or where the thing is produced, there is this line: Patent Pending New Star International 2012.
Maybe that will ward off competitors? I don’t know. There's rarely a dull moment in the Viet community.
Like before, if you see these rice paper dipping bowls around, let us know where you found them. Or, if you try one, share your experience!
- New Rice Paper Gadget: Mr. Spring Roll
- 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 (the noodle primarily used for fresh/uncooked rolls; it's not cellophane/glass noodles!)