Rice Paper, Fruit and Life on the Delta

Banh trang factory

Banh trang factory

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,
Kelly

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.

Making banh trang

Making banh trang

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.

Making banh trang

Making banh trang

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.

Making banh trang

Making banh trang

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.

Transfer to the drying rack

Transfer to the drying rack

Transfer to the drying rack

Transfer to the drying rack

Transfer to the drying rack

Transfer to the drying rack

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.

Banh trang drying in the sun

Banh trang drying in the sun

Also drying in the sun

Also drying in the sun

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.

Ready for harvest

Ready for harvest

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.

Homegrown pineapple

Homegrown pineapple

Dragonfruit trees

Dragonfruit trees

Dragonfruit

Dragonfruit

Rambutan tree

Rambutan tree

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.

24 comments

  • S0 delicate, making that rice paper! Mine would be full of holes πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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  • Thank you for the exoticism of these photos. I have seen similar scenes in Cambodia. I fear that plastic pollution is not about to end. I like your note about the dog, these hygiene issues are not only about money, there is also a part of common sense.

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  • That rice paper β€œfactory” looks fascinating. We love seeing unusual operations like that in progress, and that one looks special. Love your dragonfruit shot too!

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  • What an amazing process! We traveled along the Mekong and saw demos on making a sweet treat but I forget the name of it. But this rice paper is something else. I don’t know how they work so hard each and every day, but they do.

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  • I would have never guessed they’d make rice paper that way. I wonder how they keep it from sticking to the racks?

    You’re the only person I’ve heard of that had a pineapple as a houseplant.

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    • HA! A distinction I’ll proudly own, LOL! It was a long process to grow the pineapple (no labor involved, just waiting). But when it finally flowered, deep down in the origin of the stalk, it was one of the most beautiful blooms I’ve ever seen — which then became the pineapple. I have photos somewhere… wish I could find them. πŸ™‚ The rice paper seems to harden while it dries and in the process somehow releases from the racks underneath. Maybe it loses its stickiness? Don’t we all? Thanks Dave!

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  • A good lesson on making rice paper, Kelly. I learned something new. Thanks.
    When I lived in Africa, we used to buy large pineapples for a dollar. Absolutely sweet and delicious. But first we had to sink the pineapples in water to persuade the inevitable ants living there to vacate the premises. πŸ™‚ –Curt

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  • Fascinating process, the rice paper is so delicate, such care must be taken!

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  • Didn’t you write about some other paper-making operation (somewhere else) before? In any case, this one is just as interesting as the one I think I remember. I think my efforts with this type might look more like paper-mΓ’chΓ©! The fruit trees are so cool. I just love tropical plants; they automatically make me feel like I’m on vacation!

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    • Good memory! Yes, it was in Bhutan. They were making paper from trees using an age-old process. Isn’t it fascinating what people make from the natural world around them? The fruit orchard was surprisingly fun. I had never seen a dragonfruit growing before. Tropical fruits… tropical drinks… vacation! I see the connection, LOL! πŸ™‚

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  • This all looks so familiar, and still very interesting! We also went to a tropical fruit orchard and a rice paper operation – the one we went to was actually a rice noodle factory and the dried sheets were put through a machine that cut them into flat noodles. I found it so fascinating. Very happy I didn’t see any dogs though.
    Alison

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    • Ha! The dog was an unexpected sight. πŸ™‚ So much about Vietnam is fascinating and beautiful and enchanting. It’s a place that feels like there’s a new discovery waiting at every turn in the river. The best of travel! Thanks Alison.

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