(Top) Closed-end rice paper rolls. (Bottom) Opened-end rice paper roll.
Rarely does a week go by when I don't use rice paper. Called bánh tráng, rice paper is among the main staples in the Vietnamese kitchen. Think of all the goi cuon rice paper rolls (a.k.a, summer rolls and salad rolls) and the sinfully delicious fried imperial rolls called cha gio that you've eaten. They're encased in translucent rice paper. If you're new to Vietnamese food, chances are that someone else pre-rolled the rice paper rolls for you. Ever thought of rolling your own?
If you’ve never wrapped with Vietnamese rice paper, don’t be daunted. Wrapping rice paper rolls is like making a burrito and you don’t have to be perfect. Buy some good rice paper (see rice paper buying tips for guidance) and then review these helpful hints before diving in:
Have water handy. To make rice paper pliable and usable, just use water. I typically fill a wide shallow bowl partway with water; a baking dish may be substituted. The water temperature depends on the type of rice paper. In general, thinner rice paper requires cooler water. When making hand rolls at the table, set out one or two communal dipping bowls for guests. If the papers require hot water, consider using a portable electric burner. Warm it up in advance and boil the water on the stove first. Then pour the hot water into a wide shallow pan and set it on the electric burner.