It’s the rainy season again in Ho Chi Minh city. Unlike major provinces in the North of Vietnam where there are 4 seasons like most countries in the world, there are only and only two seasons in the South: “dry season” from November to March and “rainy season” from April to October. During the rainy season, the street is extremely wet and it’s really difficult for us to go around on the streets because our most preferred means of transportation are motorbikes.
The streets are really wet. Can you notice the guys on the left motorbike? What are they wearing? Are they covering themselves in a huge plastic bag to avoid getting wet?
The answer is, somehow, yes! In Vietnam, during the rainy season, we have to wear a special kind of raincoat that can prevent us from getting soaked! The streets look extremely colorful when everyone puts on their favourite color raincoats! You will look like Bruce Wayne in the Batman suit moving on the street.
Sounds cool? Actually, it’s really uncomfortable for many reasons. Firstly, raindrops can still directly hit your eyes since your face can’t be covered by the rain coat, so most of the time you will feel really irritated if the rain is heavy enough. Secondly, it may be cold outside, but inside the raincoats, it’s really hot and people are actually sweating a lot. Therefore, when you take off your raincoats, it’s like you have just arrived in the coolest place in the world!
My journey started at 12 a.m. Compared to the burning sunlight that we usually have to endure during the dry season, it was raining extremely heavily and I had to survive through the flooding streets for almost half an hour under my raincoat. That’s why after the trip, I was so tired that I could eat anything. But as a food lover, I knew exactly where I should head to! That’s right – The paper cakes restaurant!
Since it was raining so heavily, I couldn’t take a photo of the building. So, here is a photo that I found on google. The restaurant is at the intersection of Tran Quang Khai street and Nguyen Huu Cau street, district 1, so it can be noticed easily. Yes, it’s district 1 – the busiest and most crowdest district in Ho Chi Minh city.
What are those words? “HOANG TY” is the name of the restaurant, while “DAC SAN TRANG BANG” means the “Specialities from Trang Bang” in the South-west of Vietnam.
It had been a long time since I tried the paper cakes there, so I asked them to bring me the dish again. It’s one of the traditional dishes of Vietnam, so I really really love it. Here are the paper cakes!
Why are they called “paper cakes”? The cakes are as thin as paper and they are made from boiling rice soup!
Firstly, rice is grounded and mixed with some water.
Then, the mixture is boiled until it’s hot enough.
After that, it will be taken to the outside where it will be made into thin sheets of cakes on a special surface.
Each sheet will be left dry for a few days until it hardens enough
When the sheets are dry, they become very very crunchy like fried cakes!
Here is an image of the final step when the paper cakes are left dry.
Now let’s get back to the dishes that I ordered. Of course, the paper cakes would be a little bit tasteless if they are eaten without the following “supplements”. Firstly, there was a dish of sliced pork. The pork was boiled and cut into small and thin slices. The pork slices are usually cut into the same shape and they are very thin so that they can be put into the paper cakes very easily.
Next, there were some rolls of grilled beef covered in betel leaf. The dish is always recognizable even when you are standing hundreds of meters away, thanks to its irresistable aroma.
We should not forget the herbs – which really represent our traditional way of eating. We usually eat fresh and raw vegetables along with our dishes, and paper cakes would not be an exception. Some kinds of herbs are very sour while some of them are quite bitter. However, when being eaten along with paper cakes, the combination of flavours is totally amazing!
Finally, the sauce! Our traditional sauce is usually made from fish and, is both sweet and savoury. There are two types of fish sauce served with paper cakes. The brown one in the bottle (far left) was lighter and less savoury, while the black sauce in the bowl (middle) was really smelly but it tastes much better than the brown sauce. If you want to add some hot flavour to the dish, you may reach the “red bowl” (far right) – raw grounded chillies!
Now, let’s get to the best part. Eating! Firstly, I picked one paper cake and selected my favourite “supplementd”. I chose some slices of cucumber, one roll of grilled beef and one slice of pork.
Then, I made a roll of paper cake. After that, I dipped the cake into the sauce, and took a big bite! Yummy! The harmony of flavours: crunchy paper cake – fresh vegetables – juicy and savoury grilled beef – fatty pork – sweat sauce – hot chillies – all combined to create one of the most scrumptious dishes in Vietnam!
And that’s it for a rainy day. I can say that the dish is one representative dish in my country. The combination of flavours and ingredients represents our harmony ways of living. There is rice from the paddy fields; there is fish sauce from the sea; there are pork and beef from the mainland; and there are herbs which represent our vegetation. It has all the flavours from the North to the South. That’s why if I had only one choice to choose, the paper cakes would definitely be my favourite dish!
By HOANG CONG VAN HA, , ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam