Let me just start off by being honest: Buying rice paper confounds me. Whenever I have to purchase rice paper (bánh tráng) I find myself standing in the Chinese or Vietnamese market staring at the various brands. There are things that I look for in the labeling and there are brands that I prefer. However, there are usually so many different brands and several kinds that it’s hard to choose. Plus, hyper-competitive entrepreneurial manufacturers constantly tweak their products to attract customers so there seems to be something new to consider and try every time I shop for rice paper. Because I’m curious by nature, I tend to buy several kinds and test drive them.
Last week Laura C. asked me about how to buy rice paper for rice paper rolls that she fills with seared ahi tuna. (Sounds delish, no?) When I inventoried my cupboard and refrigerator, I discovered that I had 12 (!!) kinds of rice paper in various shapes, sizes, and composition. I purchased most of them in the U.S. but also have some that I brought back from Vietnam. There are many partially opened packages and each one brings back a cooking memory – mostly good and some disasters. So I’m taking time out to write about one of the most important ingredients in the Vietnamese kitchen.
Since my mom and I eat lots of goi cuon (unfried rice paper rolls that are often translated as salad or summer rolls) cha gio (fried rice paper rolls often referred to as Vietnamese spring rolls), and meals during which we make hand rolls with rice paper, we are always sharing tips on what brand of rice paper is good. Some of you may need guidance as well or have advice to share.