|Making a specialty: A local woman dries rice paper cake under the sun. It's one step in the process of making famous dish of rice paper cakes exposed to dew. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
by Minh Thu
Seeing trays of the wrappings for rice-paper cakes drying along the roadside, I knew that I had reached Trang Bang District, a place famous for its speciality - banh trang phoi suong (rice paper cakes exposed to the dew. They are basically a type of spring roll filled with various mixtures).
I had decided to spend a day of my vacation in the land of the delicacies in southern Tay Ninh Province, 40km from HCM City.
There, I wanted to discover the secret of making the speciality, which looks simple to make, but, in fact, requires lots of skill and time.
The scorching southern sun and dew-filled nights enable households in Trang Bang District to produce various kinds of rice-paper cakes, ranging from sweet to savoury – and especially the wonderful rice-paper cakes in which the wrappings have been exposed to the dew.
Vo Thi Hanh has been making rice paper cakes for more than 20 years. She said no one in her village knows when the custom of making the delicacy began.
|Ancient relic: Binh Thanh Tower dating from the 8th century is one among must-see vestige when tourists come to Trang Bang.
Villagers have handed down the traditional trade – and secrets – from generation to generation for hundreds of years.
"The rice paper looks simple to make, but we have to spend much time and effort involved in the many processes," she said.
An oral tradition is that a husband forgot about a tray of rice-paper wrappings drying in the yard. They were covered in dew and were damp, so he couldn't sell them to anyone.
His wife was upset that the wrappings were ruined, so she and her husband tried filling some with their favourite mixture and found it was delicious. So they quickly made more until they finished off the tray.
Since then, instead of just drying the wrappings in the sun, villagers also expose them to the midnight dew. A new and popular product had been created.
|Delicious treat: Rice paper cakes are served with boiled pork, fresh vegetables and special sauce.
The process is basically to put two layers of rice-paper together instead of one to make the final cake firmer. Then a little salt is added to make the rice stickier.
The wrappings are then dried under the sun before being grilled on the embers of burning peanut shells. The final step is to expose the wrappings to the dew to soften the outside. Local people coat, sun dry, then soften and grill their unique products with meticulous skill.
The cakes are a novelty even in Viet Nam and cannot be found anywhere else but Trang Bang District.
People dry newly grilled rice paper wrappings on bamboo racks under the sun. When it's dark, they lay them on sweet potato leaves to catch the dew.
Many houses in Trang Bang are surrounded by fields of sweet potatoes. At dusk, people use water to clean the leaves.
After visiting the rice-paper workplace and trying to make the product with the locals, the villagers invite guests to enjoy a meal of their speciality.
The wrappings are served rolled with thin slices of boiled pork and various kinds of vegetables and then dipped in a special sauce. The taste seduces everyone including foreign tourists.
Trang Bang District is not only famous for its dewy cakes. Tourists also visit to contemplate Binh Thanh Tower, 1km from the border with Cambodia.
Dating from the eighth century, it's one of the few ancient towers surviving from the powerful Hindu Oc Eo Culture, which existed from the first to the eighth centuries.
Oc Eo means "glass canal" in the language of the Hindu Khmer ethnic group who developed the civilisation. Situated within a network of ancient canals that crossed the low flatlands of the Mekong Delta, it was a busy port where traders from present-day Cambodia, Thailand, China and as far away as the Indonesian archipelago did business.
The 10m-tall tower has a main gate in the east and three other false gates on west, north and south. The main gate is made from highly polished stone slabs with sophisticated decorations.
Like the related towers of the Cham civilisation, the tower is made from bricks without mortar. The bricks still cling tightly together despite the devastations of time, war and the weather.
Leading us around the tower, Nguyen Van De, 75, said he's was a volunteer guide. Living near the tower, he goes to the area every day to welcome tourists.
He also pointed out damaged parts of the tower and said he hoped that one day they would be restored.
So, Trang Bang District is blessed with two major attractions that, undoubtedly, more and more people will want to see. — VNS