This is most likely the best and easiest snack prepared on the grill that you’ve never heard of. Although it’s a favorite after-school treat of Vietnamese youths, I can guarantee that once you have mastered this simple recipe your adult friends will swarm your barbecue as they sip on their beers and cocktails.
Bánh tráng nướng, rice paper grilled over coals and lightly topped with a variety of ingredients, is a relatively new snack to hit the streets of Vietnam’s major cities. It apparently originated in the hill town of Dalat before making its way to Ho Chi Minh City a few years ago and then spreading upwards to the center and north of the country.
The epicenter of bánh tráng nướng vendors in Ho Chi Minh City at the moment is found around Ho Con Rua, or Turtle Lake, a busy roundabout in the city’s third district, whereas just a few vendors can be found within the old citadel in Hue and from my knowledge there is just one in Hanoi.
Street food vendors create inventive and tasty treats
While the outer sidewalk of Turtle Lake is crowded with cafes and restaurants, the inner sidewalk hosts young and creative street vendors dishing out their own variations of grilled rice paper and a few other inventive treats, including bánh tráng trộn, an addictive and mouthwatering mélange of half-inch fingers of rice paper, shredded green mango, dried shrimp, beef or squid, herbs, peanuts, fried shallots and their cooking oil, hard-boiled quail eggs, squirts of calamansi lime, drizzles of annatto seed oil and/or fish sauce; or bánh trứng nướng, in which quail eggs are fried in a round mold with triangle compartments then topped with tiny dried shrimp, sliced sausage (a Vietnamese version of the Chinese Lap Cheong), green onions and fried shallots and then covered to cook for a few minutes before being plated and finished with some sprigs of Vietnamese coriander and chili sauce. Hồ lô nướng, skewered and grilled pork and sausage balls, and bắp xào, stir-fried corn kernels made to your liking, are also prepared by surrounding vendors.
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The basic Ho Chi Minh City version of bánh tráng nướng tends to be a spoon of cooked ground pork, sliced green onions and a cracked quail egg spread evenly over rice paper and toasted over the heat of a grill. After a few minutes, when it is no longer translucent, it is drizzled with a sriracha-style chili sauce and folded in half.
The Dalat version is more elaborately prepared on a thicker rice paper; it features a cracked chicken egg topped pizza style with slices of sausage, tiny dried shrimp, assorted cooked seafood, green onions and cheese. My favorite, and the recipe I share below, is the first version I tasted when visiting Hue.
A few simple rules need to be followed to achieve a well-toasted, flavorful treat that doesn’t fall apart during cooking. First, it’s best to grill the rice paper gradually over a medium-heat charcoal barbecue. A gas-flamed barbecue will do, but keep away from the flames so as not to burn the edges of the rice paper. If you are also grilling the main course, you’ll want to set aside part of the grill for the rice paper and cook them short-order style, one or two at a time.
Second, a simple tablespoon or two of flavorful toppings is all that is required. With too much, the paper may break under the weight. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure not too much egg is spread on the rice paper because it will make it soggy and prevent it from properly toasting or remaining crisp.
Once you have mastered the cooking technique, I encourage you to play around by adding different toppings, remembering they should be dry, or relatively free of moisture, and customize the flavor profile to your own or your guests’ preferences.
Don’t be surprised if this addictive crunchy snack becomes a staple this barbecue season.
- 12 (8-inch) round rice paper
- 6 ounces coarse country-style paté
- ¾ cup thinly sliced spring onions
- 12 quail eggs
- Sweet chili sauce, such as sriracha
- Place a sheet of rice paper onto a plate or tray and top with 1 tablespoon each of paté and spring onions.
- Crack a quail egg over the paté. Using the back of a spoon or knife, spread the mixture evenly over the entire surface of the rice paper.
- Place the rice paper onto the grill, positioning it over a spot where the charcoal is of a consistent medium heat. Use a pair of tongs to rotate the rice paper as you see and hear parts of it toasting.
- After a few minutes, when the rice paper is no longer translucent, drizzle some chili sauce on top.
- Fold the grilled rice paper in half and serve.
- Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Note: If quail eggs cannot be found, this can also be done with chicken eggs. Scramble two eggs in a small bowl and replace each quail egg with just 2 teaspoons of uncooked, scrambled egg.
Prep time: 5 minutes, plus preheating grill. Cook time: 3 minutes per rice paper
Main photo: Some bánh tráng nướng vendors prefer to fold the grilled rice paper in half instead of cutting it into wedges. Credit: Cameron Stauch