If any dish fulfils the Vietnamese obsession of rolling it yourself, it’s banh trang phoi suong, the ‘moon cake’ of Tay Ninh.

Ban trang phoi suong is a variety of rice paper that is left overnight rather than dried under the hot sun. According to Phan Van Gan, head of Tan Tien Handicraft Cooperative, this thick, soft rice paper can be traced back to one housewife in Trang Bang district, Tay Ninh province, who left a basket of regular banh trang outside one night by mistake. When she found it in the morning she expected it to be ruined by the dew, but instead a whole new variety of rice paper was born.

 

There are a few other accounts of how Tay Ninh’s “moon cake” originated and while they attribute the discovery to different stories and different members of the local community, they all share a common theme — the discovery was a complete accident. Like other forms of rice paper, the first banh trang phoi suong was left in the sun before being forgotten overnight. Today, it is made with a touch of salt, often in two layers, briefly sun-dried and baked in an oven where it is cooked until the paper turns opaque and small bubbles appear on its surface. After that, it is laid on a truss and left outside overnight, before being wrapped in banana leaves to keep it soft and spongy.

 

banh trang phoi suong

 

Unlike other typical types of Vietnamese rice paper, banh trang phoi suong doesn’t need to be dipped in water before being eaten — it is naturally quite flexible and easy to bite into. Just 40 years ago, this strange new rice paper was known only in Tay Ninh, but as infrastructure developed and Vietnam became more integrated, the concept of banh trang phoi suong began to spread through the country. Today, it is typically eaten with Vietnam’s standard fresh herbs and vegetables, and paired with boiled pork and sweet, pickled carrots, or with local Trang Bang soup.

 

 

Where to Eat It

Hoang Ty is a well-known Ho Chi Minh City restaurant chain dedicated to Trang Bang cuisine. I visited one particularly beautiful outlet that looks out onto the Saigon River and is blessed with a healthy population of non-stinging bees. The restaurant has a large, roofed spot for parking as you drive in and some wide steps leading up to the eating area — a sprawling arrangement right next to the water.

 

The bees, as bright yellow as they are, do not sting. They simply eat with you as you enjoy your meal, something I found a bit alarming but most people seem to accept as part and parcel of the banh trang phoi suong experience. Take a seat at one of the long, black tables and ask for a tray of rice paper and assorted side dishes, perhaps with some delicious fresh juice or that Vietnamese favourite — tra da.

 

A smorgasbord of rice paper, juicy boiled pork meat, and all the condiments

 

Your meal arrives as a smorgasbord of rice paper, juicy boiled pork meat, pickled vegetables, fish sauce, bean sprouts and cucumber, topped with a mountainous pile of fresh herbs, chives and lettuce. To eat, simply peel off a piece of the banh trang and add your own mix of ingredients, before dipping it into the fish sauce and taking a bite. The rice paper itself is not crunchy. It has a chewy, spongy softness to it and is thicker than you would expect, providing an interesting textural balance with the fresh, crisp vegetables inside.

 

The fish sauce is sweet, perhaps too sweet, but that is a matter of taste. When this dish is prepared at home, all variations of sweet, salty, spicy, juicy or dry will be arranged according to how you like it, which is perhaps why it is so widely liked. At the end of the day, banh trang phoi suong is simply another of Vietnam’s delicious gardens on a table, but with a frosty rice paper twist that makes people want to come back again and again.

 

Hoang Ty 1 — Dac San Trang Bang is at 113/9 - 10 Binh Quoi, Binh Thanh, HCMC. There are also restaurants on Vo Van Tan and Nguyen Huu Cau. A portion of banh trang phoi suong costs between VND60,000 to VND110,000 depending on what you have with the dish. The eatery is open daily from 9am to 11pm


Photos by Zoe Osborne

 

 

Zoe Osborne

Born in England and raised in Australia, Zoe was taught how to travel from a young age. At barely 19 she left for India and a year later she left again, finding herself in Vietnam with a bit of cash and a plan to make a plan. Now a staff writer for Word Vietnam, Zoe counts her blessings every day as she wakes up to another fascinating story and another bowl of hu tieu. You can find her on Facebook at @zoeosborne.journalist.

Website: www.zosborne.com

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