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What, exactly, am I supposed to do with those rice papers?

My husband and I tried a new Vietnamese restaurant last week (new to US, that is). One of the stir fry dishes we ordered came with several round rice papers which were placed vertically in a 2-section plastic holder; the other section, which measured about 4" high by 6" wide by 2" deep held hot water. We assumed the papers needed to be dipped into the water to soften them, but by the time we fished them out they were gloppy and they tore apart. I should also mention that there was a plate of "accompaniments" also served -- a few stems of thai basil, cucumber slices, shredded carrots and daikon and lime wedges.

We'll definitely be going back to this restaurant. What should we do with the ingredients set in front of us so that it will at least appear that we know what we're doing? Thanks!

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  1. They do need to be dipped in the water to make them pliable and edible, but it sounds like you ether put too many in at once, or let them soak for too long.

    When the wrapper is the texture of a rice noodle, it's ready to fill with whatever ingredients they've given you. Wrap it up like a spring roll.

    Mr Taster

    1 Reply
    1. re: Mr Taster

      We only put one in at a time. But you're probably right about letting them soak too long. Is there a particular "technique" that should be used for soaking them properly?

    2. You're supposed dip them one at a time and submerge them in water so they can become pliable.....then you put the accompaniments to form a *Summer Roll*....which are similar to wrapping up egg rolls, spring rolls or crepes. You can seal them completely, or you can roll them like soft tacos and keep one end open....

      6 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        So there's a learning curve -- how long does it take for them to become pliable enough without getting overly soft?

        1. re: CindyJ

          Depends on the temperature of the water ...it;s been a while since Ive used them but something like15-20 seconds. in warm water,

          1. re: CindyJ

            It's been a while since I've used them, but something like 10-15 seconds

            here's a video:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt0wF0...

            1. re: fourunder

              THANKS!!! That's exactly what I needed to see.

            2. re: CindyJ

              They don't need to soak in the water, just wet them down. Often the bowl isn't big enough to dunk the entire wrapper, so you can just put the edge in and spin it around to get the entire thing wet. They will still feel stiff, but will continue to soften as you fill them. If you keep them in the water until they feel soft, they will continue to soften after you remove them and be too soft.

              1. re: akq

                That makes sense, given the shape of the container that holds the water. So a quick dunk/spin-and-out. Thanks!

          2. I would imagine you just dip your finger in and run it around one edge, just to act like glue when you close the rice paper. Just a little bit of water would be needed.

            3 Replies
            1. re: TeRReT

              I think the rice paper would be too brittle to fold.

              1. re: CindyJ

                Yeah, VN rice papers are as rigid as cardboard, TeRReT. You must be thinking of something else.

                Mr Taster

              2. re: TeRReT

                terret, these aren't like won-ton wrappers, they are about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, and you roll them up like a tortilla after you fill them. they are very hard and brittle to start with, it is the same material they traditionally put in interior sliding doors. The whole thing is briefly dipped in water, but no longer than it takes to get the entire surface in contact with the water, you don't actually soak it. As someone else noted, once the surface is wet, it soaks into the entire wrapper while you are preparing the filling. By the time you are ready to roll the wrapper has softened.

              3. akq knows how. Listen to akq!

                1. How interesting CindyJ, I've never been to a restaurant that offered 'make your own' fresh spring rolls. Did you have a large, long table to work from? I'm trying to picture something like a hibachi setup only you're making cold spring rolls...

                  I make spring rolls at least 3x's a month. My method requires preping the fillings ahead of time. Setting up my warm bowl of water, having a stack of dry rolls at the ready and my handy bamboo mat. All of the ingredients you mentioned are the usual suspects. I also use fresh mint, sprouts and steamed (but cold) small shrimp. I also use a dab of briny pickled ginger and washabi.

                  Rolling and overstuffing are the two techniques to master. If you overstuff rolling is more difficult. Keeping your hands on the rice paper once it's in the water is key too, this way you can feel when it has softened properly. They soften quickly...and continue to soften even after they are out of the water.

                  But you have me excited to think make your own spring rolls might be in my neighborhood in the near future. I love interactive dining.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: HillJ

                    Point of clarification.... fourunder pointed this out above. A spring roll is deep fried. A summer roll is not. The OP is talking about summer rolls.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Right, I should have written my comment better. Thanks. Summer rolls all the way! Although, I've seen the use of spring and summer interchangeably on menus that both meant unfried.

                    2. re: HillJ

                      The "work surface" was limited to a small plate on a small table-for-two. Clearly, this wasn't a production line setup. It's an interesting concept, and I'm looking forward to trying it again, this time with a bit more know-how.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Such an interesting choice for interactive dining. Luckyf makes a good point about the server showing you how. With all that fresh food a lack of demonstrating for the customer is odd. Well, next time you'll be prepared!

                    3. These are for making goi cuon, salad roll roll-your-owns. I am surprised they came with a stir fry dish, since typically they accompany grilled meats or dry cooked meats. In specialty restaurants, you can order platters of a multitude of meats for roll-your-owns. Shrimp on sugar cane, beef stuffed in grape leaves, and grilled beef are faves of mine. At home at Vietnamese friends' homes I have had roll-your-owns where a platter of a medley of raw seafood is cooked in butter on an electric grill placed on the table.

                      Not only is getting used to taking them out of the water at the correct moment a learning curve. If you are not used to rolling spring rolls, rolling them into a neat eggroll shape that is not over stuffed and not falling apart can also be tricky. Be conservative with your stuffing portions. Each bite should contain a bit of noodle, protein, and salad+herbs.

                      You dip the banh trang (rice paper sheets can often be a mix of rice and tapioca, actually) in the warm water. As the water cools, you will need to soak longer. You remove the banh trang BEFORE it is fully soft---if you leave it in the water too long it will stick to itself when you remove it, or even get too soggy and fall apart. It continues to soften as you lay it on your plate. Then you put a little bit of noodle (bun) and some greens, cucumber, carrot, jalapeƱo slivers, herbs on the flat banh trang, then a little bit of the protein. Then you roll it into an eggroll shape. Then you eat and dip in a dipping sauce...the sauce varies depending on the protein, traditional accompaniments being mixed fish sauce, purple shrimp sauce, and very often in US VN restos, hoisin mixed with peanut butter.

                      In situations like this, perhaps you can ask the servers to demonstrate what you should do. What a waste of good banh trang that no one showed you.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: luckyfatima

                        Well, in the server's defense, we didn't ask, and I have a feeling that most people who eat there know what they're doing.

                        A question -- the main stir fry dish was served on top of broken rice. Should the rice just be eaten separately, or does it get rolled up with the other ingredients?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Maybe someone who knows better can answer.

                          I have never seen broken rice (com tam) served with a stir fry, either. Usually it is served with grilled or pan seared meats, e.g. pork chop, fried egg with runny yolk, shredded seasoned pork skin, spongy pork or shrimp cake, sausage, meatball, and some other typicals. You pour seasoned fish sauce on top of that and mix the proteins into the rice as you eat. AFAIK one is not supposed to make a wrap out of that, you just eat what comes on the plate. Although many of the typical com tam medley of proteins can be ordered for a goi cuon roll-your-own meal and rolled into rice paper. It's kind of an either/or thing, though.

                          Is it at all possible the rice paper came with another dish that you ordered? Can you link the menu and/or list what you ordered?

                          1. re: luckyfatima

                            I might have been confusing the dish with the rice papers with another dish we ordered that came with broken rice. The one with the rice papers was #79 on this menu. http://www.sgcafepa.com/saigoncafeful...

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              Ah yes that is a banh hoi dish---extra extra fine rice vermicelli. You can also wrap the banh hoi, protein (in your case it was grilled and not stir fried chicken) and the herbs/veg in the provided larger size salad leaf and roll and dip that into the mixed fish sauce also. It is like salad leaf taco instead of tortilla wrapped taco.

                      2. CindyJ, I didn't even ask you how you enjoyed the rolls? Did the order come with dipping sauces of any kind?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: HillJ

                          I'm laughing. The rolls were good ... AND very messy! They were served with a small dish of fish sauce for dipping. Also, on the table as "condiments," were sriracha, soy sauce and hoisin sauce.