Rice Paper, Fruit and Life on the Delta
March 28th, 2021
After yesterday’s floating market, today we go a little bit deeper into the network of waterways within the Mekong Delta. This is our last stop in the region. Tomorrow we’re back on the magic carpet!
See you then,
Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.
After the floating market, we left the main arm of the river and ventured down a smaller waterway to see a banh trang, or rice paper factory. Factory isn’t quite the word I would use… operation, maybe. The whole operation was taking place under the roof of an outdoor hut. The banh trang maker begins with a thin mixture of water and ground rice.
There were no measuring cups or buckets, nor anything exact about this process. The banh trang maker simply stirred the mixture and added more water or ground rice based on consistency and experience.
Using the bottom of what looked like a frying pan, he spread the mixture on a piece of material stretched over a pot of boiling water. This was covered with what looked like an upside down wok, and left to steam for about 30 seconds.
The banh trang assistant uncovered the steamed rice paper and, using what looked like a small straw bat, deftly lifted the paper off the cooking surface.
Next, he transferred the rice paper to the drying racks. Racks are made of woven fiber and stacked on top of each other until they’re ready to be carried into the sun where they’re elevated and placed side-by-side to dry the rice paper.
You just have to hope the rice paper holding together your delicate, flavorful Vietnamese summer roll hasn’t been drying on this dog-eared rack.
Next stop, a tropical fruit orchard alongside the river. We docked the boat and stepped ashore. Do you know… to grow a pineapple you start by planting the top of another pineapple? Simple! I tried it when we returned to Singapore from this trip and, two and a half years after planting, ended up with a delicious pineapple (pictured below). After seeing boats at the floating market piled with pineapple and knowing how LONG they take to grow, it’s a wonder to me that they’re relatively cheap and available all over the world.
We returned to the river and began working our way through the maze of waterways back to where we started. There is beauty and life throughout the Mekong Delta but also poverty. Some homes are barely held above water. Walls and roofs are fashioned together in rusty patchwork against the tropical storms that frequent the region. Most disheartening (to me) is the trash and plastic waste everywhere.
The river brings life, growth and sustenance but only if we understand that our health and that of the environment are inextricably connected — the most important issue for the Mekong, and also for the world.