Rice Paper Tacos – A Popular Street Food in Saigon (aka Bánh Tráng Nuong)

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Bang Trang Tacos
Bánh Tráng Tacos

It was hot. Hot and humid just like day before and the day before that. I was traipsing around the touristy part of Saigon (also known as District 1) with my mom and with my sister Diana who had flown in from Beijing for the weekend. We were spending the day playing tourists.

After walking all morning in the heat visiting Reunification Palace (it was closed), the War Remnants Museum (depressing on so many levles), and Ben Thanh market (hot), we were sweaty and tired – it was time to find an air-conditioned tea or coffee shop to rest our feet and cool down.

As we neared the Notre Dame Cathedral we spotted a Coffee Bean. Ice Latte! San Pellegrino! Air Conditioning! Maybe even free Wi-Fi! Chairs! Here we come!

We were one block away from a much needed rest when suddenly our attention was drawn to a man, crouched on the street corner, lighting coals over a small well-used tin bucket, and fanning them with a bright green fan.

Alongside him, wearing the traditional conical hat (I’ve been dying to write that phrase – conical hat – yay!) and covered from neck to toe in a black and white horizontal stripey outfit, was a lady perched on a stool with clear plastic boxes of neatly arranged ingredients atop a red plastic tub. And quail eggs. And rice paper wrappers.

Bánh Tráng Nuong Street Vendor
Bánh Tráng Nuong Street Vendor

We were soo00o close to air-conditioned space (you can just make out the Coffee Bean in the top left corner of the photo above) but we were willing to release a few more buckets of sweat to find out what this couple was selling. And why is that man not hot and sweaty wearing jeans and along-sleeve shirt???

Since Diana and I speak no Vietnamese (other than “thank you” and even that I’m not sure I pronounce properly), we asked our mom to chat up the couple about what they were selling so that the two of us could prolong our picture taking.

Mom translated that they were selling some sort of grilled rice paper roll. She had me at grilled. Still, it was important to find out how much it would cost in case they jack the price up or something.

20,000 VND, Mom translated.

I quickly did the math in my head (scary if you know me nowadays as Excel has killed my math skills). It went something like this: Let’s seeeeeee: 20,000 VND equals US$1 …so… 20,000VND equals – HOLY MOLY – 50 cents!?!*

We’ll take two!

Bánh Tráng Taco Ingredients
Bánh Tráng Taco Ingredients

Actually, the lady made us buy two claiming that they had just set up shop and it wasn’t economical for them to burn the coals for just one item – what the heck – we weren’t going to argue over 50 cents.

The man with the tin bucket came closer and I watched the lady spread a mixture of minced pork, dried shrimp, and chopped scallions over a sheet of bánh tráng (aka rice paper wrapper). The bánh tráng she used resembled the ones we use at home in the States and in Dubai (not the thin pancake-like ones in this post).

I wonder if I could make my own bánh tráng taco at home (one day, when I own a grill…).

Bang Trang Tacos
Bánh Tráng Tacos

Next, she cracked a quail egg on top and swirled the egg around with a spoon to break up the egg and mix it all up with the rest of the ingredients.

I think the egg adds taste value as well as helps the ingredients stick to the rice paper and possibly to wet the bánh tráng a little bit so that it will cook properly on the grill.

Bánh Tráng Tacos
Bánh Tráng Tacos

She placed the bánh tráng on a grate on top of the tin bucket while the man strategically fanned away at the grill. Soon, the steam and heat began to crisp up the rice paper wrapper.

I was so fascinated by this that in addition to taking photos of the whole process, I pulled out my iPhone and began shooting a video as well. Multitasking at its best. (Actually, no, multitasking at its best would be photographing, filming, AND eating what I was filming. Next time, next time…)

Bánh Tráng Tacos
Bánh Tráng Tacos

Lastly, hot sauce in a squeezy bottle was squirted on top and a heap of butter was added.

Bánh Tráng Tacos
Bánh Tráng Tacos

At the ideal moment when the bánh tráng was pliable enough to fold in half and not break apart, she folded the crisped up rice paper wrapper in half and placed it in a folded-up magazine page which served as the take-out wrapper.

Voilà – rice paper taco!

I Googled this later and found out that these “tacos” are called Bánh Tráng Nuong**.

