In the picturesque town of Hoi An we got to take a half day cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School. First we were guided through a trip to the market to learn about the fresh products we would use, then a boat ride to the school, a walk through the herb garden, and finally the lessons and a delicious meal that we cooked ourselves.
Two of the dishes interested me the most, making rice noodle for Spring Rolls and making banh xeo, a kind of crispy omelet pancake that I love. If you have ever made fresh Spring Rolls with rice paper you know how difficult the paper can be to use. Typically you soak it but if it gets too wet it falls apart and if it isn't moist enough it's not pliable. At the class I learned two things about rice paper. One is that when you buy the premade sheets, the best way to soften them is NOT to soak them in water, but to place them in a plastic bag with banana leaves (which are readily available in our Chinatown). The result? Soft and pliable rice paper that is easy to use. You could probably use another kind of leaf like lettuce to the same effect.
But I also learned you can make your own rice noodles to use instead of the premade papers. These thin noodles are made by soaking rice and water then pureeing in the blender to make a batter. You ladle the batter and cook the noodle-like wrapper on a layer of cotton on top of a steaming pot of water. It is tricky at first to get the batter thin enough but it sure tasted wonderful. It reminded me of a fresh cold Chinese noodle roll. It's tempting to fill the noodle up with lots of fillings, but that just makes it hard to roll up. Like so many things in life, moderation not to mention practice is key. I'll share the recipe when I get home and try it on my own.