In Vietnam, as in so many other Asian countries, rice is the most important food staple. Steamed rice is part of nearly every meal. And while we knew about rice crackers, rice noodles and rice cakes, we soon discovered that rice is used to make candy.
A day excursion away from the cruise ship took us to the village of Cai Be to observe how rice candy-making. First, a large wok-style pan is filled with sand and placed on an open fire. Rice husks are used as fuel to maintain an even fire. When the temperature is very hot, dry rice kernels are poured into the hot sand. They pop almost immediately. The pan is moved off the fire and the popped rice is poured into a wire sieve. The sand falls away, leaving the popped rice.
That's the initial step. Next syrup and nuts are stirred into the popped rice. The mixture is transferred into large flat pans were is it quickly rolled flat and pressed down firmly. It is measured and cut into pieces and wrapped for sale.
The finished product.
Rice wraps are available in Canada for making fresh or deep-fried spring rolls. Making the wraps by hand takes some skill and plenty of practice.
A thin rice flour batter is prepared and spooned onto a large griddle and smoothed into a thin sheet. The wraps is covered to steam for a few minutes. The it is carefully lifted on a long bamboo spatula and hung to cool. It is then transferred to the bamboo racks to dry. Wrap making is weather-dependent. If the weather is too humid, the wraps are difficult to make and they won't dry properly. We were lucky; on the day of our visit, the weather conditions were ideal.
Later, at a cooking demonstration on board, I had a chance to make a fresh spring roll and get the recipe for the traditional dipping sauce. So tasty. I am hooked now; we'll be making these treats at home.
PS - This post is for Jane who knows all about fresh spring rolls and has been sharing them with friends and family for a long time now.