Bánh Tráng Taco
Bánh Tráng “Taco”

As I sit in my Dubai apartment writing this post and thinking back on the taste of these rice paper tacos, I cannot bring any taste memory to mind except crackly. Good crackly, though.

However, in my iPhone’s food notes, which I’m glad I started, I had written down “Spicy salty crispy. Not a fan of too much butter.” Other than the excessive use of butter I remember really liking these “tacos.”

Here is the video I took of the whole process:

That night, when we were back at Auntie’s house, Diana and I excitedly showed her our photos and told her about our bánh tráng taco experience. She gave us an amused smile and told us that bánh tráng nuong was actually a popular snack food for the students that lived and studied around the area. Lucky them!

So as we unknowingly munched on student sustenance, we got back on track to our original mission: ice cold drinks, A/C, chairs, Wi-Fi!

*20,000VND actually equals US$1, as one of my commenters pointed out, not 50 cents. I struggled with the conversion througout my trip as simple as it seemed.

*   *   *   *   *

Banh Trang Nuong: Han Thuyen Street, Saigon, District 1.

Here is a Google Map of where we encountered the street vendor by Notre Dame Cathedral:

View Bánh Tráng Nuong – Rice Paper “Tacos” in a larger map

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  1. Luckily, I live here long enough to discover that there are more venders that sell “Banh trang nuong” and each of them serves a different taste. And I’ve found myself a good “banh trang nuong” spot in District 4, and the taste is absolutely the best of them all. And guess what, that lady there jacked up the price, “banh trang nuong” in district 4 only costs from 5,000 to 10,000 dong(they even add more food than in the video), and my favorite spot costs only 6,000 each(about 0.35). One thing more, I prefer the adding ‘sate’ to that ‘hot sauce’, it’s much spicier!

    1. Thank you for sharing. I will keep District 4 in mind. I fled Viet Nam at the age of six. I long for much of these street food experiences. I hope to travel back to Viet Nam one day.

  2. There’s so many versions of this … I was happy to come across it and watch some of my second home 🙂

    What is slightly amusing is when mom says to put less butter on the second one because “my child doesn’t like fat” and the response given was “What?! But you’re American… you have fatty foods.” What’s even better is mom’s last response – do these kids look like they eat fatty foods???

    Out of curiosity, did you stay in Cho Lon? I only ask because I heard your mom speaking Chinese and a Chinese accent when she spoke Vietnamese.

  3. Correction: US$1 = 20,800VND. So, a buck for each, but still worth trying!

    I wish I’d known that they sold it at the cathedral while I was still in Vietnam. The first and only time that I tried banh trang nuong was by the relatively far-off Thanh Da riverside, in the Binh Thanh district (http://goo.gl/maps/yCH7)

    1. Well, it looks like not only is my math terrible but so is my memory of currency exchange! Will make a note in the post – thank you so much for pointing this out.

  4. Banh trang nuong looks like a Viet riff on a Chinese street food — jianbing, a breakfast treat. Totally interesting that the Viets picked up on it. Thanks for sharing.

  5. hi! i just found your blog and i love it! i’ve added it to my sidebar to keep up with your posts! i can’t wait to make these!

    1. Thanks Sally. It’s amazing how many people wear jeans out in the full sun in VN – like my tour guide in Hue. I’m sweating in my shorts and linen and that’s not even when I am outside!

    1. I’m so glad my mom was with us – I don’t know if I would have been able to communicate properly otherwise.

      Did I tweet you that quail eggs taste like chicken eggs?

  6. How fantastic! These look great. What a great find. It does make the minor detour much more rewarding hey? Oh how I wish to be back in Vietnam now. I’d love to be able to try making this.

  7. Loved the video, the full post, awesome! Amazing that on a hot day they would work close to a charcoal grill, with long sleeves and what seems to be some type of a wool shirt (for the lady)

    I’d love to try their concoction, seems like a nice spread of hot sauce at the end, made me swoon… Sriracha-like, maybe? 😉

    1. Throughout the weeks, I came to realize that all the clothing was to protect them from the sun. The Vietnamese spend most of their time outdoors – whether working or on a motorbike or just hanging out – it’s all done al fresco.

      Yes, the spicy red sauce was Sriracha-like